It’s a wrap! School of Pharmacy hits RAM seventh time running

IMG_0609Fourteen VCU School of Pharmacy students, four residents and three faculty members traveled to southwest Virginia in mid-July as part of the 2013 Remote Area Medical experience in Wise County.

The 2013 School of Pharmacy RAM crew consisted of team leader Natalie Nguyen, team co-leader Erika Lambert and students Sara Ayele, Mimi Baker, Sarena Barden, Melinda Ellis, Nellie Jafari, MaryBeth Jones, Kelly Miller, Jenna St. Pierre, Margaret Robinson, Rebecca Saunders, Allison Smith and Keshia Ward, as well as pharmacy residents  John Bucheit, Stephanie Culbertson, Bethany Helton and Rose Salzberg  and faculty members Evan Sisson and Jennifer Neal and clinical faculty Rebeccah Collins.

Since associate professor Sisson led the first pharmacy team to RAM in 2007, the event has provided an excellent interprofessional experience for pharmacy students who work with dental students, dental hygienists, nurses and other health-care professionals. Among their other duties, pharmacy students obtain  medical histories from patients, help with patient counseling, distribute  preoperative medications and work with smoking cessation.

This year, more than 1,400 volunteers worked the two-and-a-half day event at Wise County Fairgrounds, providing free medical, dental and vision care services to more than 2,000 uninsured and underinsured patients. Some patients — entire families, in fact — waited as long as 24 hours and more to see health care professionals.

The School of Pharmacy has a long tradition of serving patients both at home and abroad. Nearly 70 students applied this year to work with Remote Area Medical and Mission of Mercy teams.

To learn more about the School of Pharmacy’s participation in RAM, contact Evan Sisson at For more information about Remote Area Medical, click here.

“In one of the wealthiest countries in the world …,” SERENA BARDEN

Serena Barden (second from right) left RAM with a new appreciation for what she has learned in pharmacy school and how it can benefit patients.

Serena Barden (second from right) left RAM with a new appreciation for what she has learned in pharmacy school and how it can benefit patients.

In one of the wealthiest countries of the world, there are still millions of people who do not have access to health care.

To have been a part of an event that provided free, professional health care to those in need was an incredibly humbling experience. Each encounter I had with patients was a positive one, and I could see how thankful they were for the work that everyone was doing.

I loved being able to give back to my community by providing health care services that I’ve been taught during my time in pharmacy school.

“While at RAM, I had many memorable experiences …,” MARYBETH JONES

Working with RAM patients gave Marybeth Jones (right) a glimpse into the lives of people who don't have easy access to health care.

Working with RAM patients gave Marybeth Jones (right) a glimpse into the lives of people who don’t have easy access to health care.

While at RAM, I had many memorable experiences. I worked closely with a nurse, Aimee, over the course of the weekend. At first it seemed she was hesitant to let students work with her. She was unsure of what pharmacy students were capable of doing.

However, as the weekend progressed, her confidence in the knowledge that a pharmacist and a pharmacy student had seemed to be more clear. Over the weekend, I was comfortable asking her questions about what different blood pressure readings meant. Aimee also asked me many questions. I shared with her a new drug interaction I had learned the past week, and the next day she was asking me questions about it in order to implement her knowledge when she returned to practice.

She was very confident in my drug knowledge as a pharmacy student, but she also learned that pharmacy students and pharmacists are capable of doing clinical work such as blood pressure, blood sugar and pulse. Aimee taught me how to take a forearm blood pressure, which I had not been previously exposed to or asked to do. We both learned from each other in a short period of time spent together. It was very interesting to me to have an interprofessional experience with open minded health professionals and use each profession’s knowledge to achieve a goal of the best health care we could provide at RAM in Wise, Va.

Personally, the most important thing I took from this experience was seeing how caring the nurse, Aimee, that I worked with was with each and every patient. Topics like depression, anxiety and smoking have always been subjects that are hard for me to approach and address with patients. However, even with our limited time working with each patient, Aimee would make it a point to stop and ask them if they were OK, and if they were seeking help. I am definitely more comfortable approaching sensitive subjects with patients just from seeing how easy she made it by staying calm and not seeming judgmental. You never know what someone may be struggling through and how you can make a difference in their life.

While I had great interprofessional experiences, overall the patients were what mattered. It was heartbreaking to see these people waiting hours in the heat to receive basic health care that they could not afford. I felt like I got a small glimpse into life problems that these people deal with daily. The patient that truly caught my attention did not even know she had done so. While working with Aimee, who was in her mid-30s — after working with the patient to get her vitals and health history — when she walked away, Aimee looked at me and said that they were the same age. The patient looked almost 20 years older than Aimee.

Also during this experience I was asked to check blood pressures closer to the time the patient would be seen. Spending one-on-one time with these patients while they were nervously waiting really opened my eyes to the extremes these people were going to just to receive the health services that may seem simple to someone who has these things done annually, such as cleaning or restorative fillings. While checking these patients’ blood pressure, a few of the patients had readings that were too high to go in for their procedure. The nurse I was working under at this time was grateful for pharmacy students catching these blood pressures that may have put the patient in danger during a procedure, as they were receiving drugs that would further increase their blood pressure.

“I had a great experience at RAM overall …,” JENNA ST. PIERRE

Jenna St. Pierre (left) appreciated the opportunities to talk to patients up-close and personal at RAM.

Jenna St. Pierre (left) appreciated the opportunities to talk to patients up-close and personal at RAM.

I had a great experience at Remote Area Medical overall, but what I enjoyed the most was the many opportunities to interact with the patients.

I’ve spent my summer working in a very busy and very corporate community pharmacy where I haven’t felt a strong connection with any of our patients, so I really enjoyed being able to have a real conversation with many of the patients at RAM. I felt that most everyone I talked to was genuinely interested in and appreciative of talking with me. It was a nice contrast to the busy setting I have been working in to feel like I could sit and talk with a patient for several minutes about whatever issues they wanted to bring up.

While helping out at the smoking cessation booth, I was surprised and inspired by the number of people who were seriously interested in quitting smoking or helping a family member to quit. I had not expected so many people to have such openness to the idea.

I felt that many patients I worked with at RAM seemed to be very open to the idea of making positive changes in their life to improve their health, which was a great thing to see.