Since RAM at Wise 2015 was my first outreach trip, I was a little nervous Friday morning for the patients to start coming through. By 9 a.m. that day, however, it became apparent that the patients we were serving here were just like my patients that walk in to the pharmacy where I work, with the main difference being a lack of health insurance.
My favorite station was the A1C and cholesterol checks where, with some great tips from the pharmacy preceptors, I was able to master efficiently getting enough blood from a single finger stick for both point of care tests. I also got to spend some time getting to know the patients and assessing their needs here while waiting for my turn with the A1C machine.
One thing that I was fascinated by from the beginning was the medical tent. Walking through on the first day while taking a tour, I had to stop and take pictures of the tiny spaces being used as patient rooms, each one having a bedsheet attached with clothespins at the front for privacy. Although pharmacy wasn’t assigned to the medical tents this trip, I was able to get a chance to shadow there Saturday afternoon. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see a functional clinic with almost no resources outside of human volunteers.
Many patients were extremely thankful for our help, and I was thankful to them for the learning experience. One patient who stood out to me had ridden his motorcycle with his girlfriend for eight hours to get to RAM. He had just been hired for a good job and was required to have his bipolar disorder controlled on medications to keep the position. Unfortunately, we were able to provide only one out of three medications since the other two were controlled substances. This encounter exemplified a vicious cycle of a patient who was without health care because of unemployment but was unemployed due to lack of health care.
Overall, I had a very positive trip, and every hour spent with patients at RAM had value to me in some way. Seeing patients in the setting where the patients had all traveled far and waited in the heat for health care and had little to no opportunity for follow-up really uncovers the true value of the health care system that we often take for granted. In my opinion, the reason why so many volunteers come back year after year is because this experience can really help remind a person why they went into the health care field as a profession in the first place.