Erin Hickey, class of 2017

Ram 2015-0091

Erin Hickey

I left beautiful Wise, Va., after RAM overwhelmed with gratitude: for Remote Area Medical and the volunteers, for my pharmacy education and mostly for the inspiring patients who let us into their lives for a weekend to take care of them.

Before RAM, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to make a difference. As with many experiences in pharmacy school and in life, I learned that all I needed was an open mind and an outward focus (and, of course, a top-notch HbA1C measurement technique).

As a future professional and as a person, I grew every day at RAM by being with the patients. There were a few who are especially memorable.

Working at the cholesterol and A1C station, we often saw patients with varying states of cardiovascular disease. There was one patient, a widowed man with severely uncontrolled diabetes, who was directed to my station. With cardiovascular and endocrine therapeutics modules under my belt, I felt prepared to collect his lab values, calculate his ASCVD [atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease] risk and counsel him on ways to improve his health. However, nothing can prepare you for the first time you tell a patient that there is a greater than 50 percent chance that they’ll have a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years.

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Erin Hickey at the smoking cessation booth

The ASCVD Risk Estimator tool was once just a handy calculator to use on hypothetical patient cases in class, and suddenly it became a powerful counseling tool that struck emotion in my patient and myself. After we shared a tearful moment, realizing the path his health was taking, we were able to talk about what he could do to take control and reduce his risk, like regularly taking his insulin and quitting chewing tobacco. I’ll never again worry that I can’t make a difference in someone’s life.

Another unexpected moment occurred while volunteering at Becky’s Place, an organization that offers educational programs on cancer and smoking cessation, when a patient who had just had dental extractions suddenly passed out. Being the nearest health care professional, a nurse called me over to assist in taking his vitals. I realized what a great responsibility it is to be a health care professional and what an honor it is to have patients trusting us with their lives, especially when they are most vulnerable.

Through participating in RAM, I learned how to find a connection with people and let them know that they are not alone in their health problems. I will always carry these patients and this approach with me in my future as a pharmacist.