There have been several defining moments in my life where I had to make hard decisions. Which undergraduate college should I attend? Easy, James Madison University, the friendliest college in the nation. What should I major in? Chemistry because of my love for science and the ability to explore in-depth the natural world. Should I continue doing research or should I try to focus on a whole different career path? Research was proving to be more monotonous and had less opportunities to interact with people, something I love to do.
Serena Barden (left) and co-leader Irene Lee preparing for a smoking cessation class on nicotine replacement therapy
Naturally, I was drawn to a career in pharmacy because it allowed me to pursue my passion for science and to make a tangible difference in the lives of others. However, after the reality of tests, grades, networking and the general stress of adjusting to a professional program set in, I quickly lost sight of why I came to pharmacy school in the first place. I began questioning whether I made the right choice. Then, I made a single decision that reignited my passion for pharmacy.
In 2013, as a first-year pharmacy student, I applied to volunteer at Remote Area Medical (RAM) with a team of pharmacy students in Wise, Va. I was delighted to learn that I had been selected to volunteer and I was looking forward to helping Wise’s underserved community.
As a first-year student, I was afforded many opportunities to help patients. I helped patients fill out medication history forms, triaged patients and helped dispense medications at the pharmacy. This was the first time I experienced how my pharmacy education could make a real difference in the lives of others. I was truly blown away by the gratitude each patient expressed to me for volunteering. and I was eager to use this experience to push forward in my professional career.
Plotting out the Wise County Fairgrounds for volunteers
Returning to Richmond, I remember hoping that I’d be able to return to Wise next summer. Luckily, I was selected to participate in RAM 2014 as a pharmacy student co-leader. RAM 2014 was a whole new, yet equally, rewarding experience. As a student co-leader, I was able to take a more involved role. Not only did I have the opportunity to directly work with patients, but I was able to assist the student leader organize the event and prepare our team of student volunteers for the event.
The experience I had in my second year of RAM helped me find a new, greater appreciation and understanding of the medically underserved. Working more directly with patients, I was able to hear firsthand the stories and troubles of these patients. I remember one patient, in particular, who told me her husband had been laid off his job at the local coal mine. Consequently, she and her children were unable to afford health insurance. She explained to me that she had the debilitating diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and she no longer could afford her expensive medications to help treat the disease.
I could tell she was in a considerable amount of pain, but she continued to smile throughout the whole time I was talking with her. At the end of our conversation, she hugged and thanked me for what I was doing. It was amazing to see the resolve and optimism she had despite her circumstance.
This past year at RAM 2015, I had the privilege of serving as the RAM pharmacy student leader. My role encompassed leading our team of pharmacy and nursing students and residents to provide quality care to the underserved of Wise. The responsibilities of this new role taught me what it means to be a leader. I learned how important effective communication, patience and flexibility are in a strong leader.
Admittedly, serving as RAM student leader was daunting and stressful at times, but if asked to do the job again, I wouldn’t hesitate to say yes. I felt as though I was passing on the tradition to others. Using my experiences to help them shape theirs, all the while knowing that this could be a transformative event in the lives of both the patients and the students.
I will be forever grateful to have been part of RAM for the past three years and forever humbled by the experience. The lessons I’ve learned, the people I’ve met and the visible impacts my team and I have made at RAM are immeasurable. Volunteering at RAM solidified my passion for pharmacy, ignited my desire to help the underserved and taught me what it means to be a strong service leader. It is my hope that opportunities like this one will be continually made available to pharmacy students in the future.
Serena Barden (back row, left) and fellow RAM participants