High school mentorship program 2011: Introduction, RON BALLENTINE

We’d like to share four journal entries Aileen Bi wrote during her time with us. Aileen, a student at Maggie Walker High School in Richmond, was part of the high school mentorship program.

It is obvious from reading her journal entries that she benefited greatly from the time that she spent with pharmacy faculty, clinicians and residents. She has a much better understanding of what pharmacists can (and should) do.  

“After the amazing experience I had last year …” AMANDA KROLL, 7/23/11

After the amazing experience I had last year at RAM, I couldn’t wait to come back again this year.  I have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity for me to get to know more patients, pharmacists, nurses, doctors and other students as we all work together to serve a common cause.  I was truly humbled last year as I went through the different stations that pharmacy was involved in and got to see how we impact the health of the patients we serve.  

This year, my experience at RAM has been just as wonderful as last year.  So far, the best experiences I have had were while I was using the point of care A1C test.  While getting to use the machine was a great hands-on opportunity, it was also a great time for me to talk to and get to know the patients as well as work on my diabetes counseling skills.  During the five minutes it takes to run the A1C test, I was able to educate patients on how to better manage their diabetes, talk to them about what an A1C test is, how to take their diabetes medications and what to do if their blood sugar gets too low. 

One patient didn’t understand why her blood glucose reading on Friday was in the 300s because when she takes it at home it’s always less than 100.  During the counseling session with her, I discovered that she stores her test strips in the refrigerator.  I was able to talk to her about the importance of storing her test strips at room temperature and how this could cause her to get an error in her glucose readings.  She expressed understanding, and I hope that this will have an impact on the management of her diabetes and insulin. 

While the clinical side of the point-of-care testing was a great learning opportunity, the best part was sitting and listening to the patients.  So many of the patients really enjoy being able to share their story and express their gratitude for the services we provide here at RAM.  To me, this is the most rewarding aspect of RAM.  Knowing that I have in some way made an impact on even just a few patients’ health care is an extremely gratifying feeling.

Reflecting back on these two years I have spent at RAM, I feel really lucky to have been able to be a part of the health care provided.  I am really fortunate to be able to sit with the nurses and learn from them, to be able to listen to the pharmacists and better my counseling skills, and to be able to give back to the community and surrounding areas.  I hope to share my experience with other students and encourage them to come in the future, because I know I will!

RxIMPACT: “RxIMPACT was a great opportunity …,” CARISSA BIDDLE, 3/10/11

RxIMPACT was a great opportunity that I will never forget.  Everyone there came together to support one thing: the furthering of the pharmacy profession.  I was able to communicate with several other passionate pharmacists and pharmacy students and see what they are trying to do to make the profession better and have a greater impact on our patients’ lives.

Lobbying in a group made me feel extremely comfortable because I knew I would have someone to back me up in every situation.  I feel inspired after this trip to continue to lobby for pharmacy. 


We, as future pharmacists, have worked extremely hard during our four years of school and should want to use all of our knowledge to help the maximum amount of patients and get something in return for it.  I am very thankful for this opportunity and would encourage anyone I know to take advantage of it if they ever get the chance.  


IMG_2778.JPG Visits on Capitol Hill included time with Williams S. Oden (center), legislative correspondent for health affairs in the office of Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor.

“Returning to the dorms after long hours …” DEREK MIRES, 8/9/10

RAM gang.jpgRAM reflections

Returning to the dorms after long hours on the fairgrounds, I found it hard to sleep.  It may have been the heat, but I couldn’t get my mind to rest.  My head buzzed with questions and my heart was overwhelmed with emotion.  So, like I always do, I began talking.  It turns out that my roommates Andrew, Loan, and Elle all felt the same way.

We spent that night reflecting on the day’s experiences.  Even the veteran volunteers amongst us were surprised by the health disparities within our own state of Virginia.  Patients drove for hours from all directions (some over several state lines) to wait in crowded grandstands.  These same patients were screened for various health conditions such as diabetes, cancer and hypertension.  They received limited dental and optical care, often having the majority of their teeth pulled or finding a pair of glasses with a prescription “close enough” to their own. 

We all felt privileged to serve as team members on the RAM expedition.  The professionals and community members not only volunteered their time and services to their patients but taught us, as students, how to become better clinicians. Working at the fairgrounds, we learned more in four days than some of us learned in weeks of classwork.

However, that night while we reflected, we struggled with the idea that these patients have so few opportunities to receive medical treatment.  We debated our personal responsibilities to our communities as future pharmacists.  In the end, exhaustion gave way to sleep  — far before we could solve the problems of the world.  But the uniqueness of RAM was that it gave us, as peers, the opportunity to discuss real world issues outside of the classroom, away from teachers and with fresh experiences to reinforce our convictions. 

“It almost seems surreal to watch …” AMBER LANAE SMITH, 7/25/10, 8:21 a.m.

Location: Triage

It almost seems surreal to watch as nurses, pharmacists  and volunteers begin to tear down the triage area. For the last three days, I have watched as health professionals from all backgrounds worked together for a common goal — something that to me is the epitome of what we all as humans should strive for — love and support of people. This is not my first year at RAM, but it has definitely made my list of top five favorite moments of service.

For me, this trip didn’t start on Thursday morning at 5a.m. —  instead it started the day Adam Krukas handed over his title of team leader (trust me, those were big shoes to fill)! I had visions in my head for where I wanted to expand our team roles and how I wanted to use our team to create an atmosphere that shows pharmacists are an undeniable asset to the health-care world. With a brain full of ideas and an executive board who was willing to work hard, we set out to make this year’s RAM better than any other year (a feat I believe we accomplished)!

Our emphasis as a team this year focused on two vital areas of health care: health education and smoking cessation. In each of these areas, I feel our team excelled and gave the best they could to arm the patients at RAM with tools that could improve their lives. While some efforts were received with open minds and lots of attention (the game), other efforts were harder to approach because they are never easy topics (smoking cessation). But I firmly believe that in each area, at least one patient gained some asset that will help them succeed.

One area that I feel we had the most success in was the A1c clinic. In this part of the triage, the patients had to wait for five minutes to receive their test results. It was during this time that the pharmacy students were able to devote their efforts to direct patient counseling. Several of us spent long periods of time educating patients on the importance of controlling their blood glucose, and we really got to know our patients.

There were a few patients who I talked with at length about their diabetes and their health care in general. Two patients in particular, my “mountain man” and my “veteran,” reinforced my desire to provide everyone with the best service that I can. I saw my “mountain man” all three days, and together we did everything we could to get his blood glucose to drop (a feat we never accomplished — although he still referred to me as his angel from heaven — a nickname I’m not sure I’m worthy of).

The “veteran” was a giant man (not in weight, but in stature) who had kind, old eyes and a heart of gold. I managed to get this patient a world-class treatment on his mouth and some of the best patient care possible. I followed him through the day and checked in multiple times; each time, he had a huge hug for me (and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make my whole heart soar when he did).

There are two other aspects of RAM that I feel deserve attention, before I finish. The first being the friends you make with other health professionals, especially the nurses. It is amazing to watch as people come together and work so hard from 5 a.m. until 5 p.m. Some people spent the entire day refusing to eat so that more patients could be seen; others rotated through, caring for their teammates they had just met a few hours before starting.

There were three nurses in particular who I felt gave our pharmacy students the best education they possibly could (Vicki, Carol, and Pam). Each of the nurses was excited to impart their years of experience upon our students and made it fun in the process. (Just ask Derek — his nurse made him think she was crazy and danced for her patients)!

But even more amazing than the nurses was our team for RAM this year. Adam said it perfectly when he said that it is amazing that the VCU School of Pharmacy RAM Team is the only student-run organization (with a wonderful preceptor, of course — Dr. Sisson). And in my personal opinion, we did one heck of a job providing the best care we could this year. It has been an absolute honor and privilege to work with each of the students on my team. Every single one of them has touched my heart in a different way, and I will never be the same again.

How can you put into words the impact that service has upon your life? Each year I strive to give all that I have to people, I expect to leave giving everything I have got to improve each person’s life. And yet at the end of the trip, I find that I take more with me than I feel I could have ever given. Not only do I get the opportunity to leave with new friends, I take home stories that make me laugh or cry (or laugh so hard that I cry), things that gross me out  and, above all, I take home a heart overflowing with a desire to love people that much harder and give them that much more of myself. With gifts like that, how could anyone not want to be a part of RAM?!

Look at my life, look at my choices. I think it’s safe to say that anyone who devotes one weekend to RAM made the right choice.

School of Pharmacy students participate in RAM

For the fourth year running, VCU School of Pharmacy assistant professor Evan Sisson (B.S. ’92, Pharm.D. 94) is leading a group of students on a medical mission journey to Wise, Va.

This weekend, pharmacy students are volunteering their services to help uninsured and underserved patients in a three-day medical marathon of sorts, the Remote Area Medical expedition. With the supervision of licensed pharmacists, students will dispense prescriptions and counsel patients. They also offer diabetes and smoking-cessation education, blood pressure checks, bone mineral density testing and so on.
Typically, the RAM event in Wise attracts more than 1,500 volunteers in the health sciences who see more than 2,500 patients.

Rebeccah Collins (Pharm.D. ’00) and Dana Cannon (Pharm.D. ’02) will help Sisson shepherd the following students this year: Dave Allen, Andrew Carmichael, Loan Chin, Amy Dembowski, Amanda Kroll, Adam Krukas, Derek Mires, Christine Nguyen, Shreya Patel, Eleanor Preston and Lindsay Samuel … as well as RAM executive board members Amber Smith, Erika Stiene, Holly Moore, Jessica Schad and Hoda Rostami.