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MPAS students Mustakim Talukder and Caleb Howard.

Drug Take Back Day in Manchester, NH: Mustakim Talukder MPAS ’19 and Caleb Howard MPAS ’19 Share Why You Should Clean Out Your Cabinet

  • Mustakim Talukder MPAS ‘19 and Caleb Howard MPAS ’19 are two friends with a lot in common: besides their identical majors, both are New Hampshire natives who found second homes at MCPHS—and promptly became phenomenally busy. Talukder is the fundraising chair of the Student Academy of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (SAAAPA), while Howard is the director of external affairs for the same organization. Recently, both participated in an event of particular interest to health professionals.

    I understand that you recently participated in Drug Take Back Day. For those who don’t know, what exactly happens at a take-back event?

    Talukder: Basically, Drug Take Back Day has been established to facilitate disposal of unused prescription medications in a safe manner.

    Howard: That pretty much sums it up! It gives people an opportunity to get rid of medications that have been expired for a week—or several years.

    Talukder: The event is rooted in a somewhat hidden issue. Many drug addictions begin with leftover medications. A kid will visit a friend’s house, look through the medicine cabinet, and take out a drug with which to experiment. The link to the opioid epidemic is obvious.

    Howard: Additionally, elderly patients who must keep track of multiple medications can become confused and take the wrong pill, which makes it important to regularly cull expired medications.

    Talukder: Drug Take Back Day decreases chances of accidental or intentional use.

    What kind of medications came back, and what kinds of questions were you able to help answer?

    Talukder: We saw tons of prescription opioids, although often we weren’t able to look too closely. People came in with gigantic gallon bags of pills just mixed together.

    Howard: We saw unused antibiotics. Although you are supposed to take the full course, a lot of times people start to feel better and stop taking the prescription, which is obviously a hazard.

    Talukder: The volume was incredible—watching people fill entire boxes, and then watching the boxes fill dump trucks bound for the incinerators, was striking. This event is held annually. At the last event we collected 700 pounds of returned drugs.

    For people who are interested in safely disposing of their prescription medications, how can they find out about Take Back Days near them, and what can they do if they don’t live near a convenient location?

    Talukder: We held the event at the Manchester Police Department. If you’re local, you can always call or stop by the police department to find out about the next date. Pharmacists are also good sources of information about these types of events.

    Let’s shift gears a bit to talk about your overall experience. What is particularly challenging—and rewarding—about being in the PA program?

    Talukder: I think the hardest aspect of the program has been adjusting to the volume of work, especially during finals.

    Howard: (laughing) I had five exams in five days.

    Talukder: Each semester is divided into difficulty levels. During the first few weeks, you feel as though you’re just easing in. The middle of the semester brings steady work, and then the end is very fast-paced, with assignments falling every other day. Taking a break from that pace to participate in community events is really rewarding.

    Howard: As Mus said, just participating in the Drug Take Back Day, in fundraisers like the Red Nose Day (which raises money to end childhood poverty), and in community events like the Habitat For Humanity build on Lowell Street, has been a privilege. I have a ten-month old daughter named Lilah, so I have a whole extra challenge to take care of when I get home, trying to be a good father and fiancée while attending these extracurricular activities.

    What are you looking forward to for your careers?

    Howard: I’ve always lived in the country, where there’s limited access to healthcare. My parents, in fact, come from rural Maine. So I’m looking forward to working in a rural area and providing healthcare access to people who wouldn’t otherwise have it, while enjoying nature and the wilderness (which are very important to me).

    Talukder: I’m the opposite; I enjoy the city more and would like to eventually become a healthcare leader in my community where I can be a role model for kids. I’m looking forward to using social media to raise awareness of health, send messages about health, and generally serve as a voice for healthcare within my own community.

    What’s the one thing about the experience of being a PA student that you would want anyone considering this academic and career path to know?

    Talukder: To be in this program specifically, you don’t need to be extremely smart, but you need a strong work ethic and motivation to learn. You need dedication and commitment to pursue this particular goal.

    Howard: It’s important to get prior experience in healthcare before entering the program. Can you picture yourself enjoying the responsibilities of a PA? This program is a major investment, and to sustain effort over two years of your life, you have to be really focused and motivated. If at any point you question that investment due to a lack of prior experience, you’d have to do a whole reassessment. So it’s good to reach out and get experience with all aspects of healthcare.

    Talukder: It’s also important to recognize whether you’re interested in healthcare, but not patient care; for instance, if you’re interested in the science or business aspects of healthcare, then a PA educational path may not be right for you.

    Howard: Exactly. You need to make sure this path is right for you.

    Talukder: Aside from this program, it’s important to keep yourself sane with activities that help you manage stress.

    Howard: Go out, see your friends and family, spend time with your significant other. There are going to be moments you are stressed and tired, but you need to remember why you’re pursuing this path.

    Talukder: As clichéd as it sounds, that kind of focus has been a major motivator. Reminding myself what my ultimate goal is, has pulled me through a lot.

    Howard: And rely on your classmates! We’re all here to help each other.

    The School of Physician Assistant Studies at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) prepares students for exciting future careers as integral members of the integrated healthcare team.