Fatimah Dakhel, Khaznah Alshammari, Tasneem Baker, and Shahad Alali
Student Success | 1/19/2024

An Immersive Experience: Pharmacy Students Advocate for Community Health

By Jennifer Persons

Fatimah Dakhel, Khaznah Alshammari, Tasneem Baker, and Shahad Alali are set to earn their Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) in May 2024.

Fatimah Dakhel, Khaznah Alshammari, Tasneem Baker, and Shahad Alali
Fatimah Dakhel, Khaznah Alshammari, Tasneem Baker, and Shahad Alali are set to earn their Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) in May 2024.

The students worked with local organizations for a week, considering how their pharmacy expertise could help underserved communities.

Four MCPHS students felt the impact of their pharmacy training after undertaking weeklong initiatives to improve healthcare access for underserved communities in Western Massachusetts.

Shahad Alali, PharmD ’24, Khaznah Alshammari, PharmD ’24, Tasneem Baker, PharmD ’24, and Fatimah Dakhel, PharmD ’24, are completing longitudinal rotations at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, where they are immersed in continuous and comprehensive clinical experiences. This year, they participated in the Population-Based Urban & Rural Community Health (PURCH) Program with Baystate, an interprofessional experience pairing students with community organizations. At the end, the students made an advocacy pitch to hospital leadership, proposing ways to improve outreach and care for underserved communities.

“I never thought I would experience anything like this during my pharmacy education,” Alali said.

The four students chose organizations they wanted to join for the week based on their interests. Alshammari and Alali wanted to learn more about providing healthcare to older adults. Baker and Dakhel decided to work hands-on with younger members of the community.

Helping the Elderly with Medications

The Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP), which is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, brings together teams of providers to care for older adults. Alshammari and Alali joined one of their local teams, attending meetings to discuss patients, medications, and treatment plans. They also observed home visits, shadowing other providers to check on patients.

“We saw interprofessional communication happening in real life,” Alshammari said, sharing one of the visits, which was particularly eye-opening.

“A woman in her 80s spoke Hindi and had her husband translating for her,” she explained. “I can understand a bit of the language, and when we asked if she was taking her medication, she said no, but her husband translated it to us as yes. I told the nurse practitioner, and we had the woman bring us her medication bottles, and we could see she wasn’t taking them.”

For the students, the solution was clear.

“We recommended she use a pill box, which was something she didn’t know about before,” Alali added. “We were only able to give her options because we saw the number of medications she had and saw her struggling with them.”

Pharmacists are not currently on GWEP teams, but at this home visit, the students saw how a pharmacist’s perspective could benefit patients.

“It would be especially helpful during home visits, so the practitioner doesn’t need to wait for the pharmacy to answer their questions,” Alali said. “They can get an answer immediately.”

Listening to Community Concerns

Meanwhile, Baker and Dakhel spent their week with Roca Springfield, which has five sites across the state that are dedicated to working with young people to combat urban violence.

“We shadowed staff doing outreach to young people, visiting their homes, checking on them, and communicating with them every day,” Dakhel said. “The workers are so patient and understanding. It’s not easy to do this work, and they love it.”

The pair spoke with both Roca participants and staff, many of whom had gone through the program themselves. Though some stories were difficult to hear, they resonated with the students.

“We were inspired by a story about a young woman who had a restraining order in place, but her abuser was still able to reach out to her electronically and convince her to lift it,” Baker explained. “We want to improve the process to help women like her.”

The stories also taught the students valuable lessons about how they will approach and treat their future patients.

“It’s so important to be sensitive to your patient’s situation because you don’t know what’s going on in their life,” Dakhel said. “You have to treat them with respect and empathy.”

Advocating for Change

After the week was over, based on their experiences, the students had to decide what initiatives or changes they would bring to each organization to improve services for these communities.

Alshammari and Alali thought of a solution that was clear and could be implemented at any time.

“The providers at GWEP deal with a lot of medication-related issues,” Alshammari said. “We advocated for them to add a pharmacist to the team to help point out these issues, especially those that may not be as clear to other providers.”

“The PURCH program helped me to think outside of the box and inspired me to explore what areas we, as pharmacists, can help,” Alali said.

Dakhel and Baker’s pitch for Roca would require more work, but if made a reality, they said it would have a significant impact on people, especially young people, with violence in their past.

“We advocated for a grant to develop an app that allows people to report a restraining order violation on their phone,” Baker said. “It might not be safe for the person to leave home and go to the police to report a violation, so something like this would be easier and safer.”

Both teams of students pitched these ideas to leaders at Baystate Medical Center, asking them to consider pursuing funding for their ideas. No matter the outcome, the students say the experience was life-changing, and they now know the power of using their voices to advocate for others.

“There are a lot of things we can offer as healthcare providers,” Baker said. “I can speak up and make sure my patients are aware of these services that will help them.”

All four of the students are preparing to earn their degrees in May. As they pursue pharmacy postgraduate residencies, they said the experiences with GWEP and Roca will stay with them.

“It was a great non-clinical experience, and other pharmacy students should make time to do something like this,” Dakhel said.