July 17, 2019 | 92° F

Student pharmacy organization holds health fair for senior citizens

Photo by Courtesy of Jessica Xiao |

The APhA-ASP health fair gave senior citizens an opportunity for free blood sugar tests and self-care advice, while also presenting pharmacy students with an occasion to develop professional and hands-on skills.

Senior citizens can have trouble getting to a doctor, receiving proper care or even understanding the craziness that is the ever-changing health care system. The Students of the American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) are working to change that.

APhA-ASP held a health fair for local senior citizens on Tuesday, where the organization offered education on immunization, self-care, diabetes and more to ensure they are making healthy lifestyle choices and maintaining the best quality of life they can get.

Karishma Patel, an Ernest Mario Pharmacy fourth-year student and president-elect of the club, said it is a daytime activity for the seniors, and the club tries to go to Piscataway to see them once a month.

“They really love it because they get to test their blood sugar in the morning for free and they really appreciate talking to the students, it freshens their day-to-day lives as I’ve seen,” she said.

At the health fair, senior citizens were not just pricked with needles for blood screenings and to check blood sugar, but also had some time for fun, like games and trivia which educated them on vaccines and asthma prevention, Patel said.

Sarah Hun, a co-chair for Operation Diabetes of APhA-ASP, said this is something the senior citizens love, especially because the organization does this so often and they recognize the students.

“Honestly, I don’t always see old faces, but it’s nice to meet new people and hear their stories,” Hun said.

Patel said how important it is to have these outreach programs not just for aspiring pharmacists to gain insight into how to interact with patients or being comfortable with healthcare providers, but also for the community.

“There are a lot of underserved areas in New Jersey, New Brunswick and Piscataway being two of them,” she said.

Many times, people living in underserved areas are unaware of health issues due to lack of finances or education, and the APhA-ASP has saved people from such instances, Patel said.

“We’ve actually had patients on the brink of hyperglycemic shock or with a blood pressure of 200/140 not knowing that they’re on the border of a severe health problem and we’ve had some patients taken to the clinic or ER for prevention purposes,” she said.

Hun said of the two years she has been with the organization, she met patients who never had their blood glucose checked.

“We were essentially their only access to healthcare,” she said.

In the case of a true medical emergency, though, there is a registered and licensed pharmacist at the health fair, Patel said.

The pharmacist is there to answer questions students may not know the answer to, but also double-check tests, look at patient history, see medication lists and can aid in advising the next steps for patients, she said.

“We saw some of these cases on Tuesday with some senior citizens who were experiencing trouble breathing because they didn’t have their flu shot yet or had high blood pressure and weren’t on any medication,” she said.

The club was able to advise them and give them information sheets along with charts showing their blood sugar levels and blood pressure, so the senior citizen could take it to their physician in the future for further treatment, Patel said.

Patel also said how senior citizens many times do not get the treatment they need because of their health insurance.

“So many senior citizens have told me that because of their Medicare plans, they bounce around a lot between physicians and it’s usually a 10 minute sit down they get with a physician,” she said. “They’re in and out quickly without really getting the time to ask questions about their lifestyle or their medications.”

APhA-ASP is not just taking care of these senior citizens, but also making them more aware of what other resources are available.

“This also raises awareness to (them) that if they can’t get an appointment with their physician, they can always go down to their nearest pharmacy and ask the pharmacist about any questions or concerns they have or if they think their medication is not working,” Patel said.

Patel said being a part of the club and working with senior citizens not only makes her feel great, but humbles her.

“I love going to the health fairs and talking to the patients who don’t speak English, I communicate with them in Spanish or Hindi or Gujarati and they get so happy and they feel important and cared for when someone is able to explain to them in their own language about what’s going on, how this specific medication is going to help,” she said.

Often times in the classrooms, students learn about drugs and interactions and clinical knowledge, but Patel believes being a part of APhA-ASP and working health fairs gives her first-hand experience of how to work with patients and become a great future physician.

There are still so many gaps left in providing the best care for our patients and the only way to fill them is by hearing first hand exactly what is happening, she said.

“These health fairs really prepare me and my classmates to communication and listen to our patients,” Patel said. “So while we study all night and take our exams, we know it’s so that in the future, we are prepared to take care of these individuals and spend the time with them that they need to really understand what’s going on with their health.”

Hun said the hands-on experience the organization offers is important for being able to interact with patients in the local community.

“Not only does this benefit our own professional development, but also to spread awareness of healthcare issues,” she said.

The APhA-ASP does not only work with senior citizens, but also young children and adults to focus on patient care, and work to advocate for student pharmacist’s rights to immunize in New Jersey, one of four states that have yet to allow this, Patel said.

It is important for the organization to be recognized as health care providers in order to help the 15 underserved counties in the Garden State, she said.

These counties are underserved because they have too few providers, high infant mortality rates, high poverty and a high elderly population, Patel said. There are more than 11,000 licensed and registered pharmacists capable of providing care, but under Medicare Part B, are not recognized and reimbursed.

This means patients are unable to access services such as drug therapy management or preventative screenings because pharmacists are limited by the scope of practice, she said.

“So as student pharmacists, when we go out into the community and offer these services for free, it not only raises awareness to our scope of practice but also allows the elderly and sick access to free health care services,” she said. “We hope in the long run we will be recognized as health care providers and patients will be able to save cost, have more access to counseling and preventative services and have a better quality of life.”

Sophie Nieto-Munoz is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and Italian. She is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. You can find her on Twitter @snietomunoz for more.

Sophie Nieto-Munoz

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