Pharmacy volunteers, including pharmacists and pharmacy techs, bring great value to IMR teams on international medical mission trips because of their expertise in drug interactions and substitutions, as well as conversions for pediatric or adult dosing. We frequently have internists seeing older children or pediatricians seeing young adults, so it is beneficial for them to have good advice from pharmacists when dosing or choosing medications. Your role goes far beyond counting pills – you will be a valued clinical consultant in our clinics.
The ability of pharmacy volunteers to provide counseling on medication safety to our patients (and to teach our team about medication safety) is both invaluable and lifesaving. One example is in cautioning providers who want to provide a high pill count for medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen that can cause harm in the hands of small children. Another is helping patients understand that vitamins are not candy and that children should not hold or be able to reach medication.
Our patients need to understand that medicine should be kept out of the reach of children in our patients’ homes. As a pharmacist, you have the expertise to help raise the level of understanding and patient safety with your professional advice.
I also helped advise the providers on what to use, or if they prescribed a certain medication we didn't have, discussed and selected an alternative medication of similar action for that condition. I was also responsible for using my drug knowledge especially with the pediatric population. With neonates and children, dosing accuracy is critical. Most providers who are not specialized in pediatrics don't deal much with that patient population.
Roles of Pharmacy Volunteers in Clinic
These patients at times were seeing medication for the first time. Education down to the use of a blister pack foil and the need to remove the tablet from it was a necessity. There were no stupid questions in this pharmacy.
Every patient took their medication in front of the pharmacist and translator and it was confirmed that they were able to echo back the directions for use of their medications. Patients in pharmacy were so grateful and thought of us a miracle workers and magicians with the magic pills. We would wait for the brown well water to arrive and paper cups of water would accompany each ziplock baggie filled with medication for each patient.
We arrived during the Kenyan rainy season. Our mornings would start cloudy, the day would be sunny and at 5 o’clock the clouds would open each evening. Rain or shine, in ponchos and wet shoes we made sure each and every patient was counseled and properly dosed. The clinics were busy and bustling and pharmacy runners would run batches of medications directly to teams.
Pharmacists on these medical missions were never commonplace. The team leader would constantly remind the team that we have not one but two clinical pharmacists on staff. When we first landed in Kenya, the team thought we were just two women there to help and by the end of the mission, we were given a standing ovation, especially the dermatology department who worked hand in hand with pharmacy.
The emergency room physician assistant of the mission made the best comment. He told the medical students “If you don’t know something, just go to the pharmacists because they know everything!”
Thank you International Medical Relief for allowing us to make pharmacists proud and show what a vital part of the healthcare team we represent.
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