Students in the College of Pharmacy have the unique opportunity to take their education and skill sets abroad, resulting in an incredible amount of student growth and experience in health care at the international level.
The College offers international rotations in the following countries: Belize, Dominica, United Arab Emirates, Japan, and Romania. Each rotation fulfills one of the five-week Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPEs) that fourth-year students complete in various pharmacy settings.
Keitasha Arnold, a 2023 Doctor of Pharmacy and Master of Public Health student, traveled to Belize in January to take part in an international rotation. “When the opportunity for an international experience arose for pharmacy school, I thought it was important to venture outside of my comfort zone and apply for the once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said.
After reading through her fourth-year rotation options, Arnold thought the month-long Belize rotation sounded like a good fit for her. “I thought this would be the perfect amount of time to fully immerse myself in the culture and contribute to the health of many,” she said. “I also thought that this rotation would be a great experience because I would have the ability to apply it to my pharmacy and public health studies.”
In Belize, Arnold worked with the Hillside International Clinic in Punta Gorda. She provided care to individuals unable to access the clinic due to various barriers, including lack of transportation.
“One way (we broke through barriers) was through the Hillside Mobile Clinic,” Arnold said. “We were able to provide care in villages across Belize up to three hours away. We could also join one of the nurses on home-health visits for home-bound patients. Lastly, we were able to set up health fairs in the middle of town to perform blood pressure and blood glucose testing for anyone interested. All of these experiences really displayed how we can contribute to conquering barriers that often arise in public health.”
Arnold’s most significant takeaway from the rotation is that there are many ways pharmacists and other health care professionals can help ensure patients receive the health care they deserve.
“Whether it’s holding health fairs in their community, volunteering, or forming ways to conquer the many barriers that patients may face, there is always something we can do,” she said. “Health care is a right, and as future health care professionals, we should always be thinking of ways to ensure patients have the ability to receive it.”
When Arnold wraps up her studies this spring, and eventually pursues a career as an ambulatory care pharmacist, she knows her Belize experience will continue to benefit her.
“Although I was initially hesitant, I am very happy I decided to embark on this journey, and I encourage all pharmacy students to apply for this international rotation,” she said. “You will learn so much in and outside of pharmacy that will impact your career.”
“All of these experiences really displayed how we can contribute to conquering barriers that often arise in public health.” -- Keitasha Arnold
On an island many miles east of Belize, 2023 Doctor of Pharmacy student Sanya Hassan also participated in an international rotation.
In Dominica, she was exposed to a variety of clinical experiences, although primarily at Jolly’s Pharmacy. Hassan was also involved in integrative healing practices like massage therapy, nature therapy, and medicinal tea.
“This rotation helps you improve your clinical skills and allows you to build the necessary cultural competence needed to practice as a future pharmacist,” Hassan said. “The patient care activities in the clinic and the rich multicultural patient population really expand your knowledge, skills, and attitudes when working with patients with diverse health beliefs and practices.”
She added that the Dominica rotation also emphasized the importance of providing educational materials and presentations to patients and colleagues.
“This is a necessary skill to have in your future pharmacy career where you may have to present information in a patient-friendly format,” Hassan said. “This rotation gives you practice presenting to patients and effectively conveying health information to them in a way that is easy to understand.”
Hassan encourages other students interested in improving health outcomes for their future patients to take part in an international rotation.
“It will help you understand that health disparities exist worldwide and what you can do as a student pharmacist to provide resources to patients to help increase their access to knowledge,” she said.
United Arab Emirates
Yet another student to take part in an international rotation was fellow 2023 Doctor of Pharmacy student Ashgan Alshawy. Alshawy herself is from Saudi Arabia. She traveled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where she worked at Gulf Medical University’s Thumbay Hospital.
“What stood out the most in my rotation was the differences in pharmacy practices, including the systems used and medications prescribed,” she shared. “For example, while opioid medication was commonly prescribed in the ICU during my rotation at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, it was rarely used in the UAE.”
Alshawy added that another significant point from her time in the UAE was the diversity of patients. “As a popular travel destination, patients with unique and uncommon diseases were encountered,” she said. “As a pharmacist, I also learned that medication usage may vary depending on a patient’s ethnicity.”
In addition, Alshawy explained that her rotation in the UAE allowed her to apply her pharmacy education in Arabic.
“Since I intend to return to Saudi Arabia, I am eager to use the knowledge and skills I gained to serve my community,” she said. “My international rotation in the UAE was an incredible experience, and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow from it. I would like to express my appreciation to the College of Pharmacy for offering this program to pharmacy students, and especially to (Clinical Associate Professor) Dr. Jeanine Abrons for her assistance in making this opportunity possible.”