The world watched as pharmacists across the globe played a pivotal healthcare role during the COVID pandemic. But engaging in public health is nothing new for the Skaggs School of Pharmacy. In any given year CU Pharmacy faculty and students are on the front lines of education and access to community care.
The free health clinic at the National Western Stock Show is a long-running example of the School’s commitment to going where the needs are greatest. Connie Valdez, PharmD, is the advisor of the student organization SNPhA whose mission is to bring healthcare to underserved populations.
Dr. Connie Valdez at the Stock Show health clinic.
“One of our students who was a member said, 'You know, we do all of these health fairs and we should do it for ranchers and farmers too,'" Dr. Valdez recalled. “I said that was a great idea because many of them don’t have health insurance or access to healthcare.”
And Valdez should know. She grew up in a ranching environment and participated in rodeos. Today she co-owns a ranch that runs cattle in Wyoming and continues to ride horses.
When Healthcare isn’t Horse Sense
“A horse-shoer that I have in Wyoming, he doesn’t go a doctor at all – he goes to his vet,” Valdez said. “That’s where he gets his medical care. So, a lot of times these folks (at the Stock Show) don’t have access to health care, and some haven’t been to the doctor in many years.”
When the free clinic started at the Stock Show back in 2006, pharmacy faculty and students provided pulmonary function tests for smokers, along with diabetes and blood pressure tests. In recent years, their work has expanded into a partnership with medical and nursing students from campus along with additional services such as free vaccinations. Over the years the free clinic has identified patients who had no idea they had certain health issues, some even being referred to Stock Show EMT’s for immediate assessment.
Health Fairs Bring Health Care to Those Who Need it Most
Health fairs are an opportunity for all to get involved. From students to faculty, alumni to preceptors, and organized outreach by the Office of Experiential Education, these one-stop events allow pharmacists to connect with the community and provide essentials. One of the largest health fairs of the year is the Community Health Fair for Living Water Church Aurora. Minutes from the CU Anschutz campus, this fair allowed CU Pharmacy volunteers to not only offer immunizations, but bone density screenings, crucial to identifying risk factors for osteoporosis.
Alumna Adetola Obiwole, PharmD, has been a leader in organizing this particular fair, and each year tries to expand its reach to fit the needs of Aurora’s diverse community. Dr. Obiwole connected with the CU School of Dental Medicine in order to also add dental screenings, another much-needed service to fair attendees.
Making Medication Knowledge Child’s Play
Students participate in a "Pharmacist for the Day."
Hands-on community outreach opportunities for PharmD students start in their very first semester. As part of their first-year training, pharmacy students are tasked with educating elementary students on a wide variety of health care issues at the annual “Pharmacist for a Day” event. The idea being that if student pharmacists can learn to explain sometimes-complicated pharmacy concepts to a fourth grader they will be better prepared to communicate more complex information to their patients in the future.
“Our pharmacy students teach the elementary school children how to make ‘rash a way cream’ using mortar and pestle, dye tabs and lotion. They learn how to put a prescription label on a vial. They learn about the difference between candy and medicine, and when to call poison control,” said Patricia Meyer, senior student services specialist for the Office of Experiential Education.
In addition to instilling real-world medication knowledge in the fourth graders, the event, also seeks to remind underserved communities, starting with children, that their neighborhood pharmacist is one of the most trusted, and accessible, health care providers.