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An Exchange of Opportunities

September 16, 2020
people posing in front of a sign outside
Register Cliff Pharmacy in Guernsey. (Courtesy Photo)

The Health Equity Leadership Program brings Howard University and University of Wyoming students together to learn and grow.


By Micaela Myers 

When Zulikhat Segunmaru and Nkiruka Emezienna started Howard University College of Pharmacy in Washington, D.C., three years ago, little did they know they’d be petting the school mascot—a bison—in Wyoming, in January no less. They were part of the first cohort of students in an innovative pharmacy exchange program between Howard and the University of Wyoming School of Pharmacy called the Health Equity Leadership Program, or HELP for short. Four students from each university take part in online leadership development together. Then, in January, Howard students visit Wyoming, and in March, UW students visit D.C.

“The premise of the program was to understand and appreciate the differences in not only health systems, policies and structures but in life experiences as well,” says Emezienna, who grew up in Prince George’s County, Md. “While I observed that our counterparts in Wyoming must navigate all of this with a lot less resources and a lot more hurdles, the similarities were not lost on me. We ultimately stand united in our goal to care for patients. I undoubtedly left Wyoming a little more patient, a bit wiser and a lot more grateful.”

Segunmaru says it’s key for health care providers to be well rounded because they serve patients from different backgrounds. “So it’s important that we’re adaptable and able to maneuver in different environments that we might be privileged to practice in.”

Danna Hanks, a second-year UW pharmacy student from Powell, Wyo., took part in the first year of the program, 2018–19, with Segunmaru and Emezienna.

“This experience exposed me to a whole new sector of health care as well as a whole new culture,” she says. “I had no idea what challenges plagued health care in a heavily populated area, and ironically enough, they were eerily similar to the health care challenges that we face in Wyoming. Here we might have to drive to see a provider. In the D.C. area, there were large hospitals, but many patients did not have access to health care because of the cost, or lack of insurance, or due to their homelessness. Bottom line, I learned that pharmacists no matter where they are practicing must be creative problem solvers in order to deliver the best care for patients. I also grew in the area of cultural competence.”

people standing in a hospital hallway
Platte County Memorial Hospital in Wheatland

UW Clinical Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Associate Dean of Students Tonja Woods says the program was created around the overall knowledge and awareness of health equity to eliminate disparities and help improve health across all groups. That was the premise for exposing UW students to an urban setting and Howard students to a rural one.

“We have biweekly meetings with the students via Zoom to engage in leadership activities, so they’re connecting quite a lot and getting to know each other,” Woods says.

When the Howard students come to Wyoming, they are immersed in health care settings but also experience the state via activities such as snowshoeing and a visit to Terry Bison Ranch.

“We’ve taken them to small, rural, critical-access hospitals, outpatient practices and rural pharmacies to see how care is delivered there,” she says. “We’ve elevated those visits to integrate them into the health care and patient care process.”

Then, in D.C., UW students visit large urban hospitals and major pharmaceutical organizations such as the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), as well as take part in tourist activities.

“We had dinner twice with the CEO of APhA,” Segunmaru says. “We were able to sit down and talk to the heads of a lot of these major associations who are making decisions on our behalf. Having a seat at the table to be able to talk to them and see how they’re advocating for our profession is inspiring as a student.”

Woods reports very positive feedback from all sides of the program: “We’ve been contacted by other institutions asking if we’d be interested in partnering with them. So we’re exploring how we can expand this project. We plan to continue the program based on funding.”

Hanks remembers some words of wisdom from Tom Menighan, CEO of APhA: “Say yes to opportunities.”

She says, “I am extremely thankful that I said ‘yes’ to the Health Equity Leadership Program.”

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