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Published April 21, 2023
Beginning in fall 2018, the University of Wyoming School of Pharmacy partnered with Howard University’s College of Pharmacy in Washington, D.C., for the Health Equity Leadership Program.
Under the program, students from each school participate in the online UW Leader Academy throughout the academic year and visit their counterparts’ campus locations to learn more about the differences and similarities in pharmacy-based health care both in urban and rural communities. The innovative exchange of experiences offered through the program allows pharmacy students from a rural setting, such as Laramie, to see and interact with an urban environment as in D.C., and vice versa.
Marking the fifth anniversary of the Health Equity Leadership Program, four pharmacy students from Howard University -- Christopher Bratcher, Jordan Lowery, Ayanna McIntosh and Odinaka Oranekwu -- along with faculty members Jessie Rung and Malaika Turner, traveled to Laramie earlier this year to spend three days with UW’s pharmacy students and experience life as UW Cowboys.
Students from the UW School of Pharmacy included Bailey Kane, of Douglas; Sekoya Romero, of Laramie; and Caitlin Loo, from Spring, Texas.
Tonja Woods, associate dean of students in the UW School of Pharmacy and a clinical associate professor of pharmacy practice, served as UW’s pharmacy team leader and welcomed the arrival of Howard University’s pharmacy cohort to Laramie.
“This program has been a lot of fun to be involved in,” Woods says. “Students in the pharmacy program are given the opportunity to apply for this program during their P1-P3 years. They have a great opportunity to engage with PharmD students from another program in a longitudinal program focused on health equity, disparities and pharmacy practice in urban and rural America.
“We leverage those important focus areas to grow our learners as future pharmacists in practice and leadership,” she adds. “It has been rewarding to see them expand their understanding as well as deconstruct some of their own prior notions as we move through the program.”
In addition to enjoying casual time together, which included meals at several local eateries and snowshoeing at Happy Jack, the Howard University students were able to compare their urban setting with what UW pharmacy students might experience in a rural practice in Wyoming once they graduate.
McIntosh, from Queens, N.Y., says her perspective on rural pharmacy changed with her visit to Wyoming.
“Rural pharmacists are not only the bridge between prescriber and patient knowledge base, but they also have a dedication to their patients that goes beyond the Hippocratic Oath,” McIntosh says. “My level of empathy and compassion I want to lead with in my career has directly been influenced by the care I’ve witnessed in rural pharmacy. Pharmacists in rural settings wear many hats because there simply are not enough staff members. This creates a stronger bond between patient and pharmacist.”
During their three-day stay, the D.C. students and their UW counterparts visited a nursing home facility and toured Valley Pharmacy in Saratoga. Because it was January, the challenges of travel for patients to see a pharmacist who provides care for them were noted by Lowery.
“Rural health care is more about giving people access, whereas urban health care is making sure that problems are solved,” Lowery says.
Before the addition of a new medical facility in Saratoga, patients living there who need dialysis treatments previously had to travel over 100 miles round-trip.
“The visit to Wyoming was transformative,” says Turner, interim assistant dean of student affairs and a clinical assistant professor with the Howard University College of Pharmacy. “It provided all of us -- students and faculty alike -- a new perspective on health care and health equity. From the social activities, such as snowshoeing, to providing patient care in the clinic and hospital, we were immersed in a culture different from anything we have previously experienced. It has changed the lens in which care provision is viewed, and I truly believe this experience has made our students better health care providers and leaders in the field.”
“Thinking about Washington, D.C., and Wyoming, automatically people think of the differences -- pharmacy practice, culture, way of living, etc.,” adds Rung, a clinical assistant professor with the Howard University College of Pharmacy. “This awesome leadership program enables students -- who are geographically diverse from both schools -- to explore and reflect. Students participating had a chance to experience firsthand the similarities and differences in health care and health disparity from rural and urban areas. It is our aim that they gain insights into these issues and eventually grow to become fine practitioners. So far, we think we have accomplished our aim.”
During UW’s spring break, UW pharmacy students, along with Woods and Maria Bennett, UW’s director of student services, headed to Howard University to spend three days with their D.C. counterparts.
While in and around the D.C. metro area, UW pharmacy students encountered similar challenges faced by patients and pharmacists in urban settings as those in rural.
“Throughout this program and going into this trip, I was expecting to see so many differences in health equity compared to rural areas, and it was actually the opposite,” Romero says. “There are, of course, differences, which I was aware of beforehand. But, when you look at the big picture, we face many of the same health disparities, including access to health care, financial stability and support systems.”
“Although the challenges in rural health care and urban health care are different, they have the same consequences,” she says. “In rural health care, the questions we ask are: ‘Will the roads stay open for this patient’s visit? How can the patient get exercise during the winter? How close is the nearest grocery store?’
“In urban health care, many of these questions are the same, but with a different spin,” Loo continues. “Are the roads safe enough for this patient to walk to their visit? Do they live in a safe area for outdoor exercise? Is the closest grocery store within walking distance? The root of the problems is still the same, but the barriers causing them are different.”
While both rural and urban experiences of students from both universities helped them see similarities and understand challenges facing patients and pharmacists providing care, the goals of the Health Equity Leadership Program -- equip students with firsthand experience with health equity issues in urban and rural areas; develop student leadership skills; and identify ways to share experiences -- were achieved.
What do Howard University and UW students think of their experience in the Health Equity Leadership Program?
“Aside from the amazing career-building opportunities, I think the dinners are going to be the most memorable for me from the trip,” McIntosh says. “It was during these moments, where we would recap our favorite moments of the day, that I felt like I got to know my fellow cohorts on a deeper level while sharing in the history and cultures of Wyoming life.”
“I was just surprised how, when I got there (D.C.), I felt like I was in a different world. But, when it came to the health inequities, it felt very similar to the challenges we see in rural areas as well,” Romero says.
About the UW College of Health Sciences
UW’s College of Health Sciences trains health and wellness professionals and researchers in a wide variety of disciplines, including medicine, nursing, pharmacy, communication disorders, social work, kinesiology, community and public health, and disability studies.
The college also oversees residency and fellowship programs in Casper and Cheyenne, as well as operating primary care and speech/hearing clinics in Laramie, Casper and Cheyenne.
With more than 1,600 undergraduate, graduate and professional students, the college is dedicated to training the health and wellness workforce of Wyoming and conducting high-quality research and community engagement, with a particular focus on rural and frontier populations.