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The Mission of A Lifetime

by Rima Jani

March 31, 2017

Never did I think I would get the chance to do this in the country of my heritage. When I found out about the medical mission the New York City Society of Health-System Pharmacists (NYCSHP) was organizing, I jumped on the opportunity and emailed them expressing my interest immediately. As a huge advocate of community service and public health, I was eager to join the team and assist in any way possible. This opportunity could not have been more perfect, as we would be serving people in Gujarat, India, and I just so happen to fluently speak the state's main language: Gujarati. In addition, I have organized and participated in numerous community outreach events for underserved populations all throughout pharmacy school, and I was convinced I knew exactly what this mission would entail. I had no idea that this trip would end up being an incredibly eye-opening experience.

The mission aimed to collaborate with Santram Mandir in Nadiad, a temple that strongly believes in “janseva” or volunteer work. First, we shadowed physicians at various local hospitals to learn more about medical practice in the country. We were able to garb up for an operating room and observe a cardiac surgeon perform a coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). We also got the opportunity to shadow kidney specialists that treat transplant recipients and patients with all stages of kidney disease. Both experiences were truly unique and educational.

Next, we set up clinics for a few days at the Santram Eye Hospital. Here, we performed blood pressure screenings, asthma counseling, blood glucose testing and brown bag medication reviews. We also brought several over-the-counter medications to give to patients in need that cannot afford them otherwise.

The Biggest Lesson of All

It was during these sessions that I learned the biggest lessons of all. Many of the patients that came in with high blood pressure or elevated blood glucose levels were dismissive of the idea of changing their diet or exercising to prevent further complications. Many patients I spoke to personally were only taking Ayurvedic (herbal) medications for their existing diabetes or hypertension, instead of pharmacologic agents recommended by their physicians. Unfortunately, there were also some patients that were not taking any medications for the simple fact that they couldn’t afford them.

As health care professionals, we are all desperate to make sure we do everything possible to help patients live longer, healthier lives. It can be frustrating when we meet patients who are not adherent to their medications or are not receptive to the advice we give them. However, this experience showed me that it is especially during those times that we must take a step back and reflect on some of the core principles of public health. When counseling these patients in India, we had to make sure we were taking numerous things into account including lifestyle, socioeconomic status, religious/spiritual beliefs, language barriers, and the fact that Ayurvedic medicine has remained one of India’s traditional health care systems for over 3,000 years. This experience truly demonstrated the importance of supplementing our clinical knowledge with cultural sensitivity when delivering patient-centered care.

The most memorable part of this trip was meeting patients who were truly engaged in the sessions and wanted to learn as much as possible. I can recall three women especially, who soaked up all the advice I gave them like a sponge and asked a ton of follow-up questions. It was in that moment I realized that being able to successfully reach even just one person makes our efforts in service completely worth it!

I am grateful to the members of NYCSHP for organizing such an impactful trip and for allowing us students from Touro College of Pharmacy to partake in this opportunity. We formed new relationships and learned important lessons through the medical mission. I have never been more proud of our profession and more excited to be only two months away from graduation. I encourage all healthcare professionals and students to pursue a medical mission at least once in their lifetime!