A Medical Mission to Poland: Touro Travels to Help Ukrainians
Touro College of Pharmacy Professors Volunteer at a Center in Warsaw Serving 2,500 Displaced Ukrainians
Eager to help citizens from her home country of Ukraine, Dr. Anastasiya Shor, assistant professor and director of the Drug Information Center at Touro College of Pharmacy (TCOP), traveled to Poland recently to help people from her homeland impacted by the war. She was joined by TCOP Professor Dr. Dipan Ray. We spoke with Dr. Shor about their experience at the Global Expo Transit Center in Warsaw.
Please tell us about the Center.
The transit center provided shelter, meals, childcare, clothing, haircuts, laundry, pet services, help with visas and finding work, and, of course, healthcare in a 24-hour clinic for 2,500 displaced Ukrainians. Sleeping areas with cots were created out of what used to be a large conference space. Many people had very few personal belongings. When they checked in they received bedding and basic supplies. People from all over the world came to volunteer. Anyone was welcome to help – be they translators, cooks, custodians, caretakers, barbers, or teachers.
What did you do?
Dr. Ray and I provided comfort and stability by helping to treat acute illnesses, like upper respiratory infections, constipation and diarrhea. We managed the medications inventory, answered questions about foreign drugs, and discussed available treatments with the doctors, including patient-specific recommendations. As pharmacists, we are trained to find drug substitutes when there are limited resources. As a first-generation Ukrainian American, I was also able to counsel patients and translate when needed. Dr. Ray, a specialist in alternative medicine, advised on herbal remedies that are often used alongside medical treatments. In the past, when pharmacists were not on duty, doctors would have to search the pharmacy shelves on their own, taking time away from patient consultation. At the very least, we hoped to improve the accuracy of inventory records and increase the time physicians could spend with patients.
What do you think was your biggest accomplishment?
Doing my job as a pharmacist despite an unfamiliar environment gave me the greatest sense of professional accomplishment. We received donations of non-U.S. medications and herbal treatments to review daily, and no day was like the other because patients’ needs were constantly changing. We had to be prepared to navigate the inventory and provide options for each patient. A great sense of personal accomplishment came from daily interactions with volunteers, providers, and patients. Clinic staff was made up of Polish volunteer nurses, doctors, and emergency medical technicians; Canadian volunteers; and doctors from Ukraine, Sweden, and Germany. During lunch we shared our stories and when the Ukrainians joined us we chatted about everyday things and enjoyed a briefly restored sense of normalcy.
What did you learn?
The resilience of the human spirit is remarkable. I learned a lot about myself and my capabilities in crisis. Seeing the strong conviction, hope and optimism among the displaced Ukrainians inspired me to go beyond what I thought I could do. I also learned that burnout is very real, and while enthusiasm is valuable, it’s important to rest and keep up your energy so you don’t run out of steam and become a patient yourself.
Did anything surprise you?
I was surprised to see just how multicultural Warsaw is. I communicated in a mix of English, Russian, and Ukrainian without skipping a beat! Also, the support shown by the government and the Polish people is incredible - the most obvious being the multiple Ukrainian and Polish flags flying alongside each other. Supportive messages appear on doors, windows, T-shirts, necklaces, billboards, and in songs. A rock band performed "Ya ne zdamsa bez boyu" (I won't give up without a fight) in the city’s central mall while a crowd sang along. There are many places where displaced persons can apply for visas, take passport pictures, or just warm up with a cup of coffee while their children play.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Being able to apply my knowledge and to deliver help in such a versatile and meaningful way is the real reason I became a pharmacist. In a short week Dr. Ray and I saw first-hand the positive impact that just two individuals can have on hundreds of lives, and we can say with confidence that anyone can make a difference. Help is needed more than ever.