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Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Pharmacy
My Jamaica Mission: A Life Changing Experience
by Paris Smith, P3, Vice President Southern Illinois University Eadwardsville (SIUE) - School of Pharmacy
One aspect that drew me to attend the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) School of Pharmacy was the opportunity to volunteer outside of the United States. I have always wanted to serve others who are not as fortunate to have adequate, accessible health care. My dream came true when I was selected to participate in the 2018 Jamaica Dental Mission Trip. The weeklong trip in late July consisted of four days in clinic followed by three days of vacation in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Our crew consisted of SIUE and ATSU School of Dental Medicine students, dentists, and Aspen Dental Group dentists. The inclusion of pharmacy students in the clinic helped provide well-rounded health care and screenings. The fearless leader of our group, Dr. McCloud, was a dentist who grew up in Montego Bay and has been organizing this trip for ten years.
We split our time to cover two separate clinics over the four days. One clinic was in an area called Flankers and the other was at a school in Kew Park. The dentists, pharmacists, and students spent two days at both clinics to be able to experience each setting. Kew Park was bigger than Flankers, and we had more room to treat patients and perform procedures. The clinics consist of full 12-hour days; the pharmacy students helped to triage patients by taking their blood pressure, performing medication reconciliation, obtaining past medical histories, and documenting allergies. Our services helped to ensure that patients can tolerate the dental procedures without issues such as allergic reactions to the antibiotics. I loved this aspect because I could practice taking blood pressures and interviewing patients in a loud, chaotic environment.
At the end of the procedures, the patients were prescribed antibiotics and a generic, over-the-counter analgesic for pain. We counseled the patients on how to take their new medications and what to avoid if they had a tooth extraction. Every patient left the clinic with a new toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss. Most importantly, every child treated went home with a toy; this tugged at my heart and made me emotional. The toys were in the original box, and some of the kids told us they never had a brand-new toy before. The gratitude I felt seeing the smiles on their faces was unexplainable. Such a small act of kindness left an immense impact on the children during our trip.
On the last day of clinic at Kew Park, the dental and pharmacy students gave a presentation to the patients who were waiting to be seen. We presented on proper brushing and flossing technique and hypertension, diabetes, and nutrition, respectively. The pharmacy students also mentioned the importance of medication adherence, exercise, diet, and smoking cessation. Over the course of four days, we treated 695 patients with prophylaxis, fillings, extractions, and denture placement.
One of the best parts of the experience was interacting with the dentists. I remember one scenario where they were prescribing ibuprofen to a patient with hypertension. I stepped in to recommend acetaminophen instead, explained my rationale, and together we were able to treat the patient properly. I was proud to advocate for my patient and use my medication knowledge. More than that, collaborating with another healthcare provider who accepted my recommendation was a great feeling.
This trip may have mentally and physically exhausted me, but nonetheless, it was a fulfilling and humbling experience in which to have participated. The patients were immensely grateful. The majority of our patients only see a dentist annually during this mission trip. I remember seeing patients walk miles from their houses to the clinic so their children could be seen by a provider. This reminded me to never take anything for granted; we are fortunate to live in a country where we have access to healthcare. Not only did this mission trip make me a better person, I will also be a better pharmacist. I will strive to provide optimal care to every patient whether through medications, screenings, or a yearly physical. If the people of Montego Bay can walk miles to a dental clinic, we can certainly make an appointment with our primary care physician and talk to our local pharmacists to make sure that we are living healthy lives. ■