Monroe, Wash. – Earlier this year, University of Washington School of Pharmacy students and EvergreenHealth Monroe Pharmacy interns, Justin Fernando and Marissa Norton, traveled to Ghana for the second time to provide health care services to underprivileged communities through the University’s chapter of Global Medical Brigades, an organization that offers students the opportunity to address and treat diverse populations facing different health risks than patients in the United States.
“I was searching for a program that would teach me skills I could bring back with me to Washington, not just to apply in the classroom, but also to use with real patients I encounter every day in my internship at EvergreenHealth Monroe,” recalled Norton. “I had learned about interacting with different types of patient populations, but I wanted to go beyond my comfort zone. My experience in Ghana gave me irreplaceable knowledge that will help me in my day-to-day exchanges at our hospital-based pharmacy in Monroe.”
On their first trip in 2016, the students spent eight days working with the Department of Health to provide preventive health care services to small, rural communities across Ghana’s southern region. Their work centered on patient education around hypertension—extremely high blood pressure—which is especially dangerous because it often doesn’t present any symptoms. However, if left untreated over time, patients face an increased risk of developing serious health conditions like heart attack or stroke.
“Where we live, it’s normal to have a blood pressure of 140/90. We screened roughly 400 patients in Ghana and found dozens had blood pressure well over 220/110, which was extremely alarming,” explained Fernando. “In some instances, patients had suffered strokes as a result of hypertension, but didn’t realize the seriousness of their condition. It was our job to teach them the basic signs of the disease so they were able to recognize when they needed treatment.”
By 2017 Norton and Fernando were interning at EvergreenHealth Monroe Medical Center and eager to reunite with their patients and measure how their health had progressed over the last year. To their delight, the average blood pressure in patients they had treated previously was much lower, a significant improvement and proof that the patient education initiatives had achieved the desired outcome. Having laid the groundwork for patient education, the students’ next mission was to train community health workers and nurses, so they would be better equipped to serve their communities in the long-term.
“Hypertension is largely an invisible disease; often, people who aren’t exhibiting any symptoms don’t see a reason to take medication,” said Kathy Arnold, manager of EvergreenHealth Monroe Pharmacy. “This was especially true among the population Marissa and Justin were treating in Ghana. They trained the community health workers to teach patients the importance of taking their medication regularly and following up with their doctors to monitor their condition. We feel so fortunate to have students with a global community-focused mind working with us in Monroe.”
“My experience in Ghana helped to strengthen my skills in patient interaction, especially with those populations that are more diverse and have greater-than-average needs,” said Norton. “My advice to other pharmacy interns is to take advantage of any opportunity that allows you to travel to an unfamiliar place, and to learn about a different patient population than the one you’re used to. Gaining this knowledge and experience will only benefit you and your future patients when you’re able to better understand where they’re coming from, and therefore, provide better treatment.”
Global Medical Brigades is the world’s largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization, arranging international volunteer trips in various disciplines. Volunteers gain hands-on experience taking vitals and patient history in triage, shadowing licensed doctors in medical consultations and assisting in a pharmacy under the direction of licensed pharmacists.
EvergreenHealth Monroe is part of a comprehensive health system, which includes two hospitals, 12 primary care locations around the region, and the largest home care and home hospice service in the Puget Sound area. Onsite specialty services at EvergreenHealth Monroe include orthopedics, a Wound Healing and Hyperbarics Center, anticoagulation management clinic, oncology, respiratory therapy, rehabilitation services such as physical therapy and occupational therapy, and more.
For more information on EvergreenHealth Monroe and its services, please call the Nurse Navigator & Healthline at 360.794.1111 or visit www.evergreenhealthmonroe.com.
EvergreenHealth is an integrated health care system that serves nearly one million residents in King and Snohomish counties and offers a breadth of services and programs that is among the most comprehensive in the region. More than 1,000 physicians provide clinical excellence in over 80 specialties, including heart and vascular care, oncology, surgical care, orthopedics, neurosciences, women’s and children’s services, pulmonary care and home care and hospice services. Formed as a public hospital district in 1972, EvergreenHealth includes a 318-bed acute care medical center in Kirkland, a network of 12 primary care practices, two urgent care centers, over two dozen specialty care practices and 24/7 emergency care at its Kirkland, Monroe, and Redmond campuses. In 2015, the system expanded to include EvergreenHealth Monroe – an accredited, full-service 74-bed public hospital district, established in 1960 in Monroe, Washington. EvergreenHealth has clinical and strategic partnerships with several health care entities, including Overlake Medical Center, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and dozens of independent practices that are part of the clinically integrated Eastside Health Network and the Puget Sound High Value Network. In addition to clinical care, EvergreenHealth offers extensive community health outreach and education programs, anchored by the 24/7 EvergreenHealth Nurse Navigator & Healthline.
In 2016, EvergreenHealth achieved its eighth designation in the last nine years (2009-2012, and 2014-2017) as a Distinguished Hospital for Clinical Excellence from Healthgrades®, and in 2017 it was named one of Healthgrades 2017 America’s 100 Best Hospitals placing it among the top 2 percent of hospitals nationwide, based on its outstanding clinical performance. EvergreenHealth was also named one of the nation’s 100 Top Hospitals® by Truven Health Analytics™ in the “Large Community Hospitals” category for outstanding achievements in patient care, operational efficiency and financial strength, two years in a row. For more information, visit www.evergreenhealth.com.
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