Long rows of tables stocked with health screening supplies stand ready as groups of pharmacy students clad in white coats make one last check. Project Collaborate is about to get underway.
Within the next few hours, hundreds of UT students make their way to Jester Center to take advantage of free health screenings including blood glucose and cholesterol testing, blood pressure monitoring, and body mass index calculations. Pharmacy students conduct the screenings and counsel the patients regarding the results under the watchful eyes of preceptor faculty. Most patients find that their results fall within healthy norms while others are counseled concerning diet and lifestyle changes that may help bring their readings closer to healthy ranges. A few are advised to see their private health care provider for more extensive testing.
Pharmacy Council, the student government group that includes representatives from all student organizations within the College of Pharmacy, established Project Collaborate as a vehicle for the student groups to combine resources and manpower in their outreach efforts to patients.
"One of the main incentives for participation in Project Collaborate as a student pharmacist is the opportunity for patient interaction and the utilization of basic clinical knowledge," explained Jobby John, president of Pharmacy Council. "Students get to hone their clinical skills and knowledge while providing a free service that helps the community. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved."
During the 2010-2011 academic year, the first year of the collaborative venture, the student organizations collectively provided 15 health screenings that served almost 1,500 patients. Three months into this academic year, the program has already provided patient screenings for approximately 700 patients. Cost for the program is supported by a special dean's allocation account and grants from the pharmacy industry and from other funding organizations including a recent $500 grant awarded by The University of Texas at Austin's Texas Parents organization. Other grant funding has come from Target, CVS and Albertsons
The mission of Project Collaborate is to provide health maintenance evaluations to many in Texas' underserved communities. Student pharmacists provide the health screenings free of charge in a variety of environments. Patients often represent populations with limited financial resources, lack of insurance or language barriers that prevent them from utilizing similar services.
"Sometimes, Project Collaborate is the only contact these patients have with a healthcare provider for the entire year," John explained. Some of the patients have limited English language skills while others are unfamiliar with the scientific language. The student pharmacists have been educated and trained to make sure their patients understand the information they are sharing and many are fluent in languages other than English enabling them to effectively communicate with non-English speaking patients.
"By communicating in a language they (patients) are comfortable with, we help our patients understand the results of their screening tests and how they can more successfully manage any health conditions that they might have," he continued.
This year the collaboration efforts have expanded beyond the pharmacy student organizations to include ventures with students in both nursing and social work.
"One of our goals this year was to overcome barriers that have prevented students from collaborating in the past and to give student health professionals throughout the Forty Acres an opportunity to work together and to understand one another's unique roles," John said. "For the first time in Texas, students from pharmacy, nursing, and social work have come together and shared their different perspectives as to how to develop solutions to problems that are rarely resolved by the efforts of just one health profession."
John said he was particularly proud of the communication that has been established between pharmacy and social work.
"Many people may not think of social workers as healthcare professionals because they don't wear scrubs or white coats, but the services that they provide are just as valuable as disease state management or medication advice," John said. "Many of our patients find that the quality or accessibility of their health care services are affected by social determinants such as employment, access to transportation, finances, and language barriers. Social workers are trained to handle and address these issues that may impede quality of life."
At the Project Collaborate sessions, John said social work students help patients locate free health clinics, procure insurance discount cards, and provide information to patients that may need government aid.
John said that students have been very gratified by the reception to Project Collaborate.
"We have received overwhelming support, gratitude and appreciation from patients who were screened and from leaders in the community who helped facilitate the screening events," he said. "We are very happy to be able to provide a service that helps our community and very thankful for all of the support that we receive from our faculty, the college and the university to fulfill our mission."
Editor's Note: The remaining Project Collaborate events for the Fall 2011 semester include:
Saturday, Nov. 5 – Student Society of Health-System Pharmacists
American Diabetes Association Walk
7:30 to 11:30 am
Texas Ridge Center
Saturday, Nov. 12 – Student National Pharmacists Association
Community Health Fair: Unidad Comun – UT Hope
8:30 am to 1 pm