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PharmDawg Travelogue

By: Abigail Shell

Every year holds new adventures and surprises, some more significant than others, and these memorable ones tend to be the ones we hold closest to our hearts.  For me, this past summer began one such year.  In April, I found out that I had been accepted into UGA’s College of Pharmacy; in May, I finished O-Chem and watched my little sister graduate high school; and the day after her graduation, I boarded an airplane bound for Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Over the course of five weeks, I interned at Hospital Garrahan in the city and took Spanish classes at the University of Palermo, returning home just in time to make my final preparations for my first day of pharmacy school.  What inspired this series of events?  What impact have these experiences had?  I invite you to journey with me through my transition from pre-Pharmacy undergrad to Class of 2017 PharmD Candidate in the hope that the lessons I learned may offer you guidance as well.

The summer after my freshman year, when I traveled across the United States with Give Back(packing), I decided that a career in pharmacy, not journalism, was the path I intended to take.  Under the strain of a heavy course load and faced with the lengthy process necessary to acquire a pharmaceutical technician’s license, I was unable to work in a pharmacy during my second year, but as I completed the application for UGA’s College of Pharmacy, I realized that some such experience was necessary.  At the same time, I decided to continue to pursue a Spanish minor and resolved to finish as much of it as possible before pharmacy school.  Together, these two ambitions led me to the UGA en Buenos Aires program.

One of the only travel-study programs that offers a medical internship for course credit, UGA en Buenos Aires proved to be more rewarding than I had ever expected.  Not only was I able to work in a clinical setting but I also gained the experience of commuting long distances and mastering public transportation, two vital skills of city life.  The hospital in which I worked was called Hospital Garrahan, and it was a free pediatric hospital, designed to serve the underprivileged citizens of Buenos Aires as well as any foreigners who could not afford the city’s main hospitals.  Interaction with this demographic was not something I or any of the other interns from the program had previously experienced and the opportunity to talk with some of these families showed us the importance of both the work we were doing and the necessity of always treating our patients with respect.

In the hospital, I shadowed the head of residents in the pharmacy.  I went on rounds in the oncology ward with her and toured both the compounding and IV labs.  Additionally, I attended seminars with the pharmaceutical residents.  During this time, I learned not only about the various pharmaceutical practices within the hospital but also about the structure of pharmaceutical education in Argentina.  Contrary to what I had previously believed, their system is much like ours.  For three years they study didactically, and in the fourth year, they have a series of rotations.  Combined with the similarities in their hospitals’ technology and organization, this explanation of their certification process chastised me for any mental conclusions I may have jumped to before making the trip and taught me the value of approaching every situation with an open mind.

When I returned from Buenos Aires, preparation kicked into high gear.  I had received my acceptance letter to UGA’s College of Pharmacy back in April, but due to the stress of finals and packing for my trip, I had not had a chance to get ready for my first day as a professional student.  Because I had taken my undergraduate classes at UGA, I was familiar with the campus and the inner workings of OASIS and Parking Services.  What I lacked, however, was a sufficient supply of business clothes.  At orientation, Dr. Wolgang explained how every Wednesday was “Professional Dress Day,” a day for the entire college to present themselves as they would as a working pharmacist.  In direct contrast to the undergraduate staples of Chaco’s, gym shorts, and oversized t-shirts, this dress code served as a physical testament to our new status as professional students.  After orientation, the only item left on our To-Do list was the White Coat ceremony, upon completion of which we were dressed, pressed and ready for our first day.

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Photo credit: ShawnOster / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

What a first day it was!  Schedules and books in hand, we all filed into our lecture hall, but unlike undergrad, we did not have to hike from building to building between classes since all of our classes were conducted in the same room.  Over the course of our first week, we ordered name tags and fitted lab coats (for the girls), learned about the structure of our PCL vs. Anatomy labs, and began joining organizations.  By our third week, we had conquered our first major test and begun to master our rather complicated schedules.  Although our first few days were a bit hectic, by this point in the semester, we have all come to feel quite at home in our lab coats.

If there is one thing I have learned so far during this rather memorable year, it is the need to appreciate every moment and to stay on top of my schedule.  Not only did Buenos Aires dramatically improve my Spanish but it also gave me the practical experience and confidence I needed to step boldly into the next chapter of my life.  I do not know what path you are on, but in whatever direction you stride, I challenge you to push your boundaries.  Adventure will knock, but only you can open the door.  You never know what you might learn about yourself, and besides, it makes for one impressive interview answer.