A North Carolina native helping HIV, cancer and diabetes patients in Malawi. An Ohioan working in hospital and community pharmacies in Japan. These PY4s on different career paths each spent a month as Global Pharmacy Scholars because they shared an ideal: that testing themselves, leaning in to uncertainty and experiencing new ways of practice will make them better professionals.

Through the Global Pharmacy Scholars (GPS) program, students work on the front lines of health care in eight locations: Australia, India, Canada, Japan, Malawi, Moldova, the United Kingdom and Zambia. Dean Blouin believes so strongly in GPS that he wants to send 75 students a year – half of each PY4 class – to GPS sites by 2020. The trend line in the program’s first two years is moving in the right direction, with 18 students participating in 2015-16 and 36 going in 2016-17.

The goal is to develop global leaders in pharmacy. “As the world becomes more interconnected, it’s important for our students to have skills such as cultural competence, global awareness and the ability to solve problems through different perspectives and in different settings,” Blouin said.

Dhiren Thakker, a professor in the School whose passion is helping students experience the world, and his wife Kailas funded the first scholarships. Their gift covers travel and lodging for six PY4s a year for five years. “It is my hope that their experience in the GPS program will be transformative, opening their hearts to the health-care challenges of people who are less fortunate and their minds to learning from the rich diversity of people and cultures around the globe,” Dhiren Thakker said.

Brian Kurish from Amherst, Ohio and Payal Patel from Wake Forest participated this year.

“I had never traveled abroad, and I saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity, a new way to step out of my comfort zone, and a new experience to develop me as a pharmacist,” Kurish said. “Japan is in the top 10 in global health, and I was able to see a different way of doing things. It opened my mind.”

At Tokyo’s Keio University he worked in a lab and the hospital pharmacy, and learned about dispensing in a community pharmacy. Along the way he gained exposure to herbal medicine and noted that hospital patients were responsible for taking their medicine. “It teaches people to manage it,” he said.

“There are other ways to do things that are just as right if not more right – there is more than one way to practice medicine,” he said. “We have a lot to give to other countries and we have a lot to learn from other countries as well.”

Payal Patel grew up in Wake Forest and spent her first two years of college at UNC before entering pharmacy school. She described her educational experience prior to GPS in Malawi as living in “the Chapel Hill bubble.”

Patel worked in the hypertension/diabetes and oncology clinics at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, before moving on to an HIV clinic and regional distribution center. She chose Malawi to break that bubble. “I wanted to experience an underdeveloped country and experience pharmacy there,” she said. “London and Australia are similar to us, and I wanted to see how I could contribute in an underdeveloped country.”

In the oncology clinic she realized the nation of nearly 20 million has two oncologists. Life expectancy is just under 55 years. The experience, she said, “affected me not only professionally but personally as well. It melded growing as a person and growing professionally.”

A new perspective on patients is one example. “Sometimes we get frustrated with patients, but we don’t know what’s going on with them on the inside,” she said. “I realized that I just want to provide the best healthcare I can, and I’ve grown more appreciative of what we can do.”

The GPS program funds about 75 percent of each student’s cost because the School believes the experience is more impactful when students share the investment. Patel said that, given the low cost of living in Malawi, her GPS stipend covered almost all of her expenses except the required vaccinations and meals.

Did the experience live up to her expectations? “I’m not sure what I expected,” she said. “I did the research (on Malawi before departure) but it’s a totally new place. Nothing prepares you for the experience.”

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