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Pharmacy Care Clinic Allows Students to Serve Patients in Care Setting

Ferris State University“Care” is a little word with big meaning in Ferris State University’s College of Pharmacy. Efforts to build a culture of caring are no more evident than in its Pharmacy Care Clinic, where faculty and students are working to improve the health of people in need.

Since it opened in April 2013, the clinic has served patients of Big Rapids’ Hope House Free Medical Clinic, which provides medical care to area residents who don’t have health insurance.

Housed in the college’s former Model Pharmacy, the clinic also provides a learning opportunity for students.

“We can’t do in the classroom what working in a care setting does for students,” said Jeff Bates, an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy. “The clinic allows students to understand the concepts and practice the skills they learned in the classroom to serve real patients.

“I have been amazed by the change in our students. I see a difference in them.”

Ferris’ relationship with Hope House began about six years ago, when the free clinic began operating one day a week at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Big Rapids. The number of patients grew to the point that Hope House had to go to an appointment-only system and many had to wait eight months between visits.

But Hope House was able to move to a new space on the east side of Big Rapids in April and expanded its clinic hours to two days a week. That sliced the wait time in half and allows the clinic to accept new patients again. The Pharmacy Care Clinic is open three days a week, extending the window of opportunity for Hope House patients to get their prescriptions filled.

“We have about 660 patient encounters per year, and 95.4 percent of the time, patients are picking up and taking their prescriptions,” Bates said. “To see that kind of adherence is phenomenal.”

The Pharmacy Care Clinic, which is staffed by faculty members, local volunteer pharmacists and volunteer interns, is open 10 hours a week (3-5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays). During a typical Wednesday, the clinic fills 60 prescriptions. About 90 are filled each week from its formulary of 140 mostly generic medications. A prescription assistance program is available for higher-cost drugs.

The clinic, funded by grants and donations, primarily sees patients suffering from chronic pain, diabetes, hypertension and infections, impacts patient wellness by providing smoking cessation coaching and over-the-counter products, and ensures diabetes patients have access to testing supplies that help them manage their own care.

“The clinic will supply diabetes patients with 15 or 16 cases of glucometer test strips in the next year, and we’re averaging three A1C tests a week, which will help these patients control their diabetes,” Bates said. “We don’t just give them a product; we teach them how to use it. This will prevent dozens of hospitalizations each year.”

The effort to provide access to life-saving medications complemented by sound medical advice is why second-year Pharmacy student Carlee Schafer wanted to volunteer at the clinic.

“Helping people is why I decided to pursue pharmacy as a career in the first place,” said Schafer, of Mount Pleasant. “I have worked in community pharmacy for many years now, and I have witnessed so many patients struggling to pay for their medications or simply not getting their prescriptions filled because they cannot afford them. The Care Clinic’s bottom line is patient care, which is why I couldn’t wait to get involved.”

Three students of varying experience typically work three-hour shifts at a time in the clinic. Some have never set foot in a pharmacy and are honing skills learned in the classroom, mentored by others who have filled prescriptions and counseled patients regarding proper use of their medications.

Bates hopes to make working in the clinic an elective rotation among those required for the doctorate degree. He also hopes to affiliate the Care Clinic with Ferris’ Interprofessional Wellness Clinic, a collaboration of optometry, nursing and pharmacy students and faculty to aid in diabetes management.

Volunteering has proven beneficial for Schafer, who wanted additional experience counseling patients and simply to spend more time in a pharmacy setting.

“It is great to work with patients who are willing to listen and grateful for any help you offer them,” she said. “The Care Clinic is great for the community, because it allow access to healthcare for those who have no affordable options. This can be life-changing for some patients — think about a diabetic going without insulin simply because they can’t afford to see a doctor or buy the medication.”

The clinic gives Ferris an opportunity to connect with the local health care system and to serve people in the community students call home.

“It shows the community Ferris is bringing more than students to the city of Big Rapids,” Schafer said. “It shows Ferris cares.”

This story was featured in Winter 2014 edition of "Ferris State University Pharmacy Magazine."