Roosevelt University Pharmacy Students Put What They’ve Learned to Work on Indian Reservations

Alex Mersch

CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–February 27, 2015.  Two Roosevelt University students took their love for pharmacy to underserved locations by working at sites serving Native Americans.

Close to completing Roosevelt’s three-year PharmD program, Alex Mersch of Berwyn, Ill. (pictured above) and Steven Hung Thai of Anaheim, Calif. could have taken the easy way, staying close to home and inside their communities in order to gain the practice experience they need to become pharmacists.

Instead, Mersch, 26, and Thai, 28, chose to live among and work for periods during the 2014-15 academic year with Native American tribes whose members are struggling with a number of health risks, including diabetes and depression.

“I wanted to try something different so I pushed myself to step outside my comfort zone,” said Mersch, who spent part of the winter working with patients at a health clinic on the East Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina.

Thai worked for six weeks last fall in South Dakota at a federal clinic for members of the Lakota/Sioux Indian Reservation, which is located in one of the poorest rural areas of America. He liked the experience so much that he then chose to do a second eight-week ambulatory care rotation over the winter working at the Indian Medical Center in Phoenix, Ariz.

“When you think about pharmacy, too often Walgreens or CVS are the first places that come to mind,” said Thai. “I wanted to see what pharmacy was like in a different setting and these experiences certainly opened my eyes.”

Both students in the College of Pharmacy’s Class of 2015 ministered to patients prescribed multiple medications for diabetes, heart disease and mental illness, to name just a few of the diseases that are encountered in this population.
“I had a lot responsibility and spent a lot of time working one-on-one with these patients. I learned a lot about them as individuals and really felt that I was making a difference,” said Mersch, who counseled East Cherokee patients on everything from how to take their medications to improving their diets.

“My motivation in working in both locations was to go where I was needed,” added Thai, who learned through both of his recent practice rotations that Native Americans don’t always have many choices when it comes to healthcare providers.

Joan Hardman, director of experiential education for Roosevelt’s College of Pharmacy, said opportunities and life-changing experiences abound for students who work with under-served populations, including Native Americans.

“In keeping with the University’s mission of social justice, we encourage our students during their final year of rotations to spend time like Alex and Steven recently did, working in settings where they can really make a difference in patients’ lives,” she said.  “Both Alex and Steven were able to live the values in our Pharmacy Pledge of Professionalism: Commitment, Competence and Compassion during their rotations,” she said.
Now preparing for graduation in May, Mersch and Thai say their experiences at practice rotations on Indian reservations were more than just rewarding.

‘Stepping outside my comfort zone was the best thing I could have done,” said Mersch, who also has had practice experiences at area hospitals and retail pharmacies. “It’s given me a lot of confidence as I consider my career options.”

“I’m going into pharmacy because I want to be useful to others,” added Thai, who is currently completing practice rotations at a retail pharmacy and doing home infusion therapy in Southern California.

“The experiences I had working with Native Americans required me to be extremely driven, dedicated and committed. These are qualities that are going to help me as I decide what path to take with my career in the months ahead,” he said.