My STEP signature project was a 1-week study abroad trip to London, England with the College of Pharmacy. This trip was split between professional development activities, such as visiting a hospital and a community pharmacy, and cultural experiences, like riding the London Eye and visiting Stonehenge. I was extremely fortunate to be able to explore such an incredible city with CoP faculty, PharmD students, and my undergrad peers.
I was awestruck from the second we landed in Heathrow. I could see Big Ben and the London Eye from the plane as we flew in. That first day, we walked around the burrough where we were stayed, Kensington, and I was so amazed at how different it felt from America. It seemed like I had just stepped into a movie set. The streets were more quaint, lined with red phone booths, double decker buses zooming past the impressive architecture of the old-fashioned buildings. I really appreciated the change of scenery and as a group, I think we were all very eager to explore as much as we could in 7 days.
Learning about the healthcare system in a different country definitely challenged my views of the world. It was very interesting to study a system that differs so greatly from what we have in the US and it was truly an added bonus to be able to experience England’s healthcare system in person. We met a lot of great healthcare professionals and educators on our visits. We were able to talk about what pharmacy and healthcare meant to them, as well as how they were advancing the profession. Their energy and enthusiasm was inspiring; halfway through the week I had a sort of “aha!” moment where I was so happy and excited to be pursuing a career in pharmacy. It was very cool to realize that even on an international scale, pharmacy is still a great fit for my interests and talents.
The professional events perpetuated this excitement throughout the week. One of my favorite activities was the trip to Green Light Pharmacy, a community pharmacy in Cambridge. This visit resonated with me because I work in a community pharmacy here in Columbus, so I was able to draw conclusions about how my work experiences compare to what I might experience as a pharmacy technician in London.
Overall, retail pharmacy in England seems to be more relaxed than it is here in America. Oftentimes, the patients I work with are impatient and stressed about the cost of their medications. Patients in England receive the majority of their prescriptions for free due to the way their healthcare system is structured. Yes, you read that correctly–there is no charge on most prescriptions in England. Green Light Pharmacy also provides free needle kits to anyone who wants one; these kits include clean needles, syringes, mixing powder, and condoms and their purpose is to discourage sharing needles, which transmits disease. These free needle kits blew our minds–can you imagine providing free needle kits to everyone in Columbus, especially in the middle of the opioid epidemic we are experiencing? Interestingly enough, opioid abuse is not a significant issue in London at this time. In fact, is it legal to buy stronger pain-killers such as Tylenol #3 (aka acetaminophen-codeine) over the counter at pharmacies–in the US these pills are a controlled substance requiring a valid prescription. Other than the free prescriptions and readily-available narcotics and needle kits, Green Light was pretty similar to the Meijer I work at in Columbus. The pharmacist that we met at Green Light was very enthusiastic and engaging, which made for a fantastic visit.
Our group had another great visit at The Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which is a professional organization that leads and represents the pharmacy profession in the UK. It is not required for pharmacists to join, but members do have easy access to the most current information and happenings in the field, as well as networking and other benefits. We heard from some of the awe-inspiring individuals at the forefront of the organization who explained their visions for the future of the pharmacy profession. Pharmacists in the UK are gaining more prescribing privileges and really stepping up in their roles as healthcare professionals. The UK is way ahead of us, but it would be awesome to follow their lead here in the US someday. The speakers at the RPS rivaled the one we had at Green Light; the passion and enthusiasm was contagious and once again, I found myself deeply appreciating my opportunities as a pharmacy student.
Of course, we were not only exploring the pharmaceutical world, we were simultaneously delving into English culture. When we weren’t at professional events we were exploring the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, the city of Bath, The British Museum, and whatever other activities we could fit into our 7 days. For a few events, we had guided tours, which really enhanced my learning experience. Our tour guide was a sweet older lady who had endless stories about the history of England. We were so lucky to have her with us as we explored the city of Bath, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and the British Museum. By the end of the week, I felt like I had learned a lot about the culture and history of England.
The Roman Baths
This was my first trip ‘across the pond,’ and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of navigating a new country. Personally, I LOVED the Underground–from figuring out the different lines to people watching, it was such a fun way to travel throughout the city. I liked the amount of freedom we were given to explore when we didn’t have group activities scheduled. As I mentioned, this was my first big trip by myself, and I as excited to discover that I am comfortable and confident traveling on my own. I greatly look forward to taking another trip to Europe sometime in the future.
My week abroad was extremely transformative. It highlighted a sense of independence I found in myself after surviving a week spent thousands of miles away from Ohio. Not only did my trip solidify my passion for pharmacy, it opened my mind to the ways the profession could advance in the future–it made me think about what my role could be in this ever-evolving healthcare field. It was exciting to feel so secure in my career path, especially since I struggled with finding a major that was a good fit for me during my first two years at OSU. I developed professionally through attending professional events, asking questions, and meeting new people. It was very rewarding to have such informative and inspiring first-hand experiences. In a few weeks I will begin to apply for pharmacy school. I will definitely be able to talk about my time abroad in London as I continue throughout my academic and professional career. This is such a unique experience to have, and it has given me a greater appreciation of the role of pharmaceutical sciences on an international scale. I am so fortunate to have been able to participate in this amazing trip 🙂