For my STEP project, I traveled with Ohio State’s College of Pharmacy on a study abroad trip to Italy. The purpose of the study abroad trip was to learn about the healthcare and culture of Italy. While in Italy, we visited a community pharmacy, two hospital pharmacies, and The University of Caligari, which has a pharmacy program. In addition, we toured cultural sites such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Roman Forum.
In completing my STEP project, my view of the world, especially of that surrounding healthcare, changed. Since I have lived in America my whole life, I really thought that there was only one approach to healthcare and accessibility for patients. However, when I traveled to Italy, I realized that Americans can do so many things differently when it comes to healthcare. For example, healthcare in America could be much more accessible if the medication boxes had braille on the outside of them like the medication boxes in Italy do. Pharmacies in Italy also have vending machines outside of them for over-the-counter drugs which would be great to see incorporated in American stores. My biggest takeaway from the trip was that there are many ways to accomplish the needs of patients in healthcare and that looking to how other countries treat their patients can help improve healthcare decisions at home.
My transformation occurred when I visited several pharmacies throughout Caligari and Rome. American pharmacies are quite a bit different from Italian pharmacies. In America, pharmacies have transformed into national chains that are also convenience stores where you can buy a lot more than medicine. In contrast, Italian pharmacies only sell medicines and a limited number of cosmetics and all stores are owned independently of one another. In Italy, pharmacies seemed a lot more focused on patient care than any other aspect of a retail experience. Pharmacists were throughout the store instead of being behind a huge counter or hidden away from customers like they are in America. It was great to see the patient interactions that Italian pharmacists in comparison to those that American pharmacists have.
While in Italy, I also learned that pharmacists can prescribe a limited number of drugs to patients if the patient can describe their ailment well. Being able to go directly to a pharmacist and be prescribed a common drug is great, especially if someone does not have time to go to a doctor. It also alleviates strain on other parts of the healthcare system and frees up doctors to treat more serious cases. If American pharmacists had the same ability as Italian pharmacists, I think that it would improve the healthcare system.
My tour group also traveled to a hospital pharmacy where we met a pharmacist that was involved in research and clinical trials. Having a pharmaceutical background for drug research would be a great aid to clinical trials because pharmacists have a well-developed understanding of drugs. Being involved in research as a pharmacist is an excellent combination of patient care and drug development. I really enjoyed that Italian pharmacists had a wider scope of practice than American pharmacists do. While American pharmacists can certainly be involved in research and clinical trials, it is not very common. If American pharmacists were to have as many diverse functions as Italian pharmacists do, it would be very interesting to see how the American healthcare system could change.
Overall, my visit to Italy and the changes I had in my mentality while I was there matter to me because I am a future pharmacist. As a future pharmacist, my relationship with the healthcare system will be heavily intertwined with my future career. It is important for my career to be more than a simple 9-5 job. I want to have a positive effect on the patients I interact with and build up the community in which I work. My transformation that I experienced in Italy will help me create changes in the American healthcare system that goes beyond how it currently exists. I want to work to be the best ambassador that I can be between pharmacy patients and the pharmaceutical industry. I would love advocating for having more accessible branding on medication boxes (such as braille) and advocating for pharmacists becoming mid-level providers that can write prescriptions for common drugs. The way that the American healthcare system currently works is not perfect and there are many ways that it can change in the future. Italy showed me that the healthcare system can be much more accessible and patient-friendly – I hope to carry the Italian mentality into my future career.