By: Shannon Tellier
When applying to St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences five years ago, I never would have dreamed that I would have the opportunity to study abroad twice while obtaining my PharmD degree. At the end of my freshmen year, there were rumors about second year pharmacy students having the opportunity to spend the spring semester abroad. This rumor turned into a reality when I got on a plane to fly to Spain in January 2009. That semester, I spent a total of fifteen weeks in Spain, France, and Italy, which is an experience I will never forget. Not only did I learn biochemistry from a professor from Universidad de Salamanca, but I was able to be fully immersed in the culture of each city I lived in for five weeks.
To my surprise, the dean’s office announced another chance for pharmacy students to study abroad for four weeks in Rome during 6th year. After studying abroad second year, I knew I would seize the opportunity to study abroad for the second time. This past September, I returned to Rome to take an infectious disease elective with Dr. Etzel. While abroad, I was able to go to pharmacies in Rome, Istanbul, and Prague. In Rome, I saw diclofenac (Voltaren®) gel on the shelves available to the public, but I did have to ask for Vitamin C behind the counter. When in Istanbul, my friend needed pseudoephedrine, but was told by the pharmacist that it requires a prescription. It’s always interesting going to other countries to see the similarities and differences between their pharmacies and the pharmacies in the United States.
My experience abroad enhanced skills and personal qualities that are essential in the pharmacy profession. Living in a foreign country for weeks at a time allowed me to improve my cultural awareness and communication skills. It is important for a pharmacist to express these qualities because we will have patients from all different cultures that speak different languages. Learning how to become culturally aware and find alternative means of communication is essential in pharmacy practice. Studying abroad also allowed me to become more flexible, adaptable, patient, and organized. These qualities are learned living abroad and planning weekend trips to different countries. Anyone who has ever traveled should know to expect the unexpected; planes get delayed, you get lost or lose your wallet, and the list goes on. Being put in these situations for weeks at a time allows you to acquire these skills that are useful in any career. Studying abroad also allowed me to become more independent, confident and take initiative. When thrown in an unfamiliar situation or environment abroad, you learn quickly to make decisions and problem solve. All of these skills and qualities learned abroad are valuable to a pharmacist and cannot be learned in the classroom.
St John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences gave me the opportunity to explore the world while studying, which is an opportunity not given to other pharmacy students. During my two experiences abroad, I spent nineteen weeks travelling to over twenty cities while enhancing my ability to interact and communicate effectively with people from around the world. Studying abroad promotes cultural awareness as well as personal, professional, and academic growth. I am very grateful I had the opportunity to study abroad twice and gain qualities important in my future career. Studying abroad is not only an unforgettable experience to make memories with friends and take many pictures; it also changes you as a person and makes you a better pharmacist.