College of Pharmacy health program brings aid to rural farmers

June 8, 2015

The Red&Black, Friday, June 5, 2015

By Coral Rogers

Link to original article: College of Pharmacy health program brings aid to rural farmers

Eighteen students and two faculty members within the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy will be heading to Southern Georgia this weekend to participate in the Farm Worker Family Health program.

The program is part of a massive collaboration that started 21 years ago between colleges, governments, and communities. Students from nursing, physical therapy, dental hygiene, psychology, masters of public health, and pharmacy, along with faculty and community clinics work together to provide health services to farm workers in rural areas.

Seven years ago Dr. Trina von Waldner helped get the College of Pharmacy involved in the community outreach program. Von Waldner has a background in Public Health and was already familiar with the project. When she was approached by a colleague within the Archway Partnership and informed of their need for pharmaceutical professionals, she was eager to find a way to get the College of Pharmacy on board.

“I said, ‘I think we can make this happen, I really think this is an important thing.’ So the first year we started as a completely volunteer program,” von Waldner said.

She took six students that first year, and the program has grown steadily since. Altogether, there are over 100 students, spanning various colleges, who participate in this health initiative annually.

The pharmacy students travel to Moultrie, GA where they join the rest of the team of health professionals. They travel through three counties over a two week period to bring health services to nearly 1000 agricultural workers and their families who often have limited access to medical treatment.

“We all leave together as a caravan and travel to local, large-scale farming operations in south Georgia where we set up a whole clinic that day,” von Waldner said.

Everyone works in coordination to set up and equip tents for each of the divisions. This all occurs at night, after a morning of holding classes for the children of the workers and an afternoon of farm tours, case studies, educational programs and hopefully a little rest.

“We are fortunate enough to get a mobile unit through one of the clinics down there that has federal funding,” von Waldner said.

The Pharmacy students not only fill prescriptions written by attending nurse practitioners, they educate patients about prescription and over the counter medications. The students also manage the medical records, making sure they comply with the federal requirements of the Office of Rural Health.

“We only treat acute conditions. We do not treat chronic diseases. If we identify diabetes, or high blood pressure, or another chronic disease that needs to be managed, we refer them to the Ellenton Clinic,” said Von Waldner.

The Ellenton Health Clinic has staff on-site and they make appointments for those that need them, and even provide transportation to the clinic at a later date, since many of the workers do not have any way of getting to the clinic easily.

For the conditions the program does treat, von Waldner said they see a lot of musculoskeletal pain and skin problems that arise from working in the fields all day. One of the most common problems the health service treats is fungal infections of worker’s feet, due to the damp and muddy conditions they labor in.

“We realized that farm workers that had waterproof footwear had a lot less fungal infections and athlete’s foot,” said Von Waldner.

In an effort to prevent these conditions, all of the participating schools began the Boot Up program this year. The College of Pharmacy was able to raise enough money to purchase 24 pairs of waterproof boots for the farm workers. In addition to the boots, the college also took in donations of OTC medications and other pharmaceutical supplies.

All participating students are required to take a short but intensive online Spanish course that specifically teaches them pharmaceutical and health terms they will need to know in order to counsel their patients.

“I went last year as part of our program to do service learning. I specifically picked the Farm Worker Program because I felt like it was a way for me to give back to my community in a way not a lot of people get a chance to do,” said Ashleigh Jowers, a 27-year-old doctorate student in her fourth year of pharmacy school.

Jowers, originally from Augusta, will be attending for the second time this year. She will be filling a leadership role and mentoring the other students in the program.

“I just really appreciate Archway for providing services for our students and faculty and also the College of Pharmacy for enabling us to participate in this program. It is an amazing experience,” von Waldner said.

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