Connecting to Local Communities Through Medication Adherence Education

Published on 22 July 2020

This spring, St. Louis College of Pharmacy students received the 2020 Health Disparities Focused Award for their work during the Script Your Future Medication Adherence Team Challenge, a nationwide initiative by the National Consumers League to promote the importance of medication adherence.

Each year, the two-month community outreach project motivates pharmacy students and faculty across the country to raise awareness of medication adherence as a critical public health issue through planned events and outreach in their communities focusing specifically on diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and heart-related conditions like hypertension.

This year, students at the College focused on health disparities affecting the St. Louis community, while also examining medication safety and mental health as it relates to medication adherence.

“While medication adherence is a big piece of the challenge, we molded our campaign to target certain areas or zip codes in St. Louis that experience high levels of health disparities,” said P3 student Paige Lemasters, who spearheaded the campaign. “Our goal was to go beyond the topic of medication adherence and talk with individuals about overall safe medication usage.”

The Health Disparities Focused Award recognizes innovative work in the realm of health disparities. As part of the award, the College will receive a plaque and stipend to use for further community outreach in medication adherence.

“I am so proud of the student team this year,” stated Amy Tiemeier, Pharm.D., BCPS, director of community partnerships, associate director of experiential education and associate professor of pharmacy practice at the College. “They came up with new, innovative ideas and worked tirelessly to explore and execute their ideas. I am honored to have served as their faculty advisor. They put forth 110% effort and the results were amazing.”

Lemasters was inspired to focus on health disparities following a seminar on diversity and inclusion coordinated by Isaac Butler, chief diversity officer and vice president for career services and education at the College.

“The idea came from one of Dr. Butler’s social awareness and cultural sensitivity sessions which was focused on health disparities,” Lemasters explained. “The session speaker pointed out some great ways to help individuals in areas with high health disparities, and that presentation really provided a basis for the activities and events we hosted in our campaign.”

As part of the challenge, more than 20 students from the College hosted organized health fairs at locations throughout the region, including the pharmacies of College alumni Jerry Callahan, B.S. ’75; Lauren Palmier, Pharm.D. ’14; Jason Wang, Pharm.D. ’11; and Caleb Witt, Pharm.D. ’07. At each event, students offered health screenings, individual consultations, and informational materials on medication adherence, common health conditions and mental health.

While mental health is not typically among the topics highlighted as part of the Script Your Future challenge, Lemasters saw an opportunity to explore its connection to medication adherence and realized that this was an area the College’s team could highlight as part of their efforts with the challenge.

“When we started our research, we found that hypertension is the number one disease state affecting adults and older adults in the U.S. but we were surprised to find that depression sits at number two,” Lemasters explained. “Similar to blood pressure conditions and diabetes, people with depression and anxiety are usually on multiple medications, so it just made sense to us that this topic should be included when talking to individuals about medication adherence.”

As part of a class project, Lemasters and members of the College’s team developed educational materials to distribute at their events focused on depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, including public announcement flyers with brief overviews of the conditions, coping strategies and questions to ask a doctor. In addition to materials created for the challenge, the group compiled a presentation asserting why mental health conditions should be included as part of the Script Your Future challenge. The presentation was included in their final report that was submitted at the conclusion of the challenge.

As part of the interprofessional portion of the challenge, Lemasters and her Script Your Future team were able to partner with students from the Saint Louis University (SLU) School of Nursing for several events held at the SLU Health Resource Center, a free clinic providing primary health care services that is operated by medical school students under the guidance of SLU physicians. Following the success of the first few events, the two groups coordinated an ongoing event at the center every Thursday for the remainder of the Script Your Future campaign.

“I am so happy we were able to work with SLU nursing students to bring a truly collaborative interprofessional approach to our work,” Lemasters said. “We each listened to one another’s thoughts on our planned events and we were able to collectively agree on how to make them better. I think that collaboration helped to show our pharmacy students where they can fill gaps on the larger health care team.”

Of all the events hosted as part of the challenge, Lemasters says the one that stood out most was a health fair held at GreenLeaf Market. The construction of the grocery store north of downtown St. Louis ended a food desert that had persisted in the area for 60 years. With GreenLeaf Market bringing healthy food options to the area, Lemasters says hosting a health fair at the store offered a perfect opportunity to bring health education to customers and area residents.

“GreenLeaf Market is a historic and important grocery store for the St. Louis area so I really wanted to partner with them for this challenge, as the health consciousness in that area is very limited,” Lemasters said. “They were so thrilled to have us there, and based on the number of residents who we were able to have meaningful conversations with on that day, I felt like the event was really impactful.”

Lemasters has taken what she learned from the challenge this year and is using it to help next year’s challenge leaders. Her hope is that her efforts, along with the award stipend, will support future leaders in recruiting more students, partnering with more professions and ultimately helping more St. Louis residents.

“Leading the Script Your Future campaign this year was probably the biggest challenge that I’ve faced in my pharmacy career, but it was so worth it,” Lemasters said. “I had a really great experience, and I hope that next year’s leaders can build on what our team has done and continue the important work of addressing medication adherence issues in some of our most vulnerable communities.”

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