Professional Students Participate in Contact Tracing Rotation

Published on 23 March 2021

Nearly a year ago when the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation and forced University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis to move quickly to an online learning format, Sue Bollmeier, B.S. '99, Pharm.D. '00, FCCP, BCPS, AE-C, professor of pharmacy practice, began collaborating with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health to offer rotation students a unique opportunity to expand their knowledge base by assisting the county with its COVID-19 contact tracing efforts.

Working alongside her colleagues Justinne Guyton, Pharm.D., BCACP, associate professor of pharmacy practice and Golden Peters, Pharm.D., BCPS, associate professor of pharmacy practice, Bollmeier has provided students with the chance to conduct contact tracing remotely as part of their ambulatory care rotations and also have the ability to work onsite at the St. Louis County Department of Public Health providing care for patients with chronic health conditions.

Over the past 11 months, 60 P4 students working with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health John C. Murphy Health Center, North Central Community Health Center and South County Health Center have gained experience with contact tracing.

“When COVID hit, I was looking for a way to collaborate with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health to give our pharmacy students the chance to split their time between remote and onsite work,” explained Bollmeier. “With St. Louis County having a huge need for contact tracers, I was able to work with the department of public health’s medical director to create an experience that would allow our rotation students to spend half of their time serving as contact tracers and the other half working onsite with patients. I think this has been a great opportunity for our students to utilize the patient communication techniques they’ve learned to make a positive impact on their community by helping to control the spread of COVID-19.”

P4 students Adam Barber, B.S. ‘18, and Emily Cunningham each served as contact tracers as part of their rotations in October.

Prior to starting their contact tracing efforts, Barber and Cunningham each received extensive training from the St. Louis County Department of Public Health to ensure they were fully updated on the latest COVID-19 recommendations and guidelines and prepared to field questions from those they were reaching out to.

“The contact tracing calls we made as part of this rotation were very similar to how we would conduct a patient interview at a pharmacy,” said Barber. “When you’re speaking with a patient, you don’t know what questions or concerns they may bring up, and the same was true with contact tracing. We were serving as health care resources and advocates that could provide knowledge to individuals who were often overwhelmed and confused with all the information that was coming at them, and many we talked to expressed to us how happy they were to have their questions answered.”

Cunningham adds that having the chance to work as a contact tracer helped to further highlight the importance of building relationships with patients.

“In pharmacy, patient relationships can be very transactional, or we can choose to approach these interactions as opportunities to build a rapport with patients that demonstrates our ability to serve as a health care resource,” explained Cunningham. “When I served as a contact tracer, it gave me a sense of confidence to be able to answer questions about COVID-19 and provide individuals with information on resources to help them. This all translates directly to my future work as a pharmacist. When patients view their pharmacist as a resource, they will be more likely to reach out for information beyond just drug therapies or chronic disease management.”

While Barber and Cunningham have now moved on to different rotations, students continue to take part in the St. Louis County Department of Public Health’s contact tracing effort, and will do so as long as a need exists.

“Rotation students who have taken part in this effort are gaining experience that is really going to set them apart,” said Bollmeier. “It’s been great to have worked with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health to make this experience possible, and I’m so proud of the fact that we have been able to help out in the fight against COVID-19 in such a meaningful way.”

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