Students from The University of Texas-Pan American/ University of Texas at Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program barely began setting up their booths for health screenings and other services when community members poured into the tents outside Saenz Pharmacy in Mission Thursday, Oct. 28 to receive care.
The students - in collaboration with the University of Texas Cooperative Pharmacy Program, Cooperative Pharmacy Students Association, Bronco Pre Pharmacy Organization and the Rio Grande Valley Independent Pharmacy Association - organized their first health fair, where they checked patients' blood pressure, conducted cancer screenings, administered free flu shots to the first 100 customers and reviewed patients' medicines.
The fair was held in part to recognize October as American Pharmacists Month and to raise awareness to the community on what pharmacists can do to help people. The group received a proclamation from the Senate of Texas for having the fair.
"We're not just filling prescriptions anymore, we're a medical home," said Dr. Lydia Aguilera, interim dean and clinical associate professor of the cooperative program. This is the first time the cooperative program has held the health fair and Aguilera said she hopes it will become an annual event.
Dr. Elvia Saenz, co-owner of Saenz Pharmacy, said she was glad to volunteer her business to host the inaugural event.
"I think this is a very good experience for the students," Saenz said. "They get to meet our patients, the community and they get a very good idea of what is expected of them and what they will experience in the future. I look forward to having this every year."
Saenz said it also allows area pharmacists to work with 'new blood,' which she calls the students, and it lets their patients know there are talented pharmacists coming through the pipeline.
Students in the cooperative program said they were thrilled to receive the opportunity to work with patients.
"It gives us a good idea about the community. These people we are serving are also people who raised us. Now we're back supporting them," said Rene Verduzco, a fourth-year cooperative student.
Dr. John Calvillo, president of the Rio Grande Valley Independent Pharmacy Association, said the fair also gives professional independent pharmacists the opportunity to show students that they all work together, not against each other.
The association formed in response to Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage because the independent pharmacists knew they would have a challenge in competing against major retail chain pharmacies to assist Medicare recipients with their prescriptions and other related needs, Calvillo said.
"It's not always about competition, it's about the patients," he said. "We're linked."
Students enrolled in the UTPA/UT Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program spend their first two years taking prerequisite courses at UTPA, then take their first two years of courses in the pharmacy program at UT Austin. They return to UTPA to complete their studies and begin internships throughout the Valley.
For more information about the Cooperative Pharmacy Program visit its website.