nome alaska

Pharmacy Practice Rotation to Take Students to Remote Alaska

Sara Low spent five years as an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, serving the Alaska Native population as a pharmacist with the Indian Health Service in Anchorage. Since coming to Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), the School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (SPHS) assistant professor and director of Interprofessional Education has hoped to offer KGI students a similar opportunity in Alaska.

Now they will have their chance. This coming year, fourth-year students in the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program will be able to complete their six-week Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) community practice rotation in Nome, end point of the famous Iditarod sled dog race. The KGI pharmacy students will work with Norton Sound Health Corporation, a tribally owned not-for-profit healthcare organization serving Nome and smaller communities across the 44,000 square–mile Bering Strait region. The first two students will arrive in Nome in November of 2019, with two more coming in January and February of 2020.

“It’s a great learning environment with a unique patient population. It’s in a unique site, a community of 4,000 people and very remote. You can’t even drive to it; you have to go by airplane. So your patient care really makes a difference,” says Low. “But this is a state-of-the-art facility with high-quality pharmacists. There’s an Indian Health Service residency there, too, so the KGI students can learn from the current resident and Commissioned Corps as well as civilian preceptors.”

The students’ experience in Nome will feature many responsibilities typical of the community pharmacy rotation: evaluating that prescribed drug dosages and indications are correct, preparing medications for final review by a pharmacist, and counseling patients. Students may also have an opportunity to fly to a remote village with a pharmacist to provide patient care.

“Students will be able to gain new perspectives on the gravity of the role of the pharmacist in patient safety and patient care.”

“The experience is also a huge advantage if you plan to apply for the Commissioned Corps or the Indian Health Service,” says Low. 

Low will be available to offer students expert advice about what they can expect in Alaska. She notes that the students will be there during harsh winter weather conditions, making cold-weather gear essential. They will be provided with housing but will have no Internet access and need to walk to the hospital for their rotation.

“They will be well prepared pharmacy-wise, though it definitely takes a student with an adventurous spirit to go there and forsake some creature comforts,” says Low.

Nonetheless, she considers the rotation in Alaska a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the students. SPHS Assistant Dean for Experiential Education and Professor of Practice for Clinical Sciences Minh Dang, who is overseeing the rotation placements, concurs.

“It will be an eye-opening experience to have this exposure to Alaska and a totally different culture,” says Dang. “I’m happy to see them grab this opportunity. It’s going to be a win-win for our students and our program.”

Outside of the upcoming rotation opportunities, KGI will also have another connection to Nome this summer. Kofi Atta-Boateng, PharmD ’19, will enter the Indian Health Service PGY-1 Pharmacy Residency Program at North Sound Health Corporation starting in July.