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As a first-year student at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy, Yue (Joy) Wang fell in love with the school’s Smoking Cessation Program. Now, as a Schweitzer Fellow, Wang is working to expand it.

ASF: Why did you decide to develop your particular project?

JW: In the USC Smoking Cessation Program, student pharmacists are paired with patients who want to quit smoking. They work with these same patients for a period of 10 weeks—so it’s a great opportunity to get to know your patients well.

It was especially heartwarming to see patients who were apathetic in the beginning coming to class with big smiles and excited to share their noticeable health improvements. I saw that many people wanted to quit smoking, but they did not have anyone to help them through the process—and I wanted to expand this service to another part of Los Angeles.

When I discovered The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to do exactly that. I had already started talking to my professors about the possibility of starting a smoking cessation class at a different clinic in the community; the Schweitzer program gave me even more motivation to make it a reality.

ASF: What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?

JW: Since smoking is one of the biggest preventable risk factors for heart disease, I hope that this program can make a difference in people’s lives and help them take charge of their own health. Through the program’s various educational components, I hope my patients will find their own motivation to quit—whether it’s health, social, or financial benefits. I hope they will understand that staying smoke-free is a lifelong decision. Eventually, I hope my patients will be advocates in their own circles of family and friends, helping others who are trying to quit smoking.

ASF: What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?

As a pharmacy student, I’m prone to thinking in terms of medications—so I would say medication adherence. Statistics show that many patients do not take their medicine. In the 2010 State of Healthcare Quality Report, only 45 percent of patients reported taking their beta-blockers prescribed after a heart attack (lifesaving medications that can help prevent an additional heart attack) after one year. Had patients continued taking their beta blockers for 20 years, 62,000 heart attacks could have been prevented, and 72,000 deaths from coronary heart disease could have been avoided. Moreover, $18 million would have been saved on healthcare expenditures.

Even if patients have access to physicians and are prescribed appropriate medications, they will not reach their chronic disease treatment goals if they don’t take their medications correctlyThis is not only an inefficient use of time for everyone involved in the treatment process, but also a waste of money. In fact,  every dollar spent on mediations in this country, it’s estimated that another dollar is spent to fix the problems caused by  medication misuse.  That’s about $290 billion annually in avoidable costs.  It is crucial that patients understand the importance of taking their medications regularly.

One way this can be addressed is by placing an emphasis on patient counseling. Pharmacists can work with physicians to promote health literacy and make sure that patients understand the health benefits of taking their medications. Pharmacists can try to think of ways to help patients remember to take their medicine. They can also take charge of follow-up by noticing whether prescriptions have been picked up and asking questions to ensure that patients are really taking their medications.  In addition, the emphasis on patient-centered medical homes and accountable care organizations has given pharmacists the opportunity to collaborate with physicians and healthcare team members by identifying and resolving medication-related problems, leading to improved medication-related quality and safety.

Along the same lines, patients should take the initiative to ask their pharmacists about their medications. With both the patients and the healthcare professionals engaged, we can improve the medication adherence rate.

ASF: What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow so far?

JW: I knew becoming part of the Fellowship would allow me to meet an amazing group of individuals. However, I am still blown away by the love Schweitzer Fellows have for serving the community. I feel so humbled to have the chance to work alongside them. We always run over our meeting times, because we simply become too excited and have too many ideas for ways to serve! The Los Angeles Schweitzer program has been extremely encouraging for me personally. I feel challenged by everyone to become a better professional and philanthropist. I look forward to the rest of this Fellowship year, doing good together.

ASF: What does being a Schweitzer Fellow (and ultimately a Schweitzer Fellow for Life) mean to you?

JW: Being a Schweitzer Fellow means noticing the needs in your community, and thinking of ways to be creative with the resources available to change things for the better. Driven by dissatisfaction with the way things are, Fellows strive to make a difference, one step at a time. Additionally, Fellows are leaders in the community, inspiring others to find their own passion to serve.

I feel that I have only started my journey of service. I have learned so much from my mentors and the other Fellows, whether about the need to see my community from different points of view, or about overcoming boulders. As a Fellow for Life, I want to be a part of projects that improve the community, as well as serve as a mentor to those who are pursuing their own projects.

Click here to learn more about the Los Angeles Schweitzer Fellows Program and our work to create change and improve health in vulnerable communities. We are supported entirely by charitable donations and grants.