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2008-2009 Pittsburgh Schweitzer Fellow Steven Zona was voted by his peers as of the American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP).

2008-2009 Pittsburgh Schweitzer Fellow Steven Zona was voted by his peers as president-elect of the American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP).

Every Tuesday, Beyond Boulders runs a five-question interview with either a first-year Schweitzer Fellow or a Schweitzer Fellow for Life (ie, a Fellow whose initial year with ASF has been completed, but whose commitment to lifelong service continues).

In our fifth installment, we talk with Steven Zona, a 2008-2009 Pittsburgh Schweitzer  Fellow who worked with Students And Latinos United Against Disparities (SALUD) at the Birmingham Free Clinic to implement a culturally competent care and education program. During last month’s Annual Meeting and Exposition of the American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP), Zona was chosen as the president-elect of APhA-ASP. Zona, a Doctor of Pharmacy candidate at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, will serve on the organization’s 2009-2010 Executive Board, first as APhA-ASP national president-elect and then as APhA-ASP national president — and he’ll bring his commitment to reducing health disparities with him every step of the way.

Why did you develop your particular project?

I developed my project after seeing a problem in the Latino community while working at my local pharmacy in Holland, MI. One story still sticks out in my mind of a patient calling the pharmacy to make sure that the prescriptions for her mother were written in Spanish. I told her I would make sure the prescriptions we had ready for her mother were in Spanish, and that if they were ever dispensed in English in the future, her mother could just let us know she needed them in Spanish — or even say “hablo espanol” when coming to pick up her prescriptions — and we would understand that we should provide the information to her in Spanish. Her daughter then told me her mother was too proud to do that. This experience showed me the need for culturally competent care in this community.

After my time working in the pharmacy, I realized I could provide culturally competent care to the Latino community, empowering them to increase their medication knowledge and access, especially with their community pharmacy. This would also allow me to show that student pharmacists can provide more patient care, beyond the dispensing role that many in the community see us within. These experiences, along with the desire to utilize the Spanish I had learned in my education rather than letting it go to waste, led me to develop my project working with the Latino community.

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

For my project, I was working with Students And Latinos United Against Disparities (SALUD) at the Birmingham Free Clinic to focus on the treatment provided to Latino patients there. My project aimed to provide increased medication access along with an educational program designed to inform them on taking the next steps regarding their prescribed medication after they leave the clinic. The project also aimed to emphasize culturally competent care to empower these patients to take control of a part of their own healthcare, especially regarding their needs in a community pharmacy.

I hope that my project strengthened the interaction patients had with pharmacists both at the Birmingham Clinic and in the community, by helping them to gain new knowledge and actively take part in their healthcare rather than be passive participants. I also hope that the culturally competent care with this community fostered the relationships among health care providers and the patients, helping increase medication compliance and healthcare outcomes, and allowing for a better quality of life for these patients.

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

The most pressing health-related issue of our time is health care reform.

Health care costs are rising exponentially, employers are finding themselves increasingly unable to afford the costs of health insurance, and as a country we continue to spend the largest amount of money on health care — but we do not see the correlation to the health of our citizens.

I personally think a greater emphasis should be placed on prevention and primary care so that people can see a health care provider regularly, optimize their medication therapies, and get involved in prevention education and activities earlier on, so that we are not spending exorbitant amounts of money on patients seeking emergency treatment as their first line of treating a health condition.

I also think interprofessional communication and collaboration among health professionals needs to continue to increase to improve the health of our country. We have come a long way already in doing this, but if it can be incorporated into our training as graduate students, we can be better prepared to practice this way when we are working in the community with patients.

What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow?

The most surprising element of my experience was learning about the Pittsburgh community as a whole through our monthly meeting topics and working with the Latino community. I had no clue about health issues in the prisons, or how structural violence was happening in Pittsburgh. Much of the meeting interaction and learning on my part can be attributed to the interdisciplinary nature of the Fellowship, and being able to learn about what other Fellows were doing at their sites and what community resources they knew about.

What does Albert Schweitzer’s legacy mean to you, and how will you carry it with you after your year as a Fellow draws to a close?

Albert Schweitzer was a man who committed his life to helping others. His drive was evident when he drove on to rebuild his hospital in Africa. His was committed to something bigger than himself and devoted his life towards his idea of “Reverence for Life.” I would argue that Albert Schweitzer’s largest contribution was not the actual work he did in Africa, but instead the work of those he has inspired. I hope that I can carry on his legacy of reverence for all living things by continuing to use the skills and education that I have been fortunate to receive to benefit, and share with, others.

ASF’s Pittsburgh Schweitzer Fellows Program was founded in May, 1997, and since then, over 200 Pittsburgh-area graduate students have served their community as Schweitzer Fellows. This year, 22 new Fellows from the area’s top colleges and universities have been selected to join the program’s ranks, each partnering with a local agency and devoting more than 200 hours of service—click here for details on the new Fellows’ projects.