Camps at UF, ONU offer hands-on learning for high school students considering a career in pharmacy
(Written by Sara Arthurs, a reporter for The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Story originally published on July 3, 2019).
High school students mixed solutions, taste-tested flavorings for children’s medication and learned about many aspects of pharmacy work at “pharmacy camps” held at the University of Findlay and Ohio Northern University last week. Both pharmacy schools opened their doors to high school students – some of whom came from out of state – who got to attend lectures and try a variety of hands-on activities.
Staff at both universities said pharmacy camp can serve as a recruitment tool, with many students going on to attend college there. But others may find pharmacy isn’t for them, after all – and, as the University of Findlay’s “Queen of Pharmacy” Cindy Fitzpatrick said, better to know that now than after committing to and paying for six years of pharmacy school. Fitzpatrick, a retired high school principal, now teaches first-year pharmacy students “how to study.”
Ohio Northern professor Brittany Long led a session that allowed students to taste-test flavorings like grape and bubble gum, which get added to children’s medicines. Long said determining which flavor to use to cover a medication’s taste depends in part on the chemical structure of the drug itself. Spices like cinnamon, butterscotch or nuts are good at covering up saltier flavors, for example. But if a drug is better, she said a flavor like chocolate, mint or various fruits might be used to mask the taste. Some drugs “taste really oily,” like fish oil, and might be covered by mint.
Another approach to covering an unpleasant flavor would be to put the medication into a capsule or an emulsion, so the patient can’t taste the flavor. Or, something like menthol or peppermint could be used to sort of numb the tongue, Long said.
The students were tasked with adding flavoring to guaifensesin, known by the brand name Mucinex. First, they were instructed to taste the drug on its own, without flavoring. Then they tried it with the different flavorings. A quick show of hands brought a mixed reaction to the tastes: One camper remarked that one of the flavorings tasted like a grape lollipop, while another said of one, “There’s a funky aftertaste.”
Kaitlyn Rollo of South Elgin, Illinois, is going into her senior year in high school this fall. She attended pharmacy camp to see what she could do when she becomes a pharmacist, and she said she’d gotten to see different types of pharmacy work, including at a retail pharmacy at St. Rita’s Medical Center. Most interesting, she said, was learning how aspirin is made.
Bob Trusz, coordinator of pharmacy admissions at ONU, said the camp is an opportunity to “give back to ONU.” “I get to see all the enthusiasm” of the high school students who are “eager to learn,” he said.
Eagon is going into his fifth year at pharmacy school and said he “had no clue how little I knew” as a high school senior.
In one session at the University of Findlay’s camp, students were learning about what pharmacists do in a hospital pharmacy. They were tasked with determining the right dose of an antibiotic for a hypothetical pediatric patient, and learned about the drug’s chemical structure and how it stops bacterial from replicating.
The hypothetical patient weighted 44 pounds. Campers had to convert this to kilograms – which equaled 20 kg – then had to look at the dose. If it is 25 milligrams per kilograms per day, and they were giving four doses throughout a 24-hour period, this would be a dose of 125 mg.
Using bottles and syringes, they put together the appropriate dose. The medication was in powder form, so they need to mix it with sterile water out of a vial, making sure all of it dissolved. Camp counselors guided the students.
“It takes practice,” one University of Findlay student told the high-schoolers in a reassuring tone.
Later, the students practiced working with an IV bag which could be used to feed a patient who was unable to eat
In another session, a University of Findlay alumna spoke about her work at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, where she specializes in pediatric oncology pharmacy. She advised the high school students to get experience in lots of different places, regardless of what they want to do. And she talked to them about how college is different from high school – they would find larger blocks of free time, but it would be up to them to learn how to manage it effectively. So, she advised, if you have eight hours to study, don’t spend it all watching Netflix.
Findlay pharmacy professor Tim Burkart said the camp showed the students how the things they learn in high school will apply to a future career in pharmacy, including working in a hospital or in research. The camp’s hands-on approach meant the students learned by doing, Burkart said.
Morgan Nadler, who will be a high school senior, is from Cincinnati. She attended pharmacy camp because she felt it would be a good way to get insight into the profession.
Alec O’Reilly of Richwood, also a senior, had toured the University of Findlay last spring. He said pharmacy camp was a good introduction to the career and has been “a lot of fun.”