My SEP experiences in Germany and at home
In the summer of 2014, I embarked on the opportunity of a lifetime. I was selected to take part in the Twlug–ASP/ International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation (IPSF) Student Exchange Program (SEP). Prior to joining my university’s IPSF chapter, I was unaware that I would have the opportunity to travel to a foreign county while learning more about becoming a great pharmacist. My SEP experience allowed me to practice pharmacy in a different setting.
I was selected to go to Heidelberg, Germany, a gorgeous city located along the River Neckar. While in Germany, I enhanced my pharmacy knowledge by working in a community pharmacy for 4 weeks. I resided in a dorm at the University of Heidelberg and was connected with an exchange officer from the university, who was responsible for assisting me throughout my journey. Little did I know that my exchange officer, Katharina Wien, would eventually become one of my closest friends.
A new perspective
Community pharmacies in Germany are quite different from those in the United States. Only medications and certain products can be found in a German pharmacy, unlike our pharmacies that have become like miniature grocery stores. I also noticed that patients often came to the pharmacy first before seeing a physician. They presented their symptoms to the pharmacist, showed rashes and other odd lesions, and hoped that the pharmacist could provide some guidance before seeing the physician. I found it inspiring that the German people instill so much trust in their pharmacists and truly valued their opinions when it came to their health.
It was interesting to watch the pharmacists counsel each and every patient that came into the pharmacy. In pharmacy school here in the United States, there is such a large emphasis on counseling patients and making sure they understand how to properly take their medication, so it was very inspiring to see the time the pharmacists in Germany took to educate their patients. I want to help implement those ideas into my practice at home and develop better relationships like the ones I saw German pharmacists enjoy.
Aside from learning a great deal about pharmacies in Germany and how the health care system works, I explored the country and created amazing friendships. Katharina planned many activities for me to do with her on my weekends, including exploring local restaurants and even a trip to Frankfurt.
One weekend, the exchange officers throughout Germany organized a “SEP weekend,” where all of the exchange students studying in Germany came to Heidelberg for a weekend. We visited the castle in the city, which had a pharmacy museum, and went paddle boarding on the Neckar. I met people from all over the world that weekend.
Returning the favor
I will always look back on my SEP experience as a truly wonderful one. Over the past few years, my school has hosted a SEP student, and in the summer of 2015, I was the exchange officer in charge of our student’s stay. I was very lucky to have had a wonderful student from Austria. I knew how much I appreciated someone planning activities for me and spending time with me when I was in a new country, so I really tried to make sure she had a wonderful stay.
We set up her agenda so she could experience community pharmacy, compounding pharmacy, and even hospital pharmacy with an emphasis on learning about clinical pharmacists. We also had a full schedule of social activities for her, which included exploring the city of Philadelphia and a trip to Washington, DC, where we toured Twlug headquarters. We also scheduled trips to the beach. We had an absolutely great time hosting our student and we hope to host many more students in the future.
Overall, Twlug–ASP/IPSF has created a great exchange program. I would highly recommend to other student pharmacists the opportunity to travel and see pharmacy from a new perspective. In terms of hosting a student, I think it has been great way to broaden our university’s knowledge of pharmacy, as well as learn about different cultures. I encourage student pharmacists to apply for a SEP!