Health Sciences, Nursing and Pharmacy bring services to the disabled in Jamaica

A group of University of Rhode Island students and faculty from across the Academic Health Collaborative spent their winter break in tropical paradise, but instead of basking in the sun on white sand beaches, the students spent their time working with some of the most vulnerable populations in Jamaica.

More than 20 students across the Colleges of Pharmacy, Nursing and Health Sciences joined three faculty members in working with disabled residents affiliated with Mustard Seed, an organization in Jamaica that serves children and adults with disabilities who have been abandoned. The students lived among the patients in residential communities, working with them on managing their medications, caring for the symptoms of their conditions, and providing physical therapy for conditions such as cerebral palsy. They also conducted workshops for caregivers at the facility on such topics as medication administration, first aid, self-care, over-the-counter medications and proper use of medical equipment.

“A lot of the caretakers don’t have formal training; we’re one of their primary sources of information and education,” said Pharmacy student Erin Connolly, noting the URI College of Pharmacy is the only pharmaceutical organization to regularly visit the facility. “We might be the only education they get in terms of medication. I think the information we bring has made a real difference.”

In one instance, Connolly was working with a young resident who felt frequent fatigue, especially after taking Benadryl, a common medication used in Jamaica to treat a host of ailments. In speaking with the girl, Connolly discovered she was taking other medications that were interacting with the Benadryl to compound her drowsiness. She was able to suggest other antihistamines that are less likely to exacerbate her fatigue.

The students were able to help caregivers improve their service, while also learning from them and each other. That’s been the goal of the annual J-Term trip that began in 2013. For the last couple of years, nursing and physical therapy students have added a more well-rounded approach to the care they provide and the educational experience the students take away.

“Physical therapy and nursing helped teach us about their disciplines, so it was a great learning experience, in addition to being able to provide a service, and we learned a lot from the caregivers. They have very limited resources, but they’re creative and they get the most out of them.”
Erin Connolly, Pharmacy Student

The Nursing, Health Sciences and Pharmacy students helped in that regard, as well, delivering 34 suitcases full of medical supplies totaling more than $10,000 in value. In addition, prior to the trip, each student raised about $2,000 to help fund Mustard Seed’s mission.

Adjunct faculty member Katherine Corsi led the Pharmacy contingent. Clinical Assistant Professor Christine McGrane was joined by College of Nursing students Karissa McGrane, Alex Ladas and McKenna Basemore. Physical Therapy Professor Anne-Marie Dupre was joined by students Jennifer Mulcahey O’Brien and Meghan Cuniff.