Watch: UH Hilo pharmacy students talk about Hawai‘i shaping their perspectives on culturally competent care

Hawai‘i has a distinct culture, and the UH Hilo pharmacy students say that has led them to have unique perspectives on pharmacists’ roles in the community.

In interviews with Pharmacy Times, students from the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy (DKICP) at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo discuss their unique experiences as students in Hawai‘i. The online news outlet, which focuses on pharmacy professionals and the impact of their work, notes that the state has a distinct culture and different patient populations from the mainland United States, and the students said that has led them to have unique perspectives on culturally competent care and pharmacists’ roles in the community.

Taylor Elola, second-year pharmacy student:

I find that Hilo cultivates a very peaceful and welcoming environment too study and continue your education in the campus in general, and the surrounding community offers a lot of support and encouragement for incoming students, at least that’s what I found. Being from the island of O‘ahu, it has been very fun to study on a different island while still being in an environment that resembles home to me.

Andrew Schuler, fourth-year pharmacy student:

While going to school in Hawai‘i really did open opportunities most only dream of when they think of Hawai‘i. Outside from school, I was able to visit many local beaches explore the local volcanoes such as Maunakea. I was able to take advantages of visiting other islands to explore the uniqueness and beauty each island possesses. But of course, being a student on the Big Island during the COVID pandemic gave a very unique experience in itself, not only for myself but other staff, other students had to adapt to the changes the pandemic created.

As students, we had to continue our school career through distance learning to ensure our safety, but unfortunately for most people, they did not have that option. Many still had to go into work, putting themselves and their families at risk.

Analeslie Martinez, fourth-year pharmacy student:

I do have an interest in health, which is actually why I decided to attend DKICP. It’s literally the most isolated place on earth, and being able to experience pharmacy and health care, in general in Hawai‘i, has been such an incredible experience that I’m certainly wouldn’t have been able to have anywhere else. This is because of the geographical difference, the culture, the health care systems. It actually can present its own challenges, but it’s been such an amazing opportunity to actually learn how people here solve those challenges that may not be seen on the mainland, and it really makes for a resilient team and community as well.

Analeslie Martinez:

There are unique cultural differences, mostly in the sense that there is a highly diverse population here, that may not be seen on the mainland. I believe that real connections are important when considering pharmacy care in the state of Hawai‘i. It’s a really small world here, you know, when you live on an island or a couple of islands, so the relationships that we build with our patients and our health care team is really important. There’s been so many times when I’m out in the community event and I see patients or other health care providers that I’ve worked with who recognize me, or I recognize them. And that’s very special about being a student and working here, seeing those common faces and showing the patients that you, too, are part of the community. And I really feel like it enhances our relationships with them.

Andrew Schuler:

Well, Hawai‘i has one of the highest homeless populations in which they do not have the necessary access to health care. This causes a problem since preventable diseases and other major health concerns in this population are not being treated in a timely manner, until it becomes so severe that the person ends up in the emergency room, which ends up increasing hospital costs. Affordability is another challenge in Hawai‘i. Living on an island causes the price of goods to be quite high compared to the rest of the United States. I mean, gas, food, costs of living, making it harder for most of the population to also be able to afford their medication.

I mean, it is our responsibility as pharmacists to overcome this barrier. And to really think to ourselves, are the patients being fully adherent to their medications? Are they skipping doses to try and save money? I mean, unfortunately, for most, the answer is yes. Various solutions that pharmacists may come up with are finding cheaper alternative medications, or coupons that will help cover some of the medication cost, or directing patients to an assistive program that help cover the medication cost. I mean, at the end of the day, controlling the patient’s blood pressure, glucose levels in a diabetic patient, or preventing someone’s asthma attack are the goals that must be met in order to improve the quality of life for the patients in our community.

Being a part of the community with cultural differences is great to see in our community. But that also means that English is not always the first language for everyone living in Hawaii, which may make it difficult for patients to communicate with health care providers or make it difficult to read the instructions on a prescription label. A lot of these patients may end up seeking treatment advice and recommendations from family members or other non-medical experts, which can lead to dangerous outcomes. Again, as health care providers, we need to look out for such barriers. I mean, one example is by using telephone-based services that will help with interpretation. We must make sure that the patient is aware that we are here for them, and we are always going to look out for their best interest.

Taylor Elola:

In such a diverse community like Hawai‘i, it may be difficult to provide the same care to all cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. It becomes a challenge to pharmacists and other health care professionals to provide culturally competent health care that is open-minded and all-inclusive. Personally, I find that Hawaii forms a tight-knit community despite these diversities, which helps with health compliance and adherence through familial support. When all members of the community are looking out for each other, it makes our job as health care providers easier because that is our main goal to look out for that for others.

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