LAU PharmD Students Bring Home Solid Vaccination Experience

Following rotations at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, PharmD students help to provide essential services at home amid COVID-19 pandemic.

By Chirine El-Mchantaf

The PharmD students’ training at Houston Methodist included reconstituting and preparing the different available vaccines, administering them, educating the public and supporting healthcare workers.
LAU’s PharmD students pictured at Houston Methodist, where they completed four months of required Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPEs).

Placing their practical training at the service of their community, Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) students took part in the LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital mass vaccination campaign in Lebanon, equipped with broader knowledge gained during rotations at Houston Methodist Hospital, Texas.

LAU’s long-standing affiliation with Houston Methodist, where PharmD students complete four months of required Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPEs), enables them to “sharpen their skillsets and build real-world experience in diverse pharmacy practice and cultural settings,” said Clinical Associate Professor of Pharmacy/Director of Experiential Education Lamis Karaoui (PharmD ‘05).

According to Dr. Michael G. Liebl, Director of System Clinical Pharmacy Services at Houston Methodist, one core requirement of the program is that the students complete the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery Certificate.

During their stay in Houston this spring, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, not only were the LAU PharmD students trained to prepare and administer vaccines but “were also extensively involved in immunizing the public,” said Nour K. Farhat (PharmD ’21).

The trainings included reconstituting and preparing the different available vaccines, administering them and educating the public, as well as supporting healthcare workers in Houston.

The knowledge and experience that PharmD students gain in the US complements their training in Lebanon, preparing them for contemporary practice strategies in interprofessional settings when engaging in meaningful required APPEs.

For instance, as pharmacists in the US adopted telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic for the provision of patient monitoring and medication management, “the PharmD students had the chance to immerse themselves in this unique hands-on experience,” said Dr. Karaoui.

“They were engaged in addressing a multitude of unique patient cases, contributed to clinical decision making, and bore witness to significant events that were emotionally impactful and provided them with an opportunity for personal and professional growth and insight,” she added.

In total, LAU PharmD interns are estimated to have vaccinated more than 9,500 individuals and drawn up over 1,550 vaccine doses at Houston Methodist, explained Dr. Liebl. “They also supported more than 1,300 hours at various vaccine clinic sites with approximately 975 hours providing direct patient care and administering vaccines. More than 325 hours were also spent behind the scenes managing vaccine and supply movement logistics.”

As PharmD students, “we were heavily involved in the process; from the time of vial removal from the refrigerator right to the administration of the vaccine,” said Joe Maksoudian (PharmD ’21). “We handled checking expiration dates, lot numbers, vaccine reconstitution, draw-up and administration, individuals screening, education and counselling.”

The fact that the students were able to translate their experience into an ability to provide essential support to the Lebanese healthcare sector and people was heartwarming, said Dr. Karaoui.

“During their APPEs at LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital our PharmD students helped with the preparation of the vaccine dose, taking medication histories, educating the vaccinated on possible side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine and reporting on the COVAX platform,” she explained.

For Katia El Harake (PharmD ’21), it was a fruitful experience that helped her contribute to a great cause: providing the public with the necessary protection against a dangerous disease.

“It was both inspiring and fulfilling to be a part of the healthcare team at LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital that was, and still is, working tirelessly in the fight against the pandemic,” she said.

Although “the pandemic was a time of great devastation and loss,” noted Dr. Liebl, “with the unity we witnessed, it transformed into a time of resilience and change in an era where we needed it the most.”

The experience, however, was not without its challenges for the students who had to stay flexible and up-to-date on new studies and reports as well as the rollout of statistics and investigations into treatments.

“The amount of new information that was being published when COVID-19 started and assessing which sources were credible was a challenge at the beginning,” Maksoudian said. “But it helped me better understand the situation and ultimately answer any questions that arose.”

In both Lebanon and Houston, the PharmD students were also exposed to a great number of patients from divergent backgrounds.

“One of the most important things that we will take away from our time on the field is cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity,” explained Jad El Tom (PharmD ’21). “Our experience was sometimes challenged by language barriers, with some non-English speaking individuals who presented for vaccination in Houston.”

Through structured orientation sessions and co-curricular workshops designed to instill cultural sensitivity, emotional intelligence and negotiation skills, they learned to deal with vaccine hesitant people and build vaccine confidence.

“These sessions and workshops are meant to facilitate the PharmD students’ interactions with people, caregivers and healthcare providers from different cultures and backgrounds and help minimize negative encounters,” said Dr. Karaoui. “They may not successfully unlock vaccine fear with everyone, but this specific learning moment – the deliberate practice and continued feedback – contributes to the transformation of their mindset as future practitioners.”

As the world is pulling its uttermost resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, “pharmacists have proven once again their vital role as public health practitioners and educators,” concluded Dean of the School of Pharmacy Imad Btaiche. “In whatever place they happened to be training, LAU PharmD students have joined forces with extraordinary contributions to increase the public health benefits and vaccination rates with COVID-19 vaccines.”