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Study Abroad Brings Unexpected Rewards

Kate Traynor

The insights you gain from studying pharmacy abroad will change your entire view of pharmacy practice, say students who have participated in international study programs.

When she was a Pharm.D. candidate, Jun Yan saw two career choices ahead of her: work as a community pharmacist or get a job in a health-system setting. But then she decided to spend four weeks studying international pharmacy at the Royal Danish School of Pharmacy in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"It was a great experience for me," Yan says of the time she spent abroad. Yan’s rotation in Denmark showed her that pharmacists can do a variety of things different from what she viewed as traditional practice.

After she earned her degree, Yan completed ASHP’s George P. Provost Editorial Internship, and she now works as an assistant editor for the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy (AJHP). Yan’s observations on pharmacy practice in Denmark were published last year in AJHP (PDF).

Leonard D. Plain, a Pharm.D. candidate at the University of Kansas, agrees that study abroad can change your professional life. "Once you get out there and you see how pharmacists practice in different countries," says Plain, "you really get a full understanding" of the profession’s possibilities.

Plain coordinates the student exchange program for the International Pharmaceutical Students' Federation (IPSF), an organization that promotes the interests of pharmacy students throughout the world. "Last year," says Plain, "we had exchanges within 40 different countries and we placed 330 students."

Nearly every student who participates in the IPSF exchange program returns "with a completely different perspective on what pharmacy is," says Plain.

"In England and some of the European countries," notes Plain, "there’s not such a thing as an over-the-counter medication." If you want acetaminophen, he says, "you can’t just go in a grocery store and pick it up. You have to go to the pharmacist and ask him for it. That’s something that we, as United States pharmacists, don’t even comprehend."

Many U.S. pharmacy students are not aware that they can participate in study abroad programs. "It’s something that hasn’t really caught on here in the States," says Plain.

Yan learned about the opportunity to study in Denmark from the clerkship coordinator at her school, the University of Southern California (USC). The overseas class counted as one of the six rotations that USC requires of its pharmacy students.

Though Yan and two classmates who also went to Denmark had to arrange the administrative details, enrolling in the Danish school was easy. The USC students had the help of the professor who taught the class in Denmark. "Basically, she just enrolled us," says Yan of her instructor.

USC paid Yan’s airfare to and from Denmark, but Yan paid for the rest of her expenses. "In many European big cities," says Yan, "there are great travel [and housing] agencies that help out traveling students." Through an agency, Yan was able to find inexpensive housing during her stay.

Costs for students who participate in IPSF exchanges vary by country, says Plain. In Portugal, for example, the "national pharmacy association pays housing for the students," he says. "And then in France, it ends up costing our U.S. students about $40 to stay for the month." Plain cautions that the accommodations are not plush. "It’s student housing," he says.

Pharmacy students interested in applying for an IPSF exchange must first join the organization. Students who join ASHP automatically become IPSF members and can participate in the exchange program.

Some pharmacy schools accept an IPSF exchange as credit toward graduation, and some do not. Even without academic credit, studying pharmacy abroad is an enriching experience, says Plain. In fact, IPSF members can participate in exchanges for up to four years after graduation.

Language need not be a barrier to overseas study, notes Yan, whose class was taught in English. "All the local students could speak very good English," she says. In fact, "almost everyone [in Denmark] could speak English."

To pharmacy students considering whether to study abroad, Yan says "Go for it." Studying pharmacy in another country "broadens your perspective and changes the way you think about your profession, health care in general, or even about life," she says. "It’s so rewarding and so exciting....It opens up a whole new world."