Students reach South Texas at Project SHINE

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Families are sometimes faced with a difficult choice: pay for food or visit a doctor’s office. While many factors contribute to making this important decision, including inadequate health insurance coverage, lack of transportation or the inability to take time off from work, people put themselves at risk when they do not visit a physician regularly for routine checkups.

In fact, six of the seven leading causes of death in Texas were chronic diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes, according to the 2014 Health Status of Texas report. Together, these chronic diseases claimed the lives of more than 105,000 Texans.

In order to detect certain chronic diseases and combat the problem, patients need to have regular screenings in the early stages when intervention is most effective.

Professional student pharmacists at the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy, in collaboration with other health professionals, are working to combat preventable diseases by providing free screenings throughout the year in South Texas. The screenings, many of which are part of the student-driven Project SHINE, Service & Help through Interprofessional Networking Experience, target low-income border communities, known as colonias, that are unincorporated subdivisions often lacking access to basic infrastructure and health care services.

“Project SHINE offers an invaluable service to residents of the colonias,” said David Guzman, second-year professional student pharmacist at Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy. “I experienced the dire need firsthand as a child growing up in South Texas.”

Project SHINE was developed by students from the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy, in collaboration with other health care professionals, to provide preventative health care services to medically underserved areas in South Texas. The project not only provides preventative care, it is an interprofessional educational opportunity for medical, nursing, pharmacy and other health professions students. Students provided cholesterol, blood glucose and blood pressure screenings, as well as immunizations, along with patient counseling – all free of charge.

In November, the interprofessional team for Project SHINE saw more than 80 families in South Texas at the Dr. Javier Saenz Middle School in Penitas. More than 60 patients received free flu shots supported by a $20,000 grant from Healthy Kids, Healthy Families, an initiative designed to improve the health and wellness of at least
1 million children through community investments through BlueCross Blue Shield.

With each person who walked into the gym of the middle school on that Saturday, Guzman saw someone like his mother or grandmother, who were in need of medical care when he was a child.

Growing up in the underserved area of Brownsville, Texas, Guzman looked up to his mother, a single parent and schoolteacher. When Guzman was 12 years old, his mother became very ill. He traveled with her 30 minutes one way for frequent doctor appointments because there was no specialist in their area.

Guzman did not witness firsthand the interaction between his mother and her primary care physician, but he did see the interaction between her and the pharmacist who provided her with expert counseling and support throughout her health care journey. This experience influenced Guzman’s decision to pursue a career in pharmacy.

“My mother would ask questions and the pharmacist would guide and teach her,” he said. “For me, seeing my mother – the teacher – being taught by someone else really had an impact on me.”

Now as a pharmacy student, Guzman is learning to serve in the role of counselor to the patients he encounters through Project SHINE. In one particular patient, Guzman shared the danger of having high triglyceride values. It was during this consultation that Guzman realized how important health screenings were. “I thought, ‘what if that person hadn’t come in today,’ what might have happened to that patient?”

The student chapter of the American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists plans to have another Project SHINE health fair in the colonias area in the spring.

Guzman plans to practice pharmacy in the Rio Grande Valley after he graduates.

“Influencing a family just like that pharmacist did for my mother – and even my life – meant a lot to me,” he said. “I am proud to be part of a college that gives back to the community where I grew up and plan to live following graduation.”