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College News

Pharmacy Service-Learning Course Offers Hope and Life Lessons


A total of 16 Pharmacy students enrolled in Associate Professor Dr. Amy Parkhill’s Introduction to Cancer Biology and Treatment service-learning course and took away much more than information on cancer biology and treatment after this semester.

According to Parkhill, the course is designed to provide a foundation for the understanding of the biological and psychosocial aspects of cancer and its treatment. The classroom portion of the course included an “overview of cancer biology and the pharmacology of chemotherapeutic drugs and agents used to manage the side effects of those drugs.” And outside of the classroom, the students were tasked with working with a community agency to tie the service-learning portion in.

The real focus of the course is on the impact of cancer and cancer treatment on individuals, families, and communities using a multidisciplinary approach. Parkhill said she developed the course so students could gain knowledge of cancer biology and treatment but also so they could use that knowledge in a meaningful way to help the community.

“Cancer is pervasive in our society. The majority of the population has been impacted by cancer in some way. However, because cancer biology and treatment are complex topics that require knowledge of cell biology, biochemistry and pharmacology, the general public knows very little about what causes cancer and how it is treated,” she said.

The students in the course worked with two community partners; Melissa’s Living Legacy Teen Cancer Foundation (TLC) and the Hope Lodge Hospitality House. TLC is a non-profit organization headquartered here in Rochester dedicated to the approximately 15,000 teens undergoing treatment for cancer each year in the United States. The Hope Lodge is an American Cancer Society facility that helps families dealing with the high medical costs that come with the disease by providing them with free or low-cost lodging for patients and caregiver in a supportive environment.

Those students working with TLC held focus groups with both parents and teens on their experiences with treatment and diagnosis discovering questions including, “How do you manage being in the hospital with your child undergoing treatment and at the same time having to work and manage time at home especially if you have other children?” and “What is one message that you want to send to others teenagers who are newly diagnosed?” Each focus group was recorded by a professional videographer and will be uploaded on the TLC website for newly diagnosed teens and their parents to view as a resource for their own journey with the disease. 

Students working with Hope Lodge planned a dinner for the guests at the Lodge and also created a medication-related fun activity for the guests after dinner. Some of the games were called “OTC pan reliever BINGO,” and “OTC Cough and Cold Jeopardy.”

All of the groups applied for and were awarded mini-grants through the Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement.

Parkhill also had three P4 students complete their rotations at TLC and Hope Lodge. Sara Mourhess and Tia Lum helped TLC with fundraising and administrative activities and also created many information sheets using “teen speak” for the organization to include in their newsletter and on their website.

For example, they created an article on the impact of exercise on cancer recovery; a brochure on the importance of sunscreen use; a brochure on the difference between a PET scan, a CT scan, and a MRI; information sheets on melanoma, testicular, breast, and ovarian cancer; a chart on chemotherapy side effects; and an article titled, “Five Questions Your Pharmacist Can Answer for You.”

Lum also applied for and was awarded a $500 Civic Community Engagement grant from the Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement and used the funds to purchase exercise equipment for TLC Fit, a fitness program designed for teens recovering from cancer.

Amy Thein completed her rotation at Hope Lodge where she assisted with fundraising activities, guest dinners, supply drives, worked at the front desk, and assisted in their “Look Good, Feel Good” wig room.

In addition, Lum and Thein served as a liaison between the sites and the students in the service-learning courses, which was an integral part in the success of the students’ class projects.

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