The man’s blood pressure is 160/88, which is one reason Butler University Pharmacy student Michael Grim is sitting beside him on a folding chair, explaining why it’s important for the man to take his medicine and an 81-milligram aspirin as prescribed.
Grim sits with the man for a few minutes to make sure he understands. When he’s sure the man does, Grim hands over a bag containing his prescription.
It’s a scene that will play itself out a few dozen times on this particular Saturday, when Grim and five of his Pharmacy classmates are volunteering at the Butler University Community Outreach Pharmacy (BUCOP) on the eastside of Indianapolis.
From 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM on Saturdays, BUCOP volunteers are an integral part of the IU Student Outreach Clinic, which provides care for underserved people who live in the area near the Neighborhood Fellowship Church, 3102 East 10th Street.
Here, inside the church, Butler Pharmacy students join University of Indianapolis students studying Physical Therapy, and IU students training in medicine, dentistry, occupational therapy, social work, ophthalmology, law, and other areas, to get practical experiences in the field.
In 2018, 217 Butler Pharmacy volunteers filled 3,275 prescriptions for 1,047 patients—some were repeat visitors to the Community Outreach Pharmacy. Mostly it’s preventative medicine—for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and acute sicknesses like strep throat.
BUCOP spent over $9,500 on medications and medical supplies. It also works with partners like CVS, which donated vials, and Walgreens, which donated flu shots.
“We’ve had some patients who are so happy with the students that they cried in gratitude,” says Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice Kacey Carroll ’12, who serves as BUCOP faculty advisor. “I think that’s meaningful for the students to see their impact. Some come just to say ‘hi’ and ‘thank you.’ One patient didn’t understand what high blood pressure meant. Our student spent an hour with her to explain. No one had done anything like that with the patient before. Though it took a long time, it was time well worth it.”
On this particular Saturday, there are no tears—just grateful patients. Grim and Kate Gordon, another P2 Pharmacy student, are the managers today. Their job is overseeing the operation and working with patients to explain their medicines.
“It’s really cool being with all these other areas of practice,” Grim says. “We communicate with the medical team all the time.”
To their left is Alyssa Mason. She’s training to be a manager, so she’s watching what Gordon is doing. At the tables behind them, Tyler Kennedy is reading the prescriptions, instructions, and dosages written by the doctor so she can make the label. Rachel Robb is recording prescriptions in the database and printing their labels to pass on to fillers so they can fill them. And Lauren Schmidt is filling prescriptions and giving them to the pharmacist to check.
The pharmacist today is Bradley Carqueville Pharm.D. ’17, who’s in his second year of residency with Community Health Network, specializing in ambulatory care. Carqueville had volunteered at the clinic when he was a student; now he’s the licensing professional, double-checking what the students are doing.
“I let the students run the show,” he says. “They’re supposed to do all the counseling, they do all the filling, and the documenting. I’m just here making sure everything is right, but I’m supposed to be in the background.”
If the students have questions, they can ask Carqueville or the two Medication Therapy Consultants in the next room. Today, that’s Chandler Howell and Nichole Barnard, both of whom are set to graduate in May.
“It’s rewarding to be here, knowing that it’s a great thing for the community,” Howell says. “It’s also rewarding to work with the medical team. You have so many opportunities to work with so many professions so closely. It gives you more experience working with the entire team, and I think it helps seeing what the other professions are doing, their thought processes.”
“Rewarding” is a word that comes up often in conversations with the student volunteers. Grim tells the story of a patient on oxygen who was out of the inhalers he needed to breathe. He helped him fill out the paperwork to get the man what he needed.
“For me, what’s most rewarding are the educational aspects—being able to talk to the patients after we fill the medications and counsel them on specific things,” Gordon says. “For example, one time a lady picked up a medication for her cholesterol. I started asking her questions about it and she was like, ‘I don’t know why I have to have a cholesterol medication. Everybody has cholesterol.’ I was able to explain that there’s bad and good cholesterol, and this medication helps lower her bad cholesterol. It’s rewarding to build connections with the patients.”
The IU Student Outreach Clinic, which celebrated its 10th anniversary on February 14, was founded by Indiana University Dr. Javier Sevilla M.D., who wanted to create a free, student-led clinic in a neighborhood that desperately needed doctors. According to the clinic’s website, among the 15,000 homes in the area, half live at or below the poverty level and report unmet health needs due to cost, lack of transportation, lack of a primary care provider, or unemployment.
At first, the clinic provided only medical care. The student-doctors would write prescriptions and church leaders would reach into their pockets and do the best they could to help the patients. Within a couple of months, Sevilla invited Butler’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences to participate.
“Once that happened,” says Sevilla, “there was a cascade of other partners who were waiting. Butler has been key to making this clinic the largest, most vibrant student-run clinic in the nation.”
Jim Strietelmeier, the church elder who oversees the clinic, says Butler “has gone far and above what anyone would have expected.”
“When I speak to the pharmacists,” Strietelmeier says, “I tell them what Martin Luther King Jr. said: ‘Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.’ Pharmacists are by far the servants of the crowd. They take instruction and then give what’s necessary.”
Kacey Carroll was a Butler Pharmacy student when BUCOP started and has been the advisor since joining the Butler faculty in August 2017.
She remembers realizing as a student that there are so many barriers to healthcare — “unintended barriers,” she says, “but it doesn’t mean that any person is any less deserving of receiving healthcare.”
“If there’s anything I can do with the knowledge that I’ve gained to help people improve their life and improve their health, I want to do that. So it helped instill in me a need and a want to reach out to the community and use this skill that I have to give back.”
What she often hears from students who volunteer through BUCOP is about how much they appreciate experiencing the practical application of what they learned in class. The common refrain is: “We talked about this in class, but once I did it, I see that it matters and it made a difference.”
As Javier Sevilla says: “It is a beautiful, beautiful service learning opportunity for all of us.”