Emily Peron: What I've Learned

When I moved from Pittsburgh to Richmond last summer to join the faculty at the VCU School of Pharmacy, I thought I knew my role. I was a practicing pharmacist, educator, and researcher with a passion for working with older adults wherever they reside. Little did I know that I would soon find myself working with older adults in Pampas Grande, Peru, thousands of feet above sea level and thousands of feet from my new hometown.

Becoming a part of the Richmond Global Health Alliance originally stemmed from my involvement with student pharmacists who were traveling to the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Peru as part of VCU’s HOMBRE organization (formerly the Honduras Outreach Medical Brigada Relief Effort). As a first-year faculty member, I was not sure if the opportunity to travel internationally for work would present itself again in this way. So, I picked a country, signed up, and showed up. And I learned a few things along the way…

Dr. Emily Peron and Max Stinehour organizing donated medications in the Pampas Grande clinic.

1.      It’s important to show up. One of the most valuable things RGHA does for the people of Pampas Grande is show up. Year after year, residents can count on a team from the Richmond area to live in Pampas Grande, participate in local cultural events, and see hundreds of patients in a week’s time. Although student participants often change from year to year, trip leaders are dedicated individuals who the residents of Pampas Grande have come to know and respect. And, with the help of PAN Peru and local community health workers, the work that we do during these annual medical brigades is able to be maintained and even enhanced over the course of the rest of the year.

2.      Being present is a powerful thing. There is no question that our days in Pampas Grande are busy. One group may be building a greenhouse while another is distributing sunscreen to children with chapped faces and yet another is trying to see all the patients in clinic before darkness sets in. When you are thousands of miles from home and connecting to the internet is the farthest thing from your mind (in part because it’s next to impossible), it’s amazing how present you are in whatever activity is happening at the moment. Mornings spent walking from home to the kitchen to the clinic, afternoons spent dancing and singing at local festivals, nights spent eating and talking over dinner, and especially hours spent seeing patients in the clinic setting, are times spent engaged in the present, listening to and learning from others, and truly focusing on what is important.

3.      Quality healthcare is quality healthcare, and everyone deserves quality healthcare. Although I could probably use more eloquent terms, this statement gets to the heart of what RGHA strives to do. As providers in the clinic in Pampas Grande, we do our best to provide the same care – the same assessments, the same treatments, the same quality of healthcare – as we would to patients in the Richmond area. From a pharmacy standpoint, we travel with a wide range of brand and generic medications purchased from reputable suppliers. Medications arrive in Pampas Grande unopened and with expiration dates that will not come to pass for many months. Evidence-based medical practices are followed, and patients do not get medications without a prescription. Detailed notes are written, and records are kept for years to come. Treating the clinic in Pampas Grande as though it is any other clinic in the Richmond area is a key to the successful engagement of RGHA within the community and a key to ensuring that all patients receive the same quality healthcare we have come to know and expect in the United States.

4.      Committing to a cause can change your life. Leaving Peru, “committed” is the word I would use to describe how I was feeling. It is also the word I would use to describe my colleagues who dedicate their time, energy, and money to HOMBRE, RGHA, PAN Peru, and so many other organizations that work to bring quality healthcare to people everywhere. The individuals who have worked to make the annual trip from Richmond to Pampas Grande a reality are truly extraordinary and committed human beings. They are the kind of people you want in your corner, and they are people I am proud with whom to work year-round to make our two-week trip happen every summer. 
I cannot adequately thank RGHA, HOMBRE, PAN Peru, VCU, and all of the individuals with whom I have worked  over the past year. I was looking forward to our 2014 trip the day I returned to American soil this summer, and I look forward to many, many more summers spent in Pampas Grande.

- Emily

Dr. Emily Peron is an assistant professor at the VCU School of Pharmacy in the Department of Pharmacotherapy & Outcomes Science. She is a board member of both RGHA and HOMBRE.