Why pharmacy students should volunteer with Team Up

Team Up is a volunteering programme that partners trainee and student healthcare professionals with organisations that help disadvantaged communities. Here, four pharmacy students talk about the projects they participated in.

Members of the Team Up is a volunteering programme

The ‘Inspired by London 2012’ initiative was set up to recognise innovative and exceptional projects directly inspired by the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Enter ‘Team Up’, a London-based volunteering programme that partners trainee and student healthcare professionals with various organisations to help disadvantaged communities through a variety of projects that promote health, wellbeing and fitness.

Funded by Health Education England’s London teams, the programme was established in 2012 and in its most recent partnerships supported 67 medical or dental trainees, 17 medical students and 28 non-medical students in completing 17 projects across 16 organisations.

One of these projects involved working with Share, a charity based in Clapham Junction that offers accredited training, education, employability and personal development programmes to help people with a wide range of disabilities and long-term health conditions. Three third-year pharmacy students at Kingston University — Saba Bashir, Reynalyn Mosuela and Angelie Naik — a medical student and a trainee doctor worked on the project, which involved delivering workshops to encourage improved wellbeing in these individuals by focusing on healthy eating and exercise.

Getting involved

“I decided to get involved to develop my communication and teamwork skills. I felt like this would be a good opportunity to put myself out there to overcome my confidence issues and shyness,” Bashir explains. “It also seemed like an excellent opportunity to represent pharmacy students and their perspectives in a multidisciplinary team because pharmacy students had never taken part before.”

Naik adds: “Being able to get involved and help the wider community, especially those in need and who are vulnerable, is what pharmacy as a profession is all about.”

For Mosuela, the appeal lay in the specific project. “Because mental wellbeing is a subject that is not taught in depth at university, it was a challenge to use my knowledge and pharmacy expertise to design a project,” she says.

Pharmacy student Myriam Elotmani, also at Kingston, worked on a different project, which involved working with a group of students with special needs. “We wanted to raise awareness of some of the most common cancers, such as breast, colon, cervical and prostate. The aim of the project was to ensure that students were well informed about the signs and symptoms of the cancers and how they are diagnosed.”

She explains: “At university, we are taught about the importance of professionalism and building interprofessional relationships and I believed this was a good opportunity to implement what I had learnt.”

The projects

The Share project required the students to organise two workshops — one with a focus on healthy eating and the other, aerobics. “Our project promoted the importance of healthy eating and physical exercise through interactive workshops designed to be fun for our target audience,” Bashir explains. “We also included information about the cardiovascular risks of obesity in our healthy eating workshop, which linked in with our role as future pharmacists.”

An aerobics workshop was organised as part of the Share project to promote healthy living and physical exercise 

Mosuela and Naik designed questionnaires before the sessions to find out more about their target audience, including their perceptions about wellbeing and how a workshop could provide the most benefit for them. Bashir focused on designing materials to support the workshops, including leaflets, reward charts and a food diary.

Healthy eating was a big part of the project, with volunteers promoting awareness of health risks that result from obesity 

“At the next session we had a look at the food diaries to see if they did implement our advice,” Naik noted. The team also conducted an evaluation questionnaire after the workshops, which suggested that the sessions were useful and reinforced important messages about healthy living. Naik adds: “It was so important to listen to the students about how they felt about our activities and take their opinions on board so that next time things can improve.”

All three pharmacy students who worked on the Share project enjoyed the interactions with the students most. “Getting to know the students and building rapport with them was the main highlight,” says Naik, emphasising that it was important not to be condescending in their conversations.

Elotmani also worked with trainee doctors and other pharmacy students to design and deliver workshops as part of her cancer awareness project. “I was responsible for contacting and liaising with different charities and organisations, including Macmillan and Bowel Cancer UK,” she says. The companies gave the team educational materials and information to help them raise awareness.

This project also used questionnaires to find out how useful the students taking part in the workshops found them. “The majority of the students had reported an increase in their knowledge of cancer and all of the students reported that they were aware of the screening processes for each cancer,” Elotmani explains.

Future thinking

She adds that Team Up organised a free training course called ‘Managing smaller projects’, which was available for all team members to attend. “It helped me with understanding where and how to start a project and gave me perspective on the current project I was working on. The information gained from this course will also be useful for planning my fourth year research project.”

The Team Up programme encourages multidisciplinary working in a practical way. “My experience working with other students allowed me to boost my teamwork skills, including organisation and creativity, which I can apply to my current study and in my future practice,” says Mosuela.

For Elotmani, the most valuable part of the experience was improving her communication skills: “What I learnt most from the project was how to adapt my teaching and communication style to benefit a large group of students with particular learning needs.”

She also believes that her time management skills have improved because of the programme. “Being in the third year of my pharmacy degree, I was expected to meet deadlines for assignments and prepare for exams while still putting time into the project. I was also working part-time at a local pharmacy and I’m a full-time mother to a two-year-old, which makes working at home more challenging.”

She adds: “Through experiences like these, you learn a lot about priorities or responsibilities.”

Bashir believes being involved in the programme helps to develop individuals as people and future healthcare professionals. “I can use the skills I have gained through this process to communicate effectively to a wider range of people, which will help me in the future as a pharmacist,” she explains.

Naik adds: “In pharmacy you are exposed to a patients with a number of different illnesses or health problems on a daily basis. From Team Up, I will be able to approach certain individuals in the correct way, for example, being sensitive when talking to a specific group of patients.” She also intends to register as a student mentor for the programme to encourage others to take part.

Interested students and trainees should register their interest and will be invited to an information evening and launch event, where all partner organisations will showcase their projects. After the launch event, the volunteers can apply for their top four projects, which last from three to six months. To express your interest, visit http://www.lpmde.ac.uk/training-programme/specialty-schools/public-health/teamup/registration or email teamup@southlondon.hee.nhs.uk 

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Why pharmacy students should volunteer with Team Up;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2016.20201334

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