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Students in Auburn University's Harrison School of Pharmacy will soon have the option of studying in Thailand.
The idea of offering such an international travel opportunity to Auburn's student pharmacists came from Salisa Westrick, an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy Care Systems. The Thai native teaches a course on the U.S. health care system and believes pharmacy students would benefit from first-hand knowledge of global health issues.
"Our students would be able to understand why a different (health care) system works in a different county and have a good understanding of what the pros and cons of our system are here in the U.S.," she said.
Currently, student pharmacists can go to Kenya, South Africa or Ecuador on medical missions.
"The trip to Thailand would be taking students into much more of an academic setting," said Paul Jungnickel, associate dean for academic and student affairs in the pharmacy school.
In June, Westrick and Jungnickel traveled to Thailand on an International Travel Grant from the Office of the Provost to attend a meeting of the U.S.-Thai Consortium for the Advancement of Pharmacy Education. Auburn anticipates being invited to join the consortium, a collection of 14 U.S. and 15 Thai pharmacy schools, in the fall. Travel could begin by fall of 2012.
They were able to visit two universities specifically interested in hosting Auburn student pharmacists – Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand's first university, and Naresuan University, a newer institution in Phitsanulok. Westrick earned her baccalaureate degree in pharmacy from Chulalongkorn.
"Both of the schools provide Auburn with a lot of opportunities," Jungnickel said, including student exchange and faculty research collaborations.
Auburn students choosing an international clerkship will spend five weeks working with healthcare providers and interns in a community pharmacy practice, public hospital and a private hospital. Experiences would be similar to those clerkships completed during the fourth year of pharmacy school.
"I think it would be useful for our students to be able to experience differences between drug use patterns, patients and the types of illnesses that come into those two types of hospitals," said Westrick.
Jungnickel said he found that many of the drugs available in Thai pharmacies were the same as those available in the U.S., and that "Thailand is dealing with a lot of the same (medical) problems that we are," such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and obesity.
Thailand attempts to provide healthcare coverage to all its citizens, but is also a nation that is attracting a growing number of international patients for medical tourism, he added.
Bangkok's Bumrungrad International Hospital, the largest private hospital in Southeast Asia, treats more than a million patients annually, nearly half of which are internationals seeking "health care that is equal or better quality than the states for a lot less money," Jungnickel said.
Jungnickel supports the efforts to join the consortium because it would increase the university's international presence, a goal of Auburn President Jay Gogue.
"Auburn is certainly pushing more study abroad opportunities for undergraduates," Jungnickel said. "For our (pharmacy) school to stay among the top tier (pharmacy) schools, we've got to offer more of that."
Currently, Kentucky and Florida are the only SEC schools in the consortium.
Last Updated: July 28, 2011