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GUEST POST: It’s a very new community for community pharmacist Sandy Hewitt

Community pharmacist Sandy Hewitt with her husband, biomedical technologist Larry Hewitt
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In 2013, I watched an episode of 60 Minutes that changed my world.

By Sandy Hewitt

It was about an organization called Mercy Ships International and followed life aboard the Africa Mercy, the largest civilian hospital ship in the world. Mercy Ships does life-changing surgeries aboard their modern hospital ship following the 2,000-year-old model of Jesus, bringing hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor. I was amazed at what this organization does and couldn’t get it out of my mind.

I have been a community pharmacist for 28 years both in Alberta and British Columbia, and my husband is a biomedical technologist. After raising two kids who are now both attending university in Ontario, we were living a new life as empty-nesters in Prince George, B.C., and we began to envision being able to leave Canada and volunteer with Mercy Ships. It was time to give back after years of living in a part of the world where we are blessed with so much, including excellent healthcare.

After two years of waiting, we are finally aboard the Africa Mercy for a two-year commitment and are currently in Tamatave, Madagascar. We spent five weeks in training in Lindale, Texas. It was good to have an understanding of the organization, how to understand personalities, interpersonal communication and conflict resolution, and how to live in close community with more than 400 crew. We also had to complete a basic training course with the US Coast Guard since we would be living as crew aboard a ship.

The learning curve has been steep since coming to the ship. Having been a community pharmacist, I found that the hospital was definitely a new environment. I am still a community pharmacist to the crew on board, but I am learning the workings of a hospital pharmacy in the very small space allotted to us.

Much of our supply of medications is stored in an air-conditioned container separate from the pharmacy in the storage area of the ship. Procurement is a challenge. From start to finish, it can take two to three months to order and receive a drug shipment – a vast change from next day delivery back home! Medications are both donated and purchased, and come from many different countries, so it is a challenge to become familiar with many new drugs and the different appearance of many familiar drugs.

This week I was given a pager and I am on call so I think I am getting my sea legs! Much to learn in the six weeks until the senior pharmacist leaves and I take his role. Unique cases and unique Malagasy people, warm and friendly despite their ailments. It will be easy to call the Africa Mercy home.

Sandy Hewitt will be blogging regularly on PharmacyU.ca about her experiences as a pharmacist on the Africa Mercy ship.