July 05, 2023 | Downers Grove, IL
Since its establishment in 2013, the Middle Eastern Pharmacists Association (MePA) on the Downers Grove Campus of Midwestern University has made a significant impact on the community. More than 400 students have volunteered their services, conducting free community health screenings and organizing educational events, benefiting nearly 1,200 patients. Sally Arif, Pharm.D., BCPS, Professor, Pharmacy Practice, College of Pharmacy, Downers Grove, serves as the founding advisor for MePA.
“I have always believed that student pharmacists can be influential drivers for health access through community health programs designed to meet the needs of ethnically-minoritized populations. I’m proud to see MePA’s sustainable impact as the first student pharmacist organization in the country focused on improving health awareness of preventable disease for immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa,” Dr. Arif said.
Pharmacy student Leila Ammeri (CPDG SGO ’24) said she joined MePA due to her passion for service. “I wanted to learn more about MePA, since the organization was serving Middle Eastern communities, and I noticed that the board members were of Middle Eastern backgrounds. During that meeting, they shared with me what MePA does, such as health screenings.” She added, “Since my first year in pharmacy school we have done so many health screenings. Every month MePA goes to the SAMS (Syrian American Medical Society) Clinic. They provide a free clinic to local individuals who cannot afford healthcare. At the clinic, we work with a team of specialists such as endocrinologists and cardiologists. We help them to screen their patients for BP (blood pressure), BG (blood glucose), A1C (blood sugar levels over time), and lipids. The patients are from all backgrounds not just Middle Eastern.”
Community members can have their A1C levels checked by Midwestern University pharmacy students as part of the community outreach of MePA.
Leila added, “MePA also works to address health issues among patients of Middle Eastern descent. As an organization we have so many of our members who are of Middle Eastern background, so they are pretty familiar with the diet, the culture, and the religions. We also have our amazing advisor Dr. Arif, who has many years of experience working in the field, and serving as our coach for disparities that demand our attention. We try to counsel our patients alongside our advisor on things they can do better.” Leila added, “The Middle Eastern diet is on the heavier side with lots of oil, carbohydrates, and meat. We are able to better assess our patients knowing this information.”
Pharmacy student Lena Jadrawi (CPDG 3YC ’24) said, “Working with patients of the same minority group as me and being able to automatically relate to the cultural struggles we face as a group has provided easier access in communicating with patients. Making sure the patient and I are on the same page as far as understanding their illness and the expectation of managing it is important for me because I feel like my relatives did not receive that due to cross-cultural barriers. I want to make that change for others.”
Pharmacy student Essa Barbari (CPDG 3YC ’24) added, “Before joining MePA, I did not have the opportunity to work with the community. Joining MePA has allowed me to plan health screenings at conventions and churches, and even fundraise for Afghan refugees.” Essa continued, “MePA provides free health screenings in different settings. As President, I was able to organize a health screening at my church St. George in Cicero, IL. “MePA has given me the opportunity to work with patients, and work on my counseling skills. During screenings, I also had the opportunity to get hands on experience with BP (blood pressure) and glucose equipment.”
Leila remarked, “The experiences I have gained from MePA will stay with me for a lifetime,” adding, “All of the experiences will help me in my future career by being able to identify the health disparities, and it will allow me to become an advocate for them.” Lena added, “MePA prepares you for a career in healthcare, as it teaches about cultural awareness and sensitivity. It helps you become accustomed to patients of different backgrounds and teaches you about many cultures to help shape you to be a better healthcare professional.”
Dr. Arif said MePA hosts three to four events each year in different community spaces and partners with free clinics throughout Chicagoland, offering disease prevention and health promotion strategies. Arab American immigrants experience some health disparities, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, she said. Dr. Arif added, “MePA's programming provides student pharmacists with the opportunity to deliver culturally sensitive care and medical referral services. MePA has received several MWU Student Senate Community Service Awards and a community action grant from the American Heart Association in recognition of the significant impact that student pharmacists can have in improving health access for Arab-American immigrants.”
Essa and Leila shared how their student experience at Midwestern University will prepare them for their future careers. Leila said, “I feel like Midwestern could not have done a better job of allowing me to excel as a student leader. I have learned how to handle difficult situations as a leader, I have resolved problems, and I have created lifelong memories. I feel like any form of leadership helps you not only grow as a leader but also as a person, which I feel like I have.” Essa added, “Not only does the Midwestern experience provide the necessary framework for students to know the basis of therapeutics, but it allows us to develop relationships with alumni, professors, and pharmacists. These relationships have allowed me to develop the necessary skills and connections for my future as a pharmacist.”
Midwestern University offers several student organizations in Downers Grove and Glendale, including MePA, that offer students an opportunity to gain experience utilizing their skills, make a difference in the community, and interact with fellow students.