Pharmacy Students Translate Health Information at Despensa de la Paz
MCW School of Pharmacy students have a new volunteer opportunity for the 2023-2024 school year: providing health screenings at a local food pantry. This is one of several ways pharmacy students engage with the Milwaukee community, through the MCW Neighborhood Partners program.
During two volunteer sessions in August, students provided blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose screenings to community members at the Despensa de la Paz, one of four Friedens Food Pantry locations in Milwaukee. They also provided information about how to administer naloxone in the event of an opioid overdose.
The population Despensa de la Paz serves is predominantly Spanish speaking, so the MCW School of Pharmacy partnered with the MATC Medical Interpreter program for assistance with communicating health information. Two MCW School of Pharmacy students, who are native Spanish speakers, also helped break down language barriers.
Yerandy Rosas-Garcia, 2026 PharmD Candidate, has lived in the community that Despensa de la Paz serves since she was about seven years old.
“There’s a certain level of comfort when speaking my first language, which I don’t do often outside of my household. There is a loss of identity sometimes,” says Rosas-Garcia. “Being able to translate the health screening results was important, but I also enjoyed reconnecting with [community members] and just casually talking with them.”
Odelís Colón Colón, 2025 PharmD Candidate, grew up in Puerto Rico and recently moved to the U.S. to start her pharmacy education.
“It was nice interacting with [the attendees] and making connections,” says Colón. “I’ve only been here for one year, and I’m not as used to speaking English. I feel like in my language, I can connect with them and express myself better.”
Engaging with the community is one of the MCW School of Pharmacy’s four missions. In addition to providing health screenings, pharmacy students also administer vaccinations to individuals who are uninsured.
“Being an effective and caring pharmacist is all about effective communication,” says Mike DeBisschop, PharmD, a faculty member who practices within the MCW Neighborhood Partners program. “In providing these health screenings, we not only help bring personal health awareness to the people in this community, but we also challenge students to communicate with people in ways that may be new to them. In doing so, students develop communication skills, deepen their compassion, and find new ways to look at situations they hadn’t considered before.”
Colón and Rosas-Garcia are both interested in working in the community pharmacy setting after completing their PharmD education.
“When I got home [from volunteering], I told my family about it and was pretty excited – just to be there, to be involved and interact with everyone,” says Rosas-Garcia.
“It’s satisfying to be able to talk with people and to apply everything that you’re learning,” says Colón. “A lot of the patients don’t have access to care for whatever reason. They did the testing, but they were also just chatting about their life. It was gratifying to be able to listen, understand, and talk with them.”