Showing solidarity: students offer pharmacies their support

The coronavirus outbreak has made solidarity more important than ever. Pharmacy students, for example, are getting involved and offering pharmacies a helping hand. The new “pharmadelivery” platform enables pharmacies to connect quickly with students who are eager to help.
Pharmacies are currently under a great deal of stress. A new platform connects them with pharmacy students who want to help staff. (Photo: Keystone)

A lot has changed in recent days. Carole Jetzer is no exception. The 26-year-old from Aargau is a first-year Master’s student in the Pharmacy programme at ETH, with plans to become a pharmacist afterwards. Like many other students, she wanted to know how to help pharmacies in the current exceptional circumstances.

Like all healthcare professions, pharmacies are under extreme stress right now. For many people, they are an important source of advice on how to take their medications at home or for an initial assessment of their symptoms. They are also able to prepare certain medications themselves. According to the student and young pharmacist associations in Switzerland, pharmacies are advising about a third more customers than usual. Staff have their hands full – and there may be illness-related absences in the near future.

Helping out and protecting high-risk groups

“I see how much work there is to do right now,” says Jetzer, who completed an apprenticeship in a pharmacy before starting her formal studies at ETH Zurich. “I want to do my part to help pharmacy staff and protect high-risk groups.” Students can make themselves useful, for example, by delivering medicines to older and vulnerable patients, so they do not have to go to the pharmacies themselves. Many pharmacies offer a delivery service, but not all can meet the demand.

Since classroom teaching at ETH and other universities has been suspended temporarily, students also have to organise their own work. In light of this, Jetzer says there are frequent discussions on how they can help pharmacies. “Until now, the involvement has been very individual. To show solidarity, we wanted to increase students’ efforts,” says Jetzer, who is in charge of the public health team in the Swiss Pharmaceutical Students Association (asep).

190 volunteers in a single day

Together with the Schweizerischen ApothekerInnen in Aus- und Weiterbildung (VSAAW) association and the Swiss Young Pharmacists Group (swissYPG), the asep Students Association built the platform in just a few days and rolled it out on Wednesday. The new platform offers students eager to help a way to do just that. They just have to register with their details on where they live and their mode of travel (e.g. driving license). Pharmacies can then see who is available in their region. The pharmacies organise the actual tasks directly with the students. About 190 students – including many from ETH Zurich – registered on the first day.

«I want to help support pharmacy personnel and protect vulnerable groups of people.»      Carole Jetzer, pharmacy student at ETH Zurich

Lecturers are involved as well: Dominik Stämpfli, for example, works as a clinical pharmacist in the hospital pharmacy at Kantonsspital Baden. He is also a lecturer at the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences. On Tuesday, he notified all ETH pharmacy students about the pharmadelivery platform. “Of course, their studies come first,” says Stämpfli, “but in their spare time they can show their solidarity and offer pharmacies some relief.”

Samuel Allemann, president of swissYPG, adds: “The students offer a voluntary service.” Protecting their health is of course top priority for everyone; for example, medication is delivered by car, bike or foot – but not by public transport.

The platform has been initially launched with a focus on delivering medication, but other applications might also include storing medication deliveries, administrative support and fulfilling medication orders. Students who have completed laboratory training might also help with the production of disinfectant. This will allow pharmacy staff to focus on talking to and advising customers, as well as on-site and phone sales. “Students are happy to do their part in ensuring the uninterrupted supply of vital resources,” says Jetzer.

Protection for volunteers and in pharmacies

For students lending a helping hand to pharmacies, the same precautions apply as for everyone else: social distancing, avoiding public transport, hand washing, and staying at home in the case of illness symptoms.

Customers can also help pharmacies ensure the public has access to medications in these exceptional circumstances: only go to a pharmacy if necessary. Order any urgently needed medications and supplies by email if possible, or in an emergency by phone from your usual pharmacy. Ask whether home delivery is possible. Only purchase as much medication as you actually need.