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I have always been interested in the intersection of pharmacy and public health. Pharmacists are one of the most accessible health care professionals. With how common it is for people to visit their pharmacy, I think that pharmacists have an opportunity (and a responsibility) to have an impactful conversation with every patient that picks up their medication. I feel that with the common interactions between pharmacists and patients can serve as a perfect way to get an idea of every individual’s health and understand what barriers would need to be overcome to attain the best possible therapeutic outcome. Thus, pharmacy and public health are an effective combination to identify and eliminate problems in the current healthcare system. It makes me excited that my career as a future pharmacist allows me to help populations that need it most. However, I feel that I need to learn more about vulnerable populations and understand their biggest struggles before I can truly make a lasting impact. Therefore, when I had the opportunity to research with a professor of public health about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and people experiencing homelessness, I knew that I could get the experience I was looking for.

When I first started my research, I was surprised by our findings from homeless organizations that I was interviewing. Staying at home more and wearing masks were a big adjustment to everyone, but it had an even bigger effect on people experiencing homelessness. Many of the resources that families and individuals relied on day-to-day were stopped suddenly without an alternative. Some shelters or other heated spaces were closed to visitors, meaning that any available space was filling up fast. It was an overwhelming adjustment for both people experiencing homelessness and the organizations that served them. It made me realize how much work is needed to achieve health equity within my community. How can someone be in their best health if they lack basic resources required for living that I take for granted? Even with the small glimpse of what vulnerable populations were facing during the pandemic, I knew that I was determined to find solutions for health equity in my community and beyond. However, finding solutions for health equity is an impossible job for one person. 

When I joined CHEqI, I was excited to find like-minded students and contribute to initiatives that worked towards health equity that had applications in the real world. CHEqI has given me a valuable opportunity to see how a passion for health equity can make real changes. For one of my projects with CHEqI, Dr. Gonzalvo put me in charge of compiling all projects related to CHEqI as a database. I was so impressed with the variety of projects and accomplishments related to CHEqI. It helped me understand the grand scope of health equity and that its application is not only related to medicine. The projects under the CHEqI umbrella included various research projects, curriculum modification campaigns, and alumni engagement efforts. It was rewarding for me to see what an empowered group of professors and students were able to accomplish in the first year of CHEqI. There were many different approaches to improve health outcomes in underserved populations within CHEqI, and it helped me reflect on how I define health equity.

In my recent experiences in my research group and CHEqI, I have come to understand that the road to health equity takes a holistic approach. Health is determined by living condition, lifestyle, and available resources. Health equity means individualized resources for the community and appropriate education for providers. While health equity cannot be achieved in a day, the daily contributions that CHEqI consistently provides will undoubtedly make an impact.

Alexa Lahey | P2 Pharmacy Student