Students have many opportunities to explore various career options in pharmacy while pursuing their education at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy. Sasha Cruz, who is a second-year professional student pharmacist, applied for an internship with the Mayo Clinic, which is ranked No. 1 in U.S. News & World Report’s listing of best hospitals for 2014-2015.

“The chances were slim,” Cruz said. “I didn’t think I was going to get it. But I thought I have nothing to lose and so much to gain, so why not?”

Cruz interviewed for the Mayo School of Health Sciences Pharmacy Internship in early February and by the following day she had an offer. It was the chance of a lifetime.

“When I got the call, I think the first words that came out of my mouth were: ‘Are you serious?’” Cruz said. “The intern recruiter I spoke with laughed and said she would not be calling unless she was 100 percent serious.”

Sasha Cruz receives summer internship

Sasha Cruz was selected as one of four students nationwide to work in the Mayo Clinic’s outpatient pharmacy program.

Cruz, who is from San Antonio, will be spending 10 weeks this summer in Rochester, Minn. She was selected as one of four students nationwide to work in the clinic’s outpatient pharmacy program.

“I look forward to experiencing the Mayo Clinic’s six outpatient pharmacies where interns rotate,” she said.

In its network of outpatient pharmacies, the Mayo Clinic sees approximately 1.4 million patients each year, and dispenses nearly 3,500 prescriptions per day.

“It is an overwhelming amount,” Cruz said. “In two of their outpatient pharmacies there are no medications – just pharmacists interacting with patients.”

In these pharmacies, time is devoted to patients for counseling and asking questions. While the patient receives one-on-one time with pharmacists, their prescription is shipped through a tubing system where a central area fills the script.

“One of the biggest mottos at the Mayo Clinic is that the needs of the patient come first,” Cruz said.

Cruz has a passion for patient care and has a heart for educating patients on the use of their medications. She received first place in the American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) Patient Counseling Competition Feb. 2 at Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy and will participate in the National Patient Counseling Competition in March at the 2015 APhA Annual Conference in San Diego, Calif.

“I will have plenty of practice with patient interaction and counseling by the end of the summer,” she said. “One emphasis of the program is polishing counseling skills, but I also expect to interact with other health care professionals, including pharmacists, doctors and nurses.”

As a student at Texas A&M, Cruz found her niche in outpatient care during her summer internship with Juan Castro, M.D., assistant professor of pharmacy practice. In the internship at his medical practice in Corpus Christi, Texas, she evaluated patients based on medical history, examinations and current medications.

“Her rapport with patients was exceptional,” Dr. Castro said. “Her humility and confidence allowed her to communicate with patients in a way that put them at ease. Patients confided in her with information that they had not revealed to me or my staff.”

The outpatient care setting exposed Cruz to what she believes is the best of pharmacy patient care.

“The retail pharmacy setting offers direct patient interaction but it can be limited at times, and the hospital setting offers a more clinical view of the patient,” she said. “With outpatient care I had the best of both worlds, I could sit down with patients, look at their lab values, discuss their care and learn more about them.”

In outpatient care, where patients are not hospitalized for care, Cruz said she could be a cheerleader for the patient and observe care holistically. “I can look at their medications and see what adjustments need to be made while taking into account other physical or social factors that might affect patient care,” she said.

She learned that pharmacists can play a big role in chronic diseases. In her summer internship at Dr. Castro’s office, she introduced a diabetes standards of care form that was implemented for his patients who had diabetes.

“She instructed our staff of the need for such a form,” Dr. Castro said. “She shared with us the objectives and the expected outcomes.”

Cruz noticed that patients who have chronic diseases such as diabetes require more motivation to manage their disease.

“Patients have already been told to exercise more or eat healthier,” she said. “But these are not things they can easily do on their own. They really need that cheerleader, and I feel that the outpatient care setting gives you the opportunity to be that for patients.”

As an intern at the Mayo Clinic, she will experience specialized pharmacy practice areas including critical care, cardiac surgery, cardiology, anti-coagulation, and many others. During the summer she will perform mini rotations shadowing various pharmacy specialties. At the end of the internship she will share a presentation with the staff and receive feedback from peers on how to improve her skills.

“More than anything, I am so excited and just grateful, I think it is going to be an amazing experience,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to learn and interact with patients and find ways to improve patient care – that is the No. 1 thing to me. Mayo Clinic stands for that. I still wake up sometimes thinking: ‘Did they really pick me? Am I dreaming?’”

— Cheri Shipman

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