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Blog #6- hundreds of pharmacists + dozens of vendors + CE + one week= PHARMACY CONVENTION!

Pharmacy conventions in the US are something like family reunions for pharmacists that happen to take place every few months. Turns out, the concept is universal! Daniel told us we would be spending 3 days in Cape Coast for the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana (PSG). We were excited to network and meet other students and pharmacists from across Ghana.


All pharmacists rise for the opening ceremony of the AGM.

The week was to start off with the annual outreach in a village near Cape Coast. (the meeting was held at the University of Cape Coast) We arrived in the village about half an hour before the outreach was supposed to start. The venue was already jammed packed with people from the village and the surrounding area. The local children were brought by their teachers to the clinic, so there were dozens of them running around in school uniforms. We were immediately swarmed- they all wanted to touch an obroni (white person)!


Amanda is greeted by local school children at the PSG AGM clinic. Hi five’s all around!

We have neglected to mention this term yet, although we hear it every day. The vast majority of people here are Ghanaian, so anyone who is different (i.e. Caucasian) sticks out. After 3 weeks of practice with this “obroni swarming” behavior, we were very capable to disentangle ourselves from the school children and meet some of the other pharmacists working at the event. We quickly helped finish stocking the pharmacy tables with boxes of medicines that had been donated by various pharmaceutical companies and organizations and changed into shirts donated for the event.

The clinic was divided into two sides- pediatric and adult. The adults had their vitals checked first, then saw a doctor, and then went with prescriptions to the adult medication table. The children went straight to the doctor and then the pediatric medication table. The idea was for the volunteers to switch stations every hour or so to prevent boredom and fatigue. Jessica and I positioned ourselves at one of the two pediatric pharmacy tables and ended up staying there all day; it was easier to keep doing what we knew how to do then try to learn another station when there were patients waiting. We knew we wouldn’t be much help counseling, as patients in the more remote villages are rarely fluent in English. However, the prescriptions or disease states were written in English and the pharmacists spoke English, so we could help them get medications ready to dispense. Jessica made this her primary role at the clinic, while Amanda became the “go-for” girl, if you will. We helped run our table with the most efficiency we could; we kept it stocked with each medication or found alternative medications when things started to run out.


From left, sitting at the table: Emmanuel (Ghanaian pharmacist), Jessica, and Amanda get the line of patients started through the pediatric pharmacy table. Jessica’s starting to fill the prescriptions as Amanda reconstitutes antibiotics. (without a graduated cylinder)

We spent 8 hours at the clinic, with only one 15 minute lunch break. We saw so many patients that we simply had to turn some away at the end of the day- we were literally out of everything, including paracetamol (the form of acetaminophen used here). But when we were finished, we were happy to have helped so many people and to have represented the pharmacy community well. Many of the recurrent diseases here (i.e. diarrhea, malaria, worm and fungal infections) could be greatly reduced by consistent pharmacist intervention and counseling. Jessica and I were impressed with how the pharmacists at our table were able to counsel the mothers of children or the children themselves (many of them came from school, so parents were not with them). Some Ghanaians may have cultural or traditional beliefs about medicines and disease that could make their acceptance of treatment challenging, but the pharmacists worked through it and made them understand how important and helpful the drugs were.


Barbara, a Ghanaian pharmacist, counsels a mother about malaria treatment for her baby and children. Barbara was a great help to us throughout the day with translating, and a great Azonto teacher later that night! (if you don’t know what Azonto is, I suggest you youtube it)

Tuesday evening was meant to be a relaxing night after a hard day at the clinic. So for pharmacists this translates into cocktail party! We went back to our hotel, freshened up, threw on some heels and headed to the regional representative of Cape Coast’s house. It is apparently customary for the regional representative of the region the convention is held in to host at least one party for the pharmacists. We met many people, took many pictures, and sampled many Ghanaian hors devours, including goat skewers, fish quiche, and gizzard ‘nuggets’. Like any proper Ghanaian gathering there was ample food, drink, and loud music. The representative’s front lawn was soon turned into and azonto dance floor, with pharmacist’s young and old showing off their moves!


Jessica and Amanda at the cocktail party

Wednesday morning we arrived on the university campus in time to register before the opening ceremonies. We assumed Daniel had registered us as student, as we would be registered in the US. Turns out pharmacy students don’t often attend conventions here. They basically have to sneak in. Luckily for us, we know the right people and received a convention goody bag like the registered attendees, but were still troubled that students were not regularly expected to be involved. We watched the opening ceremonies, complete with traditionally dressed Ghanaians and more dancing and music. The day then progressed with scheduled presentations about pharmacy legislature, studies, and current issues. We also explored the campus, visited the vendor booths, and ate a traditional Ghanaian lunch. By Ghanaian lunch, we mean everything from jollof rice to fresh fried tilapia to mass fufu and banku production was set up on the lawn for the pharmacist’s enjoyment. Wednesday evening we convinced one of Cynthia’s old students to take us to see the beach at Cape Coast and ate some delicious seafood (the picture from the last post of lobster was dinner that night… yummy!)


The catering company brought made hundreds of orders of fufu with soup to order.


Fresh fried tilapia served with banku (sour dough ball), and tradition Ghanaian sauces, tomato on the left and shito on the right


While we didn’t accept samples of prescription and over the counter drugs like the other pharmacists, we did try some Rita Cereal Milk! It’s like a milkshake in a can that doesn’t have to be refrigerated!


Drummers for the opening ceremony. So much kente!


A view of a row of vendors at the convention!


After a hard day of networking, Jessica enjoys Oasis Beach in Cape Coast.

Thursday was another day of convention-ing. We met more people, passed out more business cards, and explained a few more times why American students were at a convention. By this time we had made friends with quite a few of the pharmacists and were able to network well. (You would be proud, Dean Sprague!) The sessions that day were continuing education classes for the pharmacists, so of course we snuck in to see what they would talk about. We went to the hospital section, thinking that would be the most controversial because of the current strike. Government paid hospital pharmacists have been on strike in Ghana since the Monday after we got to the country (September 3rd). The issues brought to attention included pharmacist intervention documentation, accurate patient profiling, doctor-pharmacist interactions, and clinical pharmacist roles. At one point in the discussion, a joke was made about how impossible it would be to look at 300 patient profiles in a day! Jessica and I couldn’t help but chuckle a little and agreed that if we only saw 300 patient profiles in a day in US pharmacy retail, we would be lucky. Obviously, hospitals are different than retail, but the concept of giving every patient the same attention and clinical approach should apply no matter what. Pharmacist interventions are not always documented here. In the states, a law suit would soon ensue if a pharmacist forgot to note a dose or drug change. As interns in the US, we speak to many doctors every day, over the phone or in person- there is ample open communication, for the most part. Here, the system is more old-fashioned, and open acceptance of pharmacy input is not always smiled upon. The pharmacists are striking in the hopes that they will be badly missed and get the pay increase they desire. But the hospitals have been running for weeks without them; maybe not with the best patient outcomes or most efficient process, but they have been running. If your presence doesn’t make an impact, your absence won’t make a difference. The hospital discussion seemed to be more of a revival than an actual learning session. It was a call for pharmacists to get out there and make themselves needed.

After an eye-opening and mind-boggling convention experience, Daniel had yet another surprise for the 3 hour drive back to Accra Thursday night. We had the pleasure of taking home Mrs. Ruth. She was the first B.Pharm woman pharmacy graduate in Ghana, and the first woman pharmacist at Kole Bu Teaching Hospital, and the founder of LAPAG (Lady Pharmacist’s Association of Ghana). If that wasn’t enough, she was also the mother of SIX boys. The woman is a living legend and should be an inspiration to all women. After the typical round of formal Ghanaian introductions, she gave us leave to pick her brain for the next 3 hours. And oh boy did we ever! We asked her for the best advice she could give us at the beginning of our careers. She said to always keep your passion for the profession. As long as you are passionate about what you do, people will notice your work, appreciate it, and take your advice in the future. She was impressed with how much we had accomplished thus far, and how young we were. She said two of her sons were still unmarried, if we were available. We kindly declined and thanked her for the offer. Hints of marriage proposals are becoming an almost daily occurrence, so it wasn’t that out of the usual for us. It was by far the most entertaining three hours we have spent in the car the whole month!

After an eye-opening and mind-boggling convention experience, Daniel had yet another surprise for the 3 hour drive back to Accra Thursday night. We had the pleasure of taking home Mrs. Ruth. She was the first B.Pharm woman pharmacy graduate in Ghana, and the first woman pharmacist at Kole Bu Teaching Hospital, and the founder of LAPAG (Lady Pharmacist’s Association of Ghana). If that wasn’t enough, she was also the mother of SIX boys. The woman is a living legend and should be an inspiration to all women. After the typical round of formal Ghanaian introductions, she gave us leave to pick her brain for the next 3 hours. And oh boy did we ever! We asked her for the best advice she could give us at the beginning of our careers. She said to always keep your passion for the profession. As long as you are passionate about what you do, people will notice your work, appreciate it, and take your advice in the future. She was impressed with how much we had accomplished thus far, and how young we were. She said two of her sons were still unmarried, if we were available. We kindly declined and thanked her for the offer. Hints of marriage proposals are becoming an almost daily occurrence, so it wasn’t that out of the usual for us. It was by far the most entertaining three hours we have spent in the car the whole month!

All you pharmacists and interns back in the States, take some advice from Ghana, and renew your pharmacy passion!

Auntie Amanda and Auntie Jessica

P.S.- Here’s a video of the clinic, so you can hear and see what it was like!