By RJ Wolcott, WSU News
Originally published in the WSU Insider January 19, 2021

WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences students put their training into practice assisting with arrival testing in Pullman ahead of the start of the Spring 2021 semester.

More than a dozen pharmacy students helped Pullman students who live off campus with their COVID-19 nasal swab tests, providing instruction on how to administer the test and ensuring samples are handled and stored properly. Nearly all fraternities and sororities reserved times for their members to visit the Adams Mall, located in the Greek Row area of College Hill, for COVID-19 testing as part of the program.

The university encouraged all students living in off-campus Pullman housing to participate in arrival testing. For students living in university housing as well as those who plan on visiting campus facilities during the semester, the arrival testing is required.

Second-year pharmacy student Tyler Boles assisting with COVID-19 arrival testing in Pullman on Thursday, January 14, 2021. Photo by WSU Photo Services

Misty Lefler, president of the WSU chapter of the American Pharmacist Association’s Academy of Student Pharmacists, helped to organize the event and traveled to Pullman to lend a hand.

“What’s great about being able to lead this organization is that you’re surrounded by people who want to give back,” Lefler said.

Being captivated by chemistry in high school coupled with a desire to help others drove Lefler to pursue a career in pharmacy.

Spending much of her childhood with her grandparents, Lefler closely observed the effects of aging on her loved ones. Seeing the difference having a compassionate pharmacist had on her grandparents drove her to be that person for others.

It was her grandfather that pointed her to an article about the high demand for pharmacists, a career path that would allow her to do so. After completing her fourth year of pharmacy school, Lefler plans on pursuing a residency en route to specializing in ambulatory care.

Arrival testing for Greek Life students ran from Jan. 14 through Jan. 18 at 600 NE Colorado St, Ste 100 in Pullman. Pharmacy students are also providing COVID-19 tests and administering the vaccine on an ongoing basis in addition to their volunteering in Pullman. It’s something students are used to, having assisted in flu vaccination campaigns across local communities for years.

“The work of our students and health care providers across time is to respond to those in need, particularly during a health crisis,” Dr. Jennifer Robinson, associate dean of professional education and an associate professor of pharmacotherapy, said. “The work of student pharmacists will continue as we battle back COVID and we work to prevent the next crisis.”

Second-year pharmacy student Vong Chang assisting with COVID-19 arrival testing in Pullman on Thursday, January 14, 2021. Photo by WSU Photo Services

Arrival testing for Pullman students, the university’s only residential campus, is just one of several efforts WSU has made this spring to help curb the potential spread of COVID-19. WSU Spokane students and faculty involved in clinical programs and patient subject research also had to participate in arrival testing.

It wasn’t the first time WSU’s pharmacy students have been deployed to help. Amid the rise in COVID-19 cases last fall, WSU pharmacy students were among those who traveled from Spokane to help with student screenings. The William A. Crosetto Mobile Health Care Unit, operated by Range Health, traveled to Pullman to serve as the testing hub ahead of the Labor Day Holiday weekend, succeeded by the arrival of the Washington National Guard in September.

Shayne Fontes was one of the pharmacy students sweating it out in extensive PPE suits conducting COVID-19 tests days before the start of the fall semester.

“Having graduated from Pullman, I was used to seeing thousands of students walking around,” Fontes said. “Campus was very quiet, and the only students we were seeing were those looking to be tested.”

He expected more students to turn out for testing this month than in the fall. Partially, that’s due to WSU’s requirement that arrival testing take place before students access places like the Student Recreation Center and the Compton Union building. It’s also helpful that the volunteers are taking over a location very familiar to students, transforming it from a college bar to a full-on healthcare site.

WSU provided volunteers a place to stay during their time in Pullman. With the semester already underway for pharmacy students, they also attended classes remotely while assisting the Pullman community.

“Now is the time when we all have a responsibility to come together and serve the communities where we reside,” Robinson said. “As healthcare professionals and students pursuing a career in healthcare, it’s even more important that we rise to meet this challenge.”