Health News: Truvada’s Triumph

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Hello everyone! This past week, there was some really exciting and encouraging news in the battle against HIV and AIDS. Specifically, the news surrounded the drug, Truvada, which is used to help prevent the spread of HIV. The drug (a combination of Tenofovir and Emtricitibine) is a pre-exposure prophylactic drug (PrEP) that is taken only once a day by persons at high risk of contracting HIV, such as someone whose partner is already infected with HIV.

tl;dr: Truvada was found to be as safe as taking a daily aspirin.

A new study by researchers at UCLA looked at the major side effects caused by Truvada and compared them to those commonly for aspirin. The researches reviewed five studies on PrEPs for HIV and two studies on aspirin for cardiovascular health in order to conduct some statistical analyses on the frequency and severity of symptoms. Overall, there were fewer reported side effects for Truvada than for aspirin. Moreover, the number needed to harm (NNH) for many of the Truvada side effects were less than aspirin’s NNHs. The major side effects for Truvada include weight loss, nausea, vomiting and some mild elevation in liver enzymes and serum creatinine. To be fair, aspirin and Truvada have their own unique targets and are metabolized differently in the body, so you can’t truly compare the two drugs apples to apples. However, statistically, taking Truvada for HIV PrEP once a day will do no more harm (if not less) than taking aspirin once a day for heart health.

Even though the study is basically some number crunching of a few drug-trials, the importance of it should not be underestimated! The topic of HIV/AIDS is surrounded by so much fear and stigma; it’s hard enough getting a person infected with HIV to regularly take their medications, but it can be even harder to convince someone without HIV to take a pill for something they don’t have. Getting the word out that this drug is effective and safe will definitely help!

❤ Theresa

Lowering Blood Pressure: The Natural Way

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Good morning!

The new year has begun, and you know what that means…new year, new you! I am not crazy about resolutions for the new year, but what better time then the present to make small changes in your lifestyle for your cardiovascular health?

Some people are able to completely change their lives, their exercise habits, and their diet at the drop of a hat, in the name of good health. I am not one of those people. I know that it’s tough to make lifestyle changes, especially when we are busy with school, work, sleep, and everything else that life throws at us. We have to remember that even the smallest of changes can amount to a big health benefit!

Blood pressure is one of those things that we all struggle with – it fluctuates all day long due to our stress levels, lack of sleep, our poor eating habits, smoking habits, lack of physical activity and even depends on things we can’t control such as a our age. The majority of people have to take blood pressure medication for these reasons. Did you know that blood pressure is sometimes called “the silent killer”? This is because uncontrolled high blood pressure can actually lead to serious health issues, such as a heart attack or stroke. Anything that we are able to do that helps to lower our blood pressure is a good thing for our overall health. After doing a little bit of research, I have come up with 4 “no excuses!” ways that every one can lower their blood pressure, the natural way.

Get enough sunlight.

Yes it’s winter, and yes it’s cold. But, this is one of the easiest ways to help to naturally lower your blood pressure. When our bodies receive Vitamin D directly from UV light, our blood vessels expand, which helps to pump more blood throughout our bodies, and in turn, lower our blood pressure. Since this only works with direct sunlight, you will not get this benefit from popping a Vitamin D supplement from the drug store. Research says that sunlight for 20 minutes/day will help to lower blood pressure. Take a walk at lunch time, or spend some time outdoors taking down your holiday decorations.

Spice up your life!

There are many different herbs and spices out there, and they actually don’t just make our food taste better — there are serious health benefits that come with them! Using as little as half a teaspoon of cinnamon per day has shown cardiovascular health benefits. Try it on your oatmeal in the morning or perhaps put a little in your coffee! Another herb to try is basil.  Try adding a small bit to your pasta or soup! It doesn’t hurt that basil also has antioxidant properties!

Switch your snacks.

I am a real sugar junkie. And I am also really particular about what I eat. You can see how it would be kind of hard for me to find a healthy, yet satisfying way to snack. A few things that I recommend trying: dark chocolate naturally dilates blood vessels due to flavonoids, tree nuts that are full of heart-healthy fats (cashews, almonds, pistachios), and foods that are high in potassium (bananas and baked potatoes — disclaimer, do not make your baked potato devoid of all health benefits by putting too much salt and butter on it!).

Get moving!

With just 30 minutes of exercise a day, you can help to lower your blood pressure. And by exercise, I mean even a brisk walk will do the trick. Anything that gets your heart pumping could work. Take that brisk walk after dinner, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and park a little farther away in the parking lot when you go to the store. The more you are moving around, the better!

The above list really isn’t hard to incorporate into your everyday life, if you just give it a shot! Trust me — if I can do it, so can you. When it comes to your heart, prevention is everything. Don’t let life (or laziness!) get in the way of your health.

:)Lauren

The Case for the Gap Year(s)

So you are undergrad and you really want to go to med school or pharmacy school or dental school or any other health care professional school. You’ve wanted to go for years. Maybe it has been your dream career since you were a child when you learned how to put on a band-aid. You volunteer; you do research; you participate in every extra-curricular activity possible; you shadow docs; you have a 4.0; you’ve done well on the standardized entrance exam. You’re essentially ready to apply and go straight to med/pharm/dental school right when you finish college. Here’s my advice:

Don’t.

It might sound odd– why should you not go straight from undergrad to professional school? You’ve basically done everything a student should do to get in. And you would be right; you would have a great chance of getting in. I’m making the case of taking some time off not for the school’s sake, but for your sake.

I took off one year between undergrad and med school (typically called a gap year). Going into college, I had every intention of graduating May 2014 and starting med school later that summer. But, when it came time to take my MCAT and apply near the end of my junior year, I decided I wasn’t ready. Not that I needed to boost my application in terms of grades or activities nor did I feel unprepared for taking the MCAT. It just didn’t feel like the right time to apply. I was not mentally ready for the life-changing experience that is med school.

For my gap year, I worked at a private orthopedic practice and learned more about health care and how it actually works than I could have ever learned through shadowing and volunteering alone. Here are some of the biggest things I learned and experienced by taking a year off:

  1. How to deal with patients: This is probably the best reason for taking a gap year. Working in a busy practice, I saw and/or talked to anywhere from 50 to 100 different people every day– the good and the bad . No joke. In med school thus far, I’ve interacted with about five. And I really won’t start getting a lot of patient interaction until my third year when clinical rotations start. Even if you are a “people person” dealing with patients is a skill that only takes time to develop. I cannot even imagine how I would act when I start clinicals in a couple years without knowing how to interact with people!
  2. Burnout prevention: Simply put, you get a break from doing school work for a year (or more)! Who wouldn’t like a break from undergrad studies and the huge amount of information you must dump into brain in professional school. Also, you have 4 more years of school plus 3-10 years of residency/fellowship by which time you’ll be in your early thirties. Don’t you want to spend a year with friends and family in the prime of your life and have some FUN?!
  3. Maturity and growth: I’ll try not to be cliche here, but taking a year off really helps you to grow as a person and as an adult. College is the first time you are away from your parents, but you really don’t have the chance to develop much adult-responsibilities during this time. Without going into to much detail, but taking a gap year truly helped me become an adult. Even in the first week of school, I could easily pick out those who went straight in from school as opposed to those who took some time off, mainly based on maturity. Don’t get me wrong, these students will be great doctors, but it’s a difficult transition from college to working life and even harder to go from college to professional school.
  4. Health care can be awful: Probably the most disappointing thing you learn working in health care is that there are so many annoying, political/regulatory aspects of the field that you just aren’t exposed to as an undergrad or even med student. Insurance companies control so much how care is delivered. Billing/coding, electronic medical records and other technological aspects of medicine are fraught with their own complications. Doctors can be very particular about who they want to see and how they want to see patients which can cause tension between members of the staff and, sometimes, even other practices/hospitals. I think that this is something that all pre-professional students should really get a feel for before entering school because if you can’t deal with these aspects of health care, then you will most definitely hate your career choice.

There are so many more benefits from taking time off that I just can’t include here because the post would be way to long! Additionally, my experiences are only limited to the fact that I decided to work in private practice. But there are countless other things you can do during your gap year(s), so look for another post for some suggestions on what you can do instead of going straight into school! Even if you are still completely set on going straight in to school (which is okay if you do!) just take time to consider all of your options!

❤ Theresa

The 5 Things I Learned In Retail Pharmacy

In pharmacy school, you have to complete a specific number of IPPE’s, or Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences. This way, you are able to get your feet wet in a variety of different pharmacy fields, and try to figure out what you like best.

In our first IPPE during the P1 year, we have to do a community pharmacy rotation. This could be anywhere from the chain pharmacies we know and (sometimes) love, to grocery store pharmacies, to local/independent pharmacies. I was placed in a grocery store, but I’ve also had over a year’s worth of experience at a chain pharmacy.

Both of those work experiences have allowed me to come up with the following list –5 crucial things that I learned while in retail pharmacy.

  1. The relationship that you develop with your patients is one-sided.

They tell you this time and time again in pharmacy school. The profession that you have chosen will result in a non-reciprocal relationship with your patients. What does this mean for you, as a pharmacist? Some patients are going to yell at you, say cruel things about you, threaten your job, and make your life a nightmare. But you can’t do a single thing about it, except smile and treat them as if they hadn’t said anything remotely offensive to you. You have accepted the responsibility to provide health care to all patients who need your help, even the patients who don’t respect you.

      2. About half of the prescriptions you receive are OTC.

This is very good news for you in the pharmacy. Most insurances will not cover medications that are already over-the-counter. Therefore, your job just got a teeny-weeny bit easier.

       3. The customer isn’t always right.

We’ve all heard the saying, “The customer is always right”. I’m sorry, but this simply isn’t true when it comes to pharmacy. The patients you encounter are going to tell you a lot of different things when they come in to see you at the pharmacy: “I dropped every last one of my pain pills down the toilet”, “My Viagra was miscounted!”, “I NEVER picked that medication up”. You have to use your professional judgement when you encounter these kinds of situations (at least ten times a day). There are also a great number of regulations that must be followed, especially with the kinds of medications that patients will give you the most strife about. Just remember — keep proper documentation of everything, and you will be okay.

4. Every patient wants to be your top priority.

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Most patients see their own health care as being more important than everyone else’s. I don’t blame these people. But, there will be (many) times, when you are visibly swamped and the patient still wants their medication finished in about 3 minutes time. This is nothing short of impossible. I’m talking — a line at the drop off window to the front of the store, the pick up line is just as long, the phone is ringing off the hook, the computer is blowing up with faxed prescriptions — and the patient standing in front of you says they need their medication right now, even though you know they still have enough pills to last them for another week. This is where your incredible communication skills and empathy must come in to play.

5. Nothing will drive you more insane than a patient giving you their insurance card as they are ringing out at the cash register.

insurance card

No explanation really needed here. Insurance cards are useless at this stage of the process. Insurance cards should always be presented when the prescription is dropped off!

There are so many other things you learn in this kind of setting. But, if anything, retail pharmacy relies on good communication more than other settings do. Even if you feel tired and overworked in this kind of pharmacy location (which you will!), all of your experiences will prove to be valuable.

Until next time, and Happy New Year!

:)Lauren