Course Challenges Students to Engage with the Community on Tough Issues

Ayan Mohamed, Shukri Mohamed and Idil Ibrahim Mohamed

One of the primary goals of the College of Pharmacy’s Drugs of Abuse course is to engage students in the community to discuss the difficult issues of illicit drug use, says course director Dr. Dave Ferguson.

“The root of this class is based in pharmacology and chemistry. But all of the projects are focused on engagement in the community,” said Ferguson.

He adds the course is structured to help students build leadership and organizational tools they can use in their future careers.

For first-year students Ayan Mohamed, Shukri Mohamed and Idil Ibrahim Mohamed, the class allowed them to use those tools to pursue multiple areas of interest.

“In this class we can choose any type of project, whether it’s drawing, going to dispensaries or inviting a speaker,” said Ayan Mohamed.

The group’s first project was to invite a speaker. The individual was a licensed alcohol and drug counselor/social worker and owns the first culturally sensitive treatment center which is geared toward East African men.

“We talked about health disparities when non-white patients seek treatment for opioid addiction or any types of substance use,” said Ayan Mohamed. “It was good to talk about challenging your own biases or unconscious biases that you have. So I think it was really important to have those discussions and definitely think it’s something that should be incorporated into the curriculum a lot more.”

For the next round of projects, the group wanted to invite another speaker to the class. They opted to pursue a discussion with a lawmaker who is shaping public policy on these issues. The group reached out to Minnesota State Senator Omar Fateh who readily agreed to participate.

“It was interesting hearing about all the great work that was being done,” said Shukri Mohamed. “The most important aspect is what our senators are doing for the community and how they can help the community.”

One of the areas students covered in their discussion with Senator Fateh was the possible role of pharmacists in dispensing medical marijuana. It’s a role that has not come to fruition and students were interested in learning how they might move that work forward.

“I thought it was interesting how he spoke about helping the pharmacy industry and us pharmacists basically get our foot in the door with regards to being more involved in dispensaries,” said Idil Ibrahim Mohamed. “A lot of patients have pain-related needs that us as future pharmacists don’t have the scope of practice to dispense marijuana for. We don’t have the clearance to do so. So I was interested in hearing about his upcoming plans regarding having pharmacists have licenses to dispense marijuana or own dispensaries.”

It’s an area where the group sees students and the college could have a real impact.

“The legislative session has ended for this year, but we are in talks for ways the College of Pharmacy can get involved in the next legislative session.” said Ayan Mohamed. “We’re seeing if we can come up with bills with him or if he can co-sponsor them with us.”

They also appreciated the senator’s openness to conversation. He invited those in attendance to propose how they would develop guidelines or propose certain laws.

“He was trying to get our input on what is important to us and what we see,” said Shukri Mohamed. “Because we are the pharmacists we have a different kind of perspective versus him being a senator. I really enjoyed the suggestions people did make.”

Much to the group’s pleasant surprise, their classmates were very engaged in the conversation. Many students approached Senator Fateh who provided his contact information for future discussions.

As they continue their journey toward becoming pharmacists, all three students see the diversity of experiences and interactions this class provided as beneficial for their futures.

“We are going to be pharmacists in the future and it's great for us to network and collaborate with different people in the community,” said Idil Ibrahim Mohamed. “With this class I feel like Dr Ferguson really encouraged us to network and collaborate with different types of people. I feel like that's really beneficial for us when we graduate because we will have our feet in different waters and be wearing different hats. So I think that's pretty, pretty awesome.”

Shukri Mohamed adds, “seeing it from an outside perspective engaged me and I’m sure other students. There are these people in the community who are working toward achieving this certain goal. It gives [us] an ability and tools to reach out and help. The more you know about what’s going on in your community, the more that you can advocate towards it.”

They also see the positive ways the class pushed them and their classmates.

“It definitely forced us to come out of our comfort zone,” said Ayan Mohamed. “I remember in our talk we said, ‘If you felt even a little uncomfortable it was a good thing because you’re challenging yourself and the way you’re thinking.’"

Ferguson sees all of this as a successful experience for the students and just what the class was intended to do. “This is something that can really grow for them. When it works that way, it works well.”