Student Helps Classmate Navigate the COVID-19 Pandemic

June 23, 2020

Portrait of Sharmila Ahmed

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted everyday life and led to a lot of uncertainty for everyone. For pharmacy students in particular, the challenges posed by their paid pharmacy positions, on top of their ever-changing academic circumstances, made things difficult. Sharmila Ahmed, a PD3 student at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, is determined to help her fellow pharmacy students.

In order to educate students on their rights as employees and get them started in their own research, Ahmed developed a live document that highlights the latest safety guidance to reference while navigating paid pharmacy positions during the COVID-19 pandemic. She cited the CDC, Minnesota Department of Health, and others.

“For many students, academics comprise just a fraction of our overall professional lives,” Ahmed said. “In March, while the College of Pharmacy was working all hours to ensure that we could continue our education safely, consistently, and according to state regulation, many of us were at a loss as to how to move forward with our paid pharmacy positions outside of the college.”

Ahmed described how students were struggling to make the choice between preserving their reputations in the workplace and keeping their families and communities safe. While businesses were working to develop new safety procedures, students had to be ready to make their own decisions. Ahmed is motivated to help students be as prepared as possible for the decisions they were going to be required to make.

“In doing my own research, I compared safety guidance from the CDC, WHO, and Minnesota Department of Health,” Ahmed said. “I looked into OSHA law, Minnesota pharmacy statutes, and thought about what we really had the power to change. I followed the MN Board of Pharmacy, Minnesota Pharmacist Association, and American Pharmacists Association to see how others were coping. I was spending a lot of my time sorting through this, and when I learned that other students were wading through similar conundrums, I figured I might as well share what I had found.”

In an effort to avoid adding to the abundance of misinformation on the internet, Ahmed decided to include only direct quotes on the live document and provide direct links to sources. She also attempted to keep it as structured and easy to read as possible to avoid contributing to information overload. The live document was shared by the Minnesota Pharmacy Student Alliance with the college’s student members. Ahmed has been updating the document regularly with whatever she can find.

“I hope that students with paid pharmacy jobs will be able to use the resource to learn about their rights and work through the mass of COVID-19 information that is out there,” Ahmed said. “I hope that it will stir ideas for improvements within individual organizations and give employees the courage to ask for changes. When I first put this document together in March, I had heard from many students who were being asked to work in conditions inconsistent with CDC and OSHA guidance. Work environments have improved, from what I have heard, but I think we need to keep advocating as the situation evolves. As pharmacists, we will continue to balance what’s best for our employers, our patients, and ourselves. For me, at least, this has been a chance to reflect on my values and what I hope for in the future.