Wilkes University student Liz Taber performed a three-week pharmacy rotation in Peru through the Global Awareness Institute. The international program provides pharmacy students an opportunity to study in the rainforest and learn about medicinal plants unique to the region. Taber is the daughter of Beth and Charlie Taber of Nazareth, Pa. The rotation fulfills one of six rotations required by the University’s doctor of pharmacy program. Taber completed the rotation in Peru in July.
Taber visited research institutions and medicinal gardens and was required to keep a plant portfolio. The portfolio features pictures of the diverse specimens and lists their Latin names, chemical components, illnesses they treat, the part of the plant used, how it is prepared and administered. Toxicity also is noted. The plants she encountered cannot be cultivated outside the rainforest.
Taber explains that while Wilkes offers an elective course in alternative medicine, the practice is not widespread in the United States. Taber noted too the differences between the health care systems of Peru and the United States. She says that while Peruvian pharmacy students complete six years of schooling and rotations as do their American counterparts, pharmacists in Peru have more responsibilities. Due to their availability for consultations, they are usually the first healthcare workers that patients visit, whereas medical doctors are seen for severe illnesses or chronic diseases.
Another difference between the two countries’ health care training is the availability of supplies and funds. Taber says, “One lab in Wilkes’ Cohen Science Center could trump an entire Peruvian research institute, which may have ten test tubes in total.”
In addition to learning about Peruvian pharmacy practice, Taber had multiple opportunities to experience the Peruvian and Incan cultures. During her final week in the country, she traveled from the research center in Iquitos to Cuzco and Machu Picchu, an area that integrates the Incan and Christian cultures. She relates that the people there live much like their Incan ancestors did and fly both the Incan and Peruvian flags. The Incan flag depicts a rainbow, while the Peruvian banner is composed of two vertical red stripes separated by a white stripe. She adds that the residents place a cross flanked by two pig figurines atop their houses as another sign of cultural integration.
When asked if she would return, she does not hesitate to state that she would, especially to learn more about Incan history and culture. “Machu Picchu is definitely a place where everyone must go sometime in their life,” she says. “It’s a beautiful area with a beautiful culture.” Despite the physical discomfort, humidity and lack of amenities in the country, Taber avers, “Travel in general makes you a better rounded person as you learn more about yourself and how to interact with different kinds of people. I gained a lot of perspective and confidence while I was in Peru which will aid me in my professional career.”