Joining Pharmacy and Design: Reaching Out and Collaborating across Disciplines

In January 2016, Drs. Abimbola “Abi” Asojo and Paul Ranelli were each representing their own departments, interior design and pharmacy practice and pharmaceutical sciences (PPPS), at a community engagement seminar. Dr. Ranelli mentioned pharmacy design and cultural sensitivity as an engagement area and they began exploring the possibility of applying the idea in Dr. Asojo’s “Interior Design Studio IV” course. A new collaboration was born.

The pharmacy interior design team project

The pharmacy design project was one of four projects that 24 second-year interior design students completed this spring semester. The collaborating pharmacy was Phalen Family Pharmacy in St. Paul. Students worked in teams making plans to redesign the existing space to be more culturally sensitive to customers, while addressing the workflow, storage and other issues at the pharmacy. Teams offered new and improved design features by gaining first-hand experience at the pharmacy and working to accommodate the owner’s  desires for the business, such as having a clear focus on patient care, more efficient use of space, and taking into account cultural identity issues of the customer base and surrounding community.

The results of this outreach collaboration and the concept of cultural sensitivity

Nguyen, Larry
Larry Nguyen, P3 PharmD. student

According to Larry, “This particular outreach experience taught me how a pharmacy’s design can affect not only how the staff can carry out their duties and provide services to their patients, but also the type of experience that patients can have at that pharmacy. Having an understanding of the population that the pharmacy serves and having that be reflected in how your pharmacy is presented and laid out can make patients feel more comfortable and connected with the pharmacy and its staff.”

Cultural sensitivity is important in pharmacy. It’s important in what is taught in educational programs, how business is operated and conducted, and how practitioners practice. It warrants thought and consideration in all outreach interactions, from those on campus to those in the community.

Opportunities and Challenges

paul ranelli
Dr. Paul Ranelli

According to Dr. Ranelli, working with students outside the College of Pharmacy is an enjoyable experience. It’s valuable to gather ideas and expertise from other disciplines and approach issues from a variety of perspectives. Dr. Ranelli also points out, “One’s life as a pharmacist is about working with the public, providers, workers, and patients of all types. You hardly work only within your own profession, so the earlier you start working with others the better.”

Some of the challenges included logistics, like finding a willing pharmacy to work with, and the distance coming back and forth between Duluth and St. Paul. Dr. Ranelli acknowledged the importance of the support by both departments and endorsement from the interior design course director, Dr. Asojo.

Collaborating across disciplines can be valuable for everyone involved, including pharmacy students, non-pharmacy students, educators, and educational programs. As Dr. Ranelli states, “Academic comfort zones (ACZs) are nice, but going outside one’s ACZ is good and warm too. Come on in — the water’s fine.”

Next time an outreach education opportunity arises, enjoy the warm water and give it a try!