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Pharmacy students help improve health of Leicester's homeless population

Pharmacy students at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) are using their skills to help improve the health of homeless people in the city.

Abena Amoah-Otchere, Alexander Clark, Joylyn Nhamburo and Priti Tulcidas are all volunteers with Project LIGHT, a student-staff collaboration that delivers health promotion and harm reduction sessions to people who may not have access to traditional services.

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DMU student volunteers Priti, Alexander, Joylyn and Abena

They are finding the experience "eye-opening and rewarding" and believe it will benefit their future careers.

Alexander, a fourth year who volunteered to gain extra experience, said: "There are few jobs you can go into and make a difference to people's lives, which you can as a pharmacist.

"We have learnt what it's like to be homeless and the challenges people face, such as mental health issues and addiction.

"As pharmacists we will be able to offer appropriate services and know where to direct homeless people for help."

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Volunteers at The Bridge Health Awareness Day

Project LIGHT (Leicester Initiative Good Health Team) is a partnership between the University of Leicester (UoL) and DMU along with the voluntary sector, predominantly Action Homeless.

The scheme aims to reduce barriers to accessing services, promote interprofessional working and raise awareness of homelessness in healthcare students and professionals, with students running sessions when they have completed appropriate training.

Third-year student Priti, who wanted to study Pharmacy because she enjoys helping people, is finding the experience interesting.

The 22-year-old said: "It's something I've not done before and has helped me find out what leads to homelessness and the services available.

"I think as future pharmacists we will be better able to help homeless people."

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The DMU students have spent time at places such as The Bridge charity, which offers food and companionship to homeless people. Some have also spent a day shadowing doctors and nurses from the Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment Team at the Bradgate Unit at Leicester's Glenfield Hospital.

"This is somewhere you'd never usually get access to," said 20-year-old Abena.

Joylyn, 33, who is just about to start her second year at DMU, is looking forward to delivering her own health promotion sessions.

"Project LIGHT is eye-opening," she said. "Now I will have a better understanding when I am talking to someone in that situation."

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A health promotion session at Action Homeless

All four students acted as chaperones at an annual Health Awareness Day run by The Bridge and the Sri Sathya Sai Service Organisation, where a range of healthcare professionals including doctors, dentists and dieticians offered consultations to homeless people. The volunteers also gained practical experience, such as taking blood pressure, and benefited from interprofessional working with UoL medical students, an approach advocated by Pharmacy academics at DMU.

"We get to interact with doctors and other healthcare professionals and it's a great opportunity," said Alex, 21, whose ambition is to work in the humanitarian field.

Abena added: "The highlight is that we are needed, owning what we do. We can help take the pressure off doctors.

"I didn't expect to experience as much as we did and it's rewarding."

Project LIGHT has just been accepted by #DMUlocal so soon more DMU students will be able to get involved alongside medical students from UoL.

Posted on Wednesday 1st November 2017

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