I had the opportunity to do an international co-op during the summer of my second year. I found and applied to a program in Taiwan for Taiwanese immigrants or children of immigrants. I was accepted for my first choice placement as a pharmacy intern at the Department of Health, Taoyuan General Hospital in Taoyuan, Taiwan which is only a 45 minute train ride from Taipei (the capital of Taiwan).
Departing from Newark International Airport, I was in for a long plane ride. I first landed in Hong Kong after fifteen hours of air time and stayed there for two days, before continuing my journey to Taiwan, which only took two hours. My program did not start until mid-July, but I spent the months of May and June traveling around Taiwan and surrounding countries with some family and friends. I also had a week-long program orientation before my internship began, which took every intern around Taiwan to explore and learn more about the culture. I learned that Taiwan only has two distinct types of lifestyles: the city life or the mountain-side life. The cities are similar to that of Boston or New York City; however, the mountain civilizations are still underdeveloped, but they are prideful of their long history and culture (especially the Aboriginals).
There is no other way to describe the temperature in Taiwan other than unbearably humid and hot. There was rarely a day that was below 90 degrees, and, if it was, it was because of torrential downpours. In the three months I was in Taiwan, I encountered two typhoons and two earthquakes. Aside from the high temperatures, I also had to get used to an early start to my day. I worked in the hospital Monday to Friday from 8AM until 5PM. I opted out of staying at the dorms provided by the program and instead stayed at a relative’s apartment in the same city. Every morning I would wake up at 6:30AM to catch the 7:10 bus right across the street from the apartment complex. However, there was no direct bus to the hospital from where I was staying, so I had to make sure I got off at the right stop to make the transfer. This was a daunting task at first because I was not familiar with the bus route and sometimes the bus driver would not announce the next stop.
The Director of Pharmacy set up a rotation schedule for me on my first day of work so I was able to experience all the different departments of the pharmacy. My first rotation was in the UD (uni-dose), which was responsible for filling the medicine carts that are distributed to each floor of the hospital and filling prescriptions for patients that have been discharged.
My second rotation was the ER aspect, where we dispensed medication for patients in the ER and filled the pediatric medications for the outpatient department. In the ER, I did a lot of grinding of pills or tablets and separating the medications into individual packages for patients under the age of seven.
My next rotation was to the outpatient department (OPD), where there was a three step triple-checking process. The first counter held the oral medication and the first step was to fill the prescription bags. The second counter checked the oral medications and dispensed topical and IV injections before sending the prescriptions down the conveyor belt to the pharmacists outside. The third step was to distribute the medication to patients after checking it over once more.
I also rotated through Chemotherapy Drug Dispensing (CDD) and the storage department. In the CDD, I observed the preparation of chemotherapy drugs and was able to prepare some Penicillin tests and Patient Controlled Analgesia (PCA). In the storage department, I was taught inventory management and how the stock was being distributed to all the different departments of the pharmacy.
The most unique department I was able to work in was the Traditional Chinese Medicine Department (TCM). I was able to prepare powder form prescriptions and oral solutions. The powder forms were prepared by weighing each powder medicine prescribed, mixing the medications evenly, and then separating them into even packages using a packaging machine. The oral solutions were prepared by measuring out the necessary ingredients and correctly placing it into a pressure cooker.
Other than working in the pharmacy department of the Taoyuan General Hospital, the Director of Pharmacy also helped arranged tours of the Taoyuan Mental Hospital, the rehabilitation center and prosthetic department, a traditional Chinese medicine factory, and a Western medicine factory. While exploring these different locations, I was taken to see temples and other important Taiwanese structures. I was also allowed to observe several surgeries and take lessons that were usually reserved for the nursing students during my time at the hospital which was a phenomenal experience.
This was an amazing and unforgettable experience. I made lifelong friendships with the pharmacists there and the other interns that were also from America. I not only learned more about the Taiwanese lifestyle and culture, but I improved on my Mandarin Chinese and was able to really compare life in America versus Taiwan.
Katie Doong, Pharmacy