College of Pharmacy students help educate local fifth graders

March 17, 2010

Potential future pharmacists got a chance to learn the age-old art of making pharmaceuticals during a class led by University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo College of Pharmacy students at St. Joseph Elementary School last month.

The hands-on demonstration was modeled after a “Compounding for Kids” course developed by the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), the largest association of pharmacists in the United States. Five Pharmacy students who are APhA members, along with their instructor and advisor, Mimi Pezzuto, visited Kathy Borris’ fifth grade science class to give the UH Hilo version of lotion compounding from the pharmacy compounding course.

“Many people think of a pharmacist as an expert on medications made somewhere else, but part of our training is learning to create dosage forms that can deliver customized dosages of drugs,” Pezzuto said. “Most medications today are mass produced and regulated, which is critical for quality control and serving the entire population. We couldn’t practice without it. But we teach our students that the knowledge and art of compounding is important because it individualizes health care.”

The elementary school students learned to make lotions by combining oil and water with an emulsifier, or binder, and heating them to a certain temperature. They added scents, such as rose, gardenia and jasmine, put the product in pump dispensing bottles and learned the importance of labeling their over-the-counter product, which they were able to take home.

“The fifth grade students learned about emulsions and the differences between a physical and a chemical change,” Borris said. “The pharmacy students were professional and fun. An exciting and educational experience was had by all.”

The UH Hilo students who participated in the demonstration were first-year Pharmacy student Cheryl Lopez and second-year Pharmacy students Aaron Chun, Amanda Meholchick, Ana Park and Megan Venegas.

Pezzuto also showed the students one of several antique prescription books that were donated to the College of Pharmacy by the Wessel family of Hilo. The century-old book displayed hundreds of prescriptions, each of which were compounded by hand using different techniques, out of dozens of chemicals and ingredients such as plant drugs and extracts, as well as elements like sulfur and mercury. She said the book illustrated the importance of compounding and gave examples of how pharmacists used the technique in real-life situations.

“The fifth graders dove in and were enthusiastic and interested,” said Pezzuto. “The parents came up to me and told me their children came home excited about science.”

Steve Nemeth, a science teacher at Hilo High School, said the demonstration made an impression on his son, Mark, one of the fifth graders.

“The students had fun building the compounds and the class gave them a sense of ownership,” said Nemeth. “It taught them problem solving and scientific method. They discovered they could take a couple of ingredients and make something totally different.”

Mark Nemeth said he liked labeling the lotion. “We got to put whatever we wanted on the label,” so he chose several ‘sample’ warning messages and side effects on his lotion. “Now I know labels let me know what’s inside.”

Pezzuto trained the Pharmacy students so they could learn the approximately one hour program to take it to other schools throughout the Big Island. For more information on the program, call (808) 933-2914.

See more news from 2010.