Student Voices: Real Patient Impact with SHAC

Student Health Action Coalition provides impact for patients, communities, and students

Story by Sahaana Veeravalli | Photo Credit Danny Alexander | Published January 17, 2023

Student Voices gives first-person perspectives written by the students of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. For this piece, we hear from Sahaana Veeravalli, PharmD candidate ’24 on the patient and community impact of the Student Health Action Coalition.

After nearly three years of volunteering with the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC), I still recall my first patient experience there. The patient appeared to have blood pressure that was higher than expected. Upon speaking with her further, we discovered that the patient had lost control over her diet because she had moved in with her son and daughter-in-law, where they handled the cooking. In addition, the patient mentioned that her family ate a lot of canned foods to save money, and she didn’t realize that canned foods have a lot of sodium, which could be contributing to her high blood pressure. Once we educated the patient, she expressed her gratitude to us for caring enough about her wellbeing to help her make changes. In that moment, I realized the impact we can have on patients’ lives, even as students.

Sahaana Veeravalli, PharmD candidate ’24

Many student volunteers with SHAC tell a similar version of this story – of how their work with the organization has given them new perspective on their potential impact on patient care. For over 50 years, SHAC has been the premier interprofessional student-run healthcare organization serving the Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Durham communities. Established in 1967, SHAC is dedicated to a mission of providing free care to uninsured or underinsured individuals, partnering with communities to create sustainable programs, and promoting interprofessional education. SHAC has inspired other student-run clinic models in the United States and has won numerous awards, including the national Student Community Engaged Service Award from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP).

The organization incorporates students from a variety of health professional programs at UNC, including medicine, dentistry, social work, nursing, physical therapy, ophthalmology, and of course, pharmacy. The expanded pharmacy involvement has allowed pharmacy students to learn to advocate for the profession while balancing team dynamics in an interdisciplinary setting.

SHAC has experienced tremendous growth since its inception, and now encompasses over a dozen specialty services in addition to the traditional acute care medical clinic. “My position as the Development Specialist didn’t exist 7 years ago,” says Jennifer Zhao, PharmD candidate ’24. “I love how SHAC is always evolving to provide a plethora of opportunities for students while making an impact on patient care.”

One branch of SHAC, termed SHAC Outreach, is a completely pharmacy-student-led initiative that provides primarily Spanish-speaking patients with free blood sugar and blood pressure screenings as well as general health counseling. This program demonstrates the autonomy of pharmacy in the healthcare space and allows students to learn to practice at the top of their licenses.

And as the needs of the community have broadened, SHAC has grown better equipped to meet these needs through the creation of new specialty programs. The SHAC Bridge to Care program serves as an intermediary service for patients who temporarily lack a primary care provider, and provides chronic disease management while they are transitioned to more permanent care.

Within the last year, a pharmacy coordinator role was incorporated in the SHAC Gender Affirming Care Clinic (GAC). The clinic exemplifies SHAC’s adaptability and passion to provide the most holistic care to patients. “While volunteering with the Gender Affirming Clinic, I was able to help educate a patient on how to give testosterone shots for the first time, and helpful tips and tricks on injections that I’ve learned from being a type one diabetic,” recalls Hannah Summers, PharmD candidate ’25. “It was very rewarding to support both the medication side, but also the emotional barriers of injections and the weight of having gender-affirming care.”

Through its half-century history, SHAC has become a pillar of the communities it serves. The organization’s work would not be possible without the combined passion and dedication of thousands of students, preceptors, alumni, and donors who continue to recognize the importance of SHAC’s mission. “It’s a lot of work to run the many parts of this organization,” says Jennifer Zhao. “But we all do it because we believe in SHAC and the impact it makes on our community.”