Navigating APPE Rotations Amidst Physical Disability – A Student Perspective

WardLindsay Ward, Pharm.D.'20
(Written As A PY4)

"You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have."

In June of 2011, I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor called an acoustic neuroma. A tumor the size of my fist was growing near my cerebellum. When I was diagnosed, the surgeon sat directly in front of me and bluntly said that if it wasn't removed soon I would die. The surgery would cost me the hearing in my left ear. My immediate response was, "I guess I'll just have to embrace it." Six days later, I underwent the first of two neurosurgeries to remove as much of the tumor as possible. I returned to Duquesne in August and began my first professional year of pharmacy school. On December 19th, I underwent my second neurosurgery. The surgeons had hollowed out the tumor during the first surgery. The second had been referred to as a "cleanup." Unfortunately, that was far from the outcome. I suffered a cerebral hemorrhage during a surgery that lasted more than sixteen hours. I was in a coma for three days; hospitalized for a total of seventy-two. For nine weeks I couldn't eat, speak, or drink. Two days before my 21st birthday, I was released from the hospital and returned home. Everything had changed.

In order to stop the bleed, surgeons had to remove roughly one-third of my cerebellum. As you may know, the cerebellum controls motor skills (both large and small), coordination and balance. I had lost hearing in my left ear, my balance and mobility were destroyed, my speech, vision, and handwriting grossly impacted. After numerous rounds of physical, occupational and speech rehabilitation, I was able to return to Duquesne University. It took three-and-a-half years, and I required a motorized scooter, walker, and special accommodations.

I found that I had to lessen the course load, which added another year. But despite my physical limitations, I go to the gym regularly, study often and I never miss an episode of The Bachelor. I try to enjoy myself and be happy because I've been dealt with enough unhappy events.

Now, I am in my final year of pharmacy school, and currently on rotation with the Office of Experiential Education. I really enjoy this learning opportunity, and not just because everyone is nice and brings treats. I have worked on several projects here, and I have been able to provide ideas to my preceptors regarding meeting accreditation standards and supporting the experiential education curriculum.

The OEE asked for my thoughts on what preceptors can do to facilitate the growth and learning of a student with physical disabilities. I told them the key is patience, which is mentioned as a preceptor pearl in Preceptor's Handbook for Pharmacists. In my case, I am often unable to complete tasks quickly because I must focus on issues of coordination, balance, mobility, and on the task itself. This can often lead to a frustrating situation for the preceptor, but rest assured, this is certainly frustrating to the student as well. Also, I've mentioned to the OEE that I think sometimes preceptors assume I can't do a task because of my deficits. However, this is far from the truth. If I am not able to complete an assignment due to its physical requirements, I will inform the preceptor. Utilizing open and supportive communication strategies is very important when precepting a student with physical disabilities. The Preceptor's Handbook for Pharmacists says that preceptors and students should set common goals.1 I think this is a great idea and will help to promote learning and development. In my opinion, all students should have the ability to learn how to do the physically challenging tasks required of the profession. While there is an emotional aspect of this for a student with physical disabilities, preceptors that can exhibit patience and minimize frustrations will greatly impact the student's experience in a profound way.

At my required community pharmacy rotation at Rite Aid in Cadiz, Ohio, I was able to navigate using my walker. I did a lot of activities varying from making patient-friendly vaccine handouts, working the drive-thru, and even immunizing customers! I never let my disabilities stop me, and I really enjoyed that rotation.

Although graduation is quickly approaching, I am still uncertain of which avenue in pharmacy I'd like to pursue. Even though community pharmacy is more physically demanding than other specialties, I really enjoy interacting with the customers. I usually do not talk about how far I've come or how much I've accomplished, but I have learned that I must speak up for myself in order to get an equal opportunity in life.


1Cuéllar, L. and Ginsburg, D. (2009). Preceptor's handbook for pharmacists. Bethesda, Md.: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, pp.57, 74.

Duquesne University

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