Alumni Spotlight: Rural Health Professions Program Inspires Career of PharmD Grad

Along the San Joaquin River in California’s Central Valley resides the Stockton VA Clinic, part of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. This clinic serves the local veteran population and its newest clinical pharmacist, Yvonne Ng, PharmD, is eager to build a rapport with her new patients.

Dr. Ng began her journey at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy, where she participated in the Rural Health Professions Program (RHPP)/Professional Certificate in Pharmacy Health Disparities, which aims to address the health professional shortage and expose students to the benefits of working in smaller and underserved communities. As part of the RHPP, Dr. Ng completed three clinical rotations in underserved, rural communities. While there she learned how valuable a pharmacist could be to a rural population by providing close follow-up care to her patients particularly in an ambulatory setting.

“The experience was eye-opening,” described Dr. Ng. “It provided me an opportunity to see the different challenges a rural community faces such as lack of gyms, lack of affordable, healthy food options, longer distances for patients to travel to their appointments, and lack of public transportation. Many of these patients did not have PTO or leave they could use. Each visit they made to the doctor was a loss in income.”

The RHPP was created by the Arizona State Legislature in 1996 and implemented in 1997 to address the health-related workforce shortages in rural areas and to provide pharmacy and other health professions students with training experiences in rural communities throughout Arizona. When the program first came to the College, funds were available to recruit only four first-year student participants per year; now, thanks to grants from the Arizona Area Health Education Centers, and the recently established Molly and Max Blank Rural Health Program Endowment fund, the college can recruit up to 30 new participants annually.

In 2011, the College merged RHPP into a certificate program. Participants in the program receive a small stipend to defray the costs of traveling to and from their IPPE rotation sites and receive housing assistance as needed. The RHPP certificate program offers students the opportunity to experience diverse patients, communities, and regions and to travel and explore the many recreational, cultural, and social opportunities that exist outside Arizona’s major metropolitan areas. Participating students also have priority selection for their IPPE rotation sites and dates.

After graduating from the College in 2019 with her PharmD, Dr. Ng completed a PGY1 residency program with the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. Having been inspired by her experience in the RHPP program, she was interested in continuing her practice in a rural setting and hoped to work with a geriatric population once more.

“This population is unique because they have so many interesting stories and many other social, psychological, and economic factors that need to be considered when implementing changes to medication, diet, and exercise,” explained Dr. Ng. “VA Palo Alto was also one of the largest veteran health care system, so it provided me a fair amount of acute care experiences. It gave me a well-rounded education.”

Following her residency, Dr. Ng was hired on by the VA Palo Alto Health Care System as a PACT ambulatory care pharmacist at the Stockton, CA clinic. She attributes the Rural Health Professions Program with impacting her decision to choose a rural outpatient clinic setting and looks forward to starting her new professional journey.

“I am excited to be working with our veterans in the rural community,” noted Dr. Ng. “It is meaningful to provide care to veterans because we serve those who have served our country.”