International Experience Provides Students with Insights on Pharmacy Practice in Japan

Ha Nguyen and Tram Nguyen gained international experience while working at a university in Tokyo.

Two fourth-year pharmacy students, Ha Nguyen and Tram Nguyen, traveled to Japan in November to complete a six-week clerkship (APPE) at Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences (TUPLS), during which they were able to work with students and faculty on research projects, visit local pharmacies and hospitals, and present a lecture.

“Our typical day at TUPLS was working on our reports in the morning and performing lab work with students in the afternoon,” explains Tram. “During the last week of rotation, we helped Dr. Michael Wincor with his seminar, and we had the opportunity to give a lecture on depression.”

The clerkship allowed for learning opportunities both in a research environment and out in the field.

“The most interesting aspect of the clerkship for me was the interaction with the students, professors and pharmacists in both community and hospital pharmacies,” says Ha. “I learned not only about pharmacy education and practice in Japan, but also its culture, and those are all great and memorable experiences for me.”

Despite not knowing the language, both students found ways to communicate.

“I learned basic Japanese before my rotation, and many students taught me how to speak Japanese during my time at TUPLS,” says Tram.

“I used body and sign languages as much as possible,” adds Ha. “Despite the language barrier, I had a spectacular time in TUPLS and Japan in general.”

The clerkship gave the students an opportunity to not only learn about pharmacy practice in Japan, but to teach the Japanese peers about pharmacy practice in the United States.  Generally, pharmacy practice and education in the United States has a more clinical focus than in Japan.

“Our visits to community and hospital pharmacies widened our knowledge and helped me compare and contrast the pharmacy systems in Japan and in the U.S.,” says Tram. “More importantly, I was able to explain the important roles of pharmacists in the U.S. to the Japanese students, and encouraged them to do the same in their country.”

“I think nowadays, beside knowledge and skill, it is really important for students to develop an appreciation and passion for the pharmacy profession,” adds Ha, who hopes to practice pharmacy and teach after graduation. “I hope that I have somehow inspired the students there by talking to them and showing them my personal and professional experience.”

For Tram, this abroad opportunity was particularly relevant to her future aspirations.

“I hope to have my own independent pharmacy in a Vietnamese community,” she says. “The Japanese pharmacy system is quite similar to the one in Vietnam, so I hope what I learned from this clerkship will be able to help me improve the Vietnamese system in the future. As a result, this experience, to a great extent, is valuable to my professional life.”

This international clerkship experience is just one example of how the School of Pharmacy provides students with unique experience on a global scale. The program was organized by the School’s Office of Global Initiatives, headed by Associate Dean Michael Wincor, who commented that this was a particularly positive experience for all involved.  “Our USC students were able to assist me in my annual teaching activities in Japan and renewed friendships with Japanese students who had participated in our 2013 international student summer programs”, he said.