Graduate with Leadership Distinction: Sarah Taylor

Global studies student experiences life through a different lens

I was born two months premature. As a newborn, I frequently stopped breathing and spent weeks in an incubator. At six months, I contracted a life-threatening RSV infection and was hospitalized yet again. Throughout my childhood I suffered from frequent respiratory and sinus infections. 

Interestingly enough, the never-ending sicknesses and treatments — along with the many different clinicians who cared for me — fascinated me. From an early age, I knew someday I’d have a career in health care. The University of South Carolina turned that desire to help others into a desire to become a pharmacist.

My multicultural family tree, along with time spent studying abroad in Costa Rica, Cuba and Panama, taught me vital lessons about culture, communication and compassion. While it is imperative for me to understand the science behind pharmaceuticals, I know I must also practice with compassion for people and respect their unique situations, cultural beliefs and traditional remedies.

While in Cuba on a study abroad trip, the lessons of the classroom intersected with real life when I experienced two painful bouts of stomach flu. Both times, my host mother believed I was suffering from “empacho” — that undigested food had become lodged in my digestive tract. She sought to provide relief by finding a knot in my arm and rubbing it with oil. Though her remedy didn’t likely contribute to my recovery, her comfort and compassion greatly improved my misery.

While my time abroad underlined my responsibility to be a global citizen, I’m keenly aware that a multicultural mindset can enhance health care delivery in the United States, too. As professionals, we’re taught that good health isn’t merely the absence of disease and infirmity; it’s a state of physical, mental and social wellbeing. More and more I’m realizing how poverty and income inequality jeopardize the health of our citizens.

One eye-opening moment happened during a role-playing project in my intro to sociology class. I’ll never forget. My role was that of a single mother working for minimum wage, and my task was to find a home, child care and transportation, and to make a life on my limited income. I felt the desperation of calling housing and child care options only to realize how unaffordable life can be. Trying to synchronize the family schedule and a varied work schedule with a complex bus route that offered no flexibility only compounded the financial stress. While the role was only a simulation for me, I understand how terrifying life can be for a growing number of American families.

Our nation’s health care system is complex but there is room to simply connect with people and advocate on their behalf at every encounter. As a pharmacist, I will provide medications to help people get well and recover from illness. I’m committed to helping them achieve a deeper sense of overall wellness by helping them navigate and understand insurance, seek alternative options when necessary, and ensure they have a path to affordable, sustainable care.

Empathy is one of the most valuable tools we have. Whether connecting respectfully with those with unique cultural beliefs or with a worried single mother who needs affordable medication, I will always remember what it’s like to be on the other side of the counter.

Sarah Taylor begins at the MUSC College of Pharmacy this fall.

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