In March 2020, the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted education nationwide. To safely deliver in-person classes, Purdue University contracted One-to-One Health, creating the Protect Purdue Health Center (PPHC). The PPHC was a central location for information, testing, and case management for Purdue students, staff, faculty and their dependents. Contact tracing is a proven public health measure that has been utilized to control the spread of infectious diseases by identifying and isolating potential active cases. The communicative nature of contact tracing, along with its need for clinical decision-making skills makes the student pharmacist an ideal candidate for aiding in this pandemic response.

In an effort to support the PPHC in navigating the necessary protocols to keep Purdue open, operating, and safe, the College of Pharmacy formed Experiences in Public Health, a service-learning course which enrolled ten student pharmacists. The students served as contact tracers, participated in group discussions surrounding emerging COVID-19 health information, and reflected on their experiences as members of the community. As contact tracers, they aimed to decrease secondary spread of COVID-19 by identifying and following-up with close contacts of lab-confirmed cases, educating on quarantine/isolation protocols, and scheduling tests for those with symptoms or exposure history.

Active participation in a pandemic response is a meaningful opportunity for professional growth in patient-centered care and communication. Students actively improved upon skills taught in the Doctor of Pharmacy program such as motivational interviewing, active listening, and open communication to fulfill their role as contact tracers. Additionally, the students gained proficiency in patient education and clinical decision-making, and through class discussions, enhanced their abilities to answer COVID-19-related questions with scientific resources.

Through volunteering at the PPHC and engagement in peer-led topic discussions, the Experiences In Public Health service-learning course allowed student pharmacists to apply professional skills to become an active force in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. This service-learning opportunity provided several key takeaways. Student pharmacists who participated in this initiative attest that they are more comfortable providing patient care, better able to handle a rapidly developing clinical situation, and further prepared for their future careers in various fields of pharmacy practice.