New Community Service Challenge Fosters Leadership Skills for Pharmacy Students

Lindsey Skubitz, Kelsey Eickstaedt, Bernard Brooks, and Olivia Merillat made Valentine's Day cards for the residents of Capitol Lakes as part of PLS' Community Service Challenge.

Lindsey Skubitz, Kelsey Eickstaedt, Bernard Brooks, and Olivia Merillat made Valentine's Day cards for the residents of Capitol Lakes as part of PLS' Community Service Challenge.

Throughout February, pharmacy students logged nearly 400 hours of service

By Katie Gerhards

As health care providers, pharmacists strive to help people—to serve and to improve quality of life.

That’s the sentiment behind the inaugural Community Service Challenge at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy, organized by Phi Lambda Sigma (PLS), aka Pharmacy Leadership Society, a PharmD student group devoted to helping pharmacy students develop leadership qualities.

The month-long challenge recruited students and faculty to form teams that would compete for most hours of service logged throughout February. All told, the challenge encompassed 20 teams, 77 students, and an incredible 384.5 hours of community service.

Lindsey Skubitz, PLS vice president and second-year PharmD student, says that giving back through community service is an important part of leadership.

“Leadership is based on the trust and the connection you have with the people around you, both patients and members of your team,” says Skubitz. “As future pharmacists, it’s hard to embark on a leadership path if we’re not out there seeing the struggles people have and seeing what they need help with.”

Skubitz and a core team of PLS members—including Sydney Stiener, Meredith Frey, Eric Friestrom, and Nicole Haebig, all third-year PharmD students—wanted to create an event to cultivate leadership development through community service for the entire school, including all student organizations.

Gregory Kuhlman and Maren VanMieghem

Gregory Kuhlman, second-year PharmD student, and Maren VanMieghem, third-year PharmD student, volunteering at WSPS’ Operation Diabetes.

The competing teams—sporting cheeky names like The Chill Pills and HydrocodOWNED—volunteered their time with organizations around Madison, including Feed My Starving Children, St. Vincent de Paul’s food pantry, the free student-run MEDiC clinic, and Operation Diabetes through the Wisconsin Student Pharmacists Society (WSPS).

“Community service builds leadership skills because it shows that you are not only self-aware, but also compassionate and involved in the community,” says Clare Procknow, a first-year PharmD student on team HydrocodOWNED. “I knew I wanted to seek out more volunteer opportunities, and this challenge helped me reach that goal. It’s amazing to see so many people reaching out and volunteering their valuable time.”

Jodi Meyer, a second-year PharmD student on team PGHIG Powerhouse, says it’s easy for students to put volunteering on the back burner for the sake of schoolwork, but this challenge served as proof that it’s possible to do both. “It’s a great way to mobilize students to get involved in the community and remember one of the core tenets of being a health care professional,” says Meyer.

By the end of February, the Chill Pills—composed of Al Larson-Osborne, Abby Smith, Taylor Orton, and Julia Barnes, all second-year PharmD students—racked up the most volunteered time, winning the challenge with 62.5 hours.

The Community Service Challenge also transcended the team-based competition and brought everyone in the School together for shared volunteering events, including a food drive; a weekly acknowledgement of a faculty member’s service activities, and a weekly opportunity open to all students, staff, and faculty.

“It is our profession’s responsibility to provide service to our community.” –Eva Vivian

One week, for example, PLS set up a station for students, faculty, and staff to stop by and make Valentine’s Day cards for residents at Capitol Lakes, a Madison retirement community, and another week, they decorated lunch bags for the Ronald McDonald House.

“It is our profession’s responsibility to provide service to our community,” says Professor Eva Vivian of the Pharmacy Practice Division, one of the faulty members PLS highlighted for her active community leadership and outreach. “Familiarity with our community enables pharmacists to provide better care because we know what the patients’ needs are.”

Skubitz predicts that the Community Service Challenge will be back again next year, hopefully with even more participation from students and faculty. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to recognize students for volunteer work they’re already doing on a daily basis, while also reminding students of the importance of community service and providing ways to get involved,” Skubitz says. 

Learn more about Phi Lambda Sigma and other student organizations at the School of Pharmacy.