My Campus Pharmacies Are Closing. Here’s What I’ve Learned.

(Image Source: Pharmacy Times)

My university is closing all of our on-campus pharmacies. Until I started reporting on it, I didn’t really care.

Honestly, this happens with a lot of healthcare-related news. We hear about or read about industry changes, recalls, and research but unless it directly relates to us, we scroll past all of it. Frankly, we do that with all news.

Last semester, I started writing for my campus newspaper. That means that every week, I pick two issues or stories that I care about or find interesting, the kind of things that would make me do a double-take on my Twitter feed, and I delve deep enough that I can write a 700–900 word article about each.

This week, I chose to report on my university’s decision to close our pharmacies: a story that broke two weeks ago on Reddit and has been gracing the front page of our campus paper ever since.

When I first heard about the pharmacies closing as a student, I recognized that it was important news and I figured it would be a problem for several students. But that concern or interest, whatever it was that made me do a double-take when I saw the headline, wasn’t enough to make me read the article in the paper.

Even though the story was unfolding literally outside my dorm, I didn’t feel like it applied to me. Fortunately, I’ve never been to an on-campus health center, which also means that I never even realized we had on-campus pharmacies.

This, of course, is a direct result of my privilege. I’m lucky enough to be on my family’s health insurance plan, so I don’t need to worry about university health insurance. I live close enough to home that if I needed to fill a prescription, it would just be easier to have my mom pick it up at our local pharmacy and drop it off at my dorm. I’ve never had to look for discounted contraceptives or cheaper cold medication: if I need something, I’ll buy the cheapest one on the shelf, but I won’t go to a different store for a better deal.

After taking the story in my school paper, I started talking to students who aren’t in the same boat as me and actually need these pharmacies. That’s when I really started to care. Why?

In global health, current events, or really anything that requires empathy, the way to make people understand is by humanizing the issue. I think that’s where news and science can sometimes fall short and fail to retain our attention. It’s hard to relate to statistics and facts that don’t have a face or story attached to them. Those issues, whether its surgical inequity around the world or climate change, often get shoved to the back of our heads as abstract things that we don’t need to worry about because A. they’re outside our sphere of experience or B. they aren’t imminent threats to our immediate, individual, well-being.

I also think that’s completely fair — there are too many bad things happening for us to worry about all of them. But, I do think that in order to make the general public care about issues that are niche or hard to understand, the extremely intelligent people that want us to listen to them need to realize that we need a reason to care. More than fear or facts, we resonate with the experiences of other people. I mean, I like to think that, for a lot of people, empathy is inherent.

We’re starting to get at it, but this opens up a much bigger conversation on medical communication and announcements in general. One of the reasons there’s so much uproar and confusion related to the pharmacies closing is the poor communication on the issue.

With an announcement like this, nothing should be left in the dark. All students hear is that the pharmacies are closing, with specific information on procedures and alternatives being released weeks after the announcement. The danger in waiting a few weeks between making the announcement and clearing things up, is that there’s now room for doubt and frustration to build up. That makes understanding less likely and, honestly, creates resentment. Clarity and, more importantly, transparency is what bring down the walls between students and administration and make tough pills a lot easier to swallow.

The other issue is that while we’re in this college bubble, we often forget that the problems we’re facing within our institution are sometimes symptoms of the outside world.

This past August, Walgreens said they were going to close 200 stores in the US. In fact, the retail pharmacy industry itself is starting to lose business to things like mail-order prescriptions. Knowing that, it feels like we should have seen this coming.

If anything, I think that makes the case for staying updated on news — you never know when the rest of the world will start impacting your own world.

Originally published at on September 13, 2019.