PharmD students organize PPE drives for hospitals to fight COVID-19

If a citywide and statewide shelter-in-place order wasn’t enough to keep San Francisco residents indoors last weekend, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, April’s first major rain storm was likely to guarantee it. But for a group of doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) students at the UC San Francisco School of Pharmacy, neither the pandemic nor the precipitation would get in their way of supporting the health care system, this time by collecting personal protective equipment (PPE) for local hospitals.

The project is the brainchild of PharmD students Adriana Gardner, Class of 2022, and Leena Dolle, Class of 2021. As health care providers-in-training, the two felt called to act as they watched the virus descend on the country.

“It’s frustrating that the best thing we can do is sit home and not be vectors of the virus,” Dolle said.

With the pandemic spreading around the world, many hospital systems are worried about dwindling stores of PPE, the pieces of protective gear like N95 masks, rubber gloves, and goggles that minimize health care workers exposure to disease while treating patients.

Dolle and Gardner were inspired by a PPE drive held by UCSF medical students in a local park. The medical students’ event was a success, but it had to be staffed, and the public had to be alerted to make donations during certain hours. Community pharmacies, on the other hand, are essential businesses in this crisis and are easy to find.

“You can’t close your pharmacy, they play a pivotal role in keeping our communities safe,” Gardner said. “People need medications filled and questions answered about their care.”

Dolle and Gardner reasoned that pharmacies could collect PPE donations during normal business hours, allowing people to drop off their extra masks and gloves when stopping by, or even passing by, the stores.

The two students contacted Lisa Kroon, PharmD, chair of the School’s Department of Clinical Pharmacy. Kroon connected them with the owners of TIN Rx, a pharmacy in the Castro district of San Francisco, who were happy to be a part of the drive. Gardner created and posted flyers, and the event received further promotion from The Castro Merchants Association and The Bay Area Reporter.

Maintaining healthy social distance, the PharmD students donned masks and accepted supplies. San Francisco’s shelter-in-place order allows for volunteering at health care facilities and specifically mentions pharmacies, and the donated PPE are a critical addition to the health care supply chain right now.

Carlson and Gardner

Zac Carlson, Class of 2021, left, and Gardner, right.

“At their first event, partnering with an independent pharmacy in the Castro, TIN Rx, they collected 175 N95 masks and 500 pairs of gloves,” Kroon said. “All the more remarkable given it was raining most of the day.” ABC News 7 even showed up to cover the drive.

Dolle and Gardner are now in the process of expanding the program to pharmacies throughout the Bay Area. Walgreens is allowing the two to reach out to 66 stores to establish new PPE collection sites, and CVS has allowed them to reach out to 14 stores. They’ve partnered with Alto Pharmacy to help transport donated PPE from local pharmacies to hospitals on an as-needed basis. And the students hope other pharmacy chains will sign on as well.

It’s quite a time to be entering health care as a young professional, but Dolle says the COVID-19 pandemic has made her even more excited to enter the workforce.

“I’ve never had so much respect for community pharmacists,” Dolle said. “We always say we’re the most accessible health care providers — you walk in and there’s an expert sitting in front of you — but now more than ever it’s clear how vital pharmacies are to patients and to the whole health system.”


School of Pharmacy, PharmD Degree Program

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.