I was nervous but excited to embark on my student exchange programme (SEP) journey to Split, Croatia. I arrived by plane and was greeted by my host, Tomislav. He took me to my apartment where I met my six new house mates whom I would be staying with for the next two weeks. I unpacked and settled in, ready to start my community pharmacy placement the next day.
I was very anxious to be working in a country in which I didn’t speak the language. However, almost every member of staff at the pharmacy spoke English which made communicating quite easy. I also only had to work 4 hours a day which left me with plenty of time to explore the beautiful city!
Due to the language barrier with the patients, my placement was mostly observational. However, I was able to unpack orders and help in the making and diluting of creams. Even though it was less hands on than I expected it to be, it was great to observe the differences in pharmacy practice between Croatia and England. I observed that there were less rules which made the overall dispensing process much quicker. For example, boxes were not labelled and packets were not split. This also led to fewer customer complaints as patients didn’t have to wait too long for their medications. However, I did question whether this affected the safety of their practice.
The pharmacy also didn’t run any services such as medicines use reviews (MURs), the new medicines service (NMS), smoking cessation etc. There was also no consultation room and patient consultations only occurred over the counter when a patient walked in. For example, they administer morning after pills over the counter which can be embarrassing for the customers. Although this freed up the pharmacist’s time, this meant that there was very little opportunity for pharmacists to build up a relationship with their patients. I spoke to a pharmacist about the lack of services and she expressed that she is very jealous of the amount that the UK have. She told me that Croatian Pharmacists have been campaigning for more services for a while and that having these would make pharmacists feel as if their knowledge and expertise were being better used.
I also observed that the payment system is different within their country and that medicines can be paid or partly paid for by a health insurance scheme. Instead of a standard prescription charge, all medicines cost different amounts.
Outside of the pharmacy, I took part in a range of sight-seeing and social events. Croatia is a beautiful country, and with only short shifts and weekends off, we had plenty of time to explore. For example, I visited several national parks, islands, beaches and historical towns. I was also able to taste some Dalmatian food and explore the night clubbing scene!
The most amazing thing about this experience was living with six other pharmacy students from different countries. Between us we had students from France, Turkey, Poland and England. It was interesting to hear about how pharmacy works in different countries, and I was surprised to find out that England offers one of the shortest MPharm degrees. It was also great to experience living with people from different cultures and to practise communicating with a language barrier. During the second week, each nationality picked their own popular dish to cook for the rest of the apartment. I made bangers and mash!
As we were all living in the same apartment, we were forced to communicate from day one, because of this, I was able to make some fantastic friendships and make some incredible memories.
SEP will definitely be an experience that I will never forget.