Student Voices: Brenda Shen’s Study Abroad Experience in Japan

There’s a first time for everything

By Brenda Shen

In three short weeks, I gained a brief overview of both the many triumphs and shortcomings of the public health system in Japan. While the intricacies of many topics are left to be researched for me, the general overview of health topics in this course was simply life-changing. As a Pharmaceutical Science major who has not taken a course by the College of Public Health, it was a valuable opportunity to be able to firsthand witness the successes and failures of one of the world’s most renowned public health systems. The memory that will undoubtedly stick with me are the words of the family member at the itai-itai disease museum. From this experience, I truly realized that the actions people take may have horrendous, lingering effects on the wellbeing of an entire community. In this moment, I understood that it should be the duty of a nation’s public health system and as an aspiring physician and future health professional to prevent these outbreaks like Itai-Itai and Minamata disease. Tragedies like these two examples have shown me that government intervention and protective policies are necessary to defend the health of the public. These types of diseases are entirely preventable by cooperation of the local community and government. With this in mind, this course has taught me to not only think broadly but it has also kindled an interest in public health and policy. It has always been my goal to attend medical school and be a practicing physician scientist. I have always focused on internal qualities that related to becoming a compassionate doctor. However, I realized that I may also help many more individuals by becoming a physician educated on policy-making and its health effects on entire communities. In addition, future aspirations aside, this course has also taught me topics and skills that may be beneficial immediately in my undergraduate career. Every fall and spring, I am one of the presenters at international student orientations on health access at Ohio State. While I am only speaking about the health and drug access in the US, I believe that it is important to have a background on some members of my audience. There is no doubt in my mind having knowledge on a foreign nation’s health care will allow me to better explain topics and educate international students on our own system.

Furthermore, as I previously mentioned, learning about topics is certainly different that witnessing and experiencing them. This course has both taught and shown me the tenacity of people who have faced challenges and how they have overcome them with preparation and resiliency. I was particularly interested in reading the first-hand accounts of many health professional and relief workers in Hiroshima of 1945. To read about individuals, who were injured and exposed themselves, find the strength to continue their duties and jobs of saving lives during a hellish period was shocking. This theme of superior humility was once again pronounced as I heard about the doctor who worked his hardest to relieve the patient with itai-itai disease and the hospitals staff in Sendai during the horrific earthquake and tsunami. These are stories I will hold close to my heart as I continue to grow and develop into a doctor. To say the least, my first public health course being abroad was truly one of my undergraduate experiences that has been most valuable to me.

At the University of Tokyo, we were given the opportunity to listen to a number of lectures from their professors at their College of Public Health and our very own Ibaraki sensei! These talks ranged from discussions on suicide in Japan, the aging population, universal health coverage, water security, etc.

We had the opportunity to hear from a pharmacist at a center for public health in Adachi. Interestingly, it seems the role of pharmacist is vastly different in Japan than that of the United States. In Japan, the duties of pharmacist only include dispensing of medications with little role in actual patient care; in the US, medication managements and counseling have become staples the patient care process. In addition, pharmacists in Japan have no prescription power in terms of medication for patients. However, both in both countries they do have similar active roles regarding educational outreach on drug safety.

At the Adachi incineration plant, we were able to learn about how Tokyo is able to reduce the mass of landfill and dispose of their waste via other methods.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was hauntingly peaceful. The eyewitness accounts were invaluable lessons for humanity.

Public health aside, the Miyajimacho was one of the most beautiful destinations we visited. Along with a guardian population of deer, the entire island was surreal.

One of the last meals in Japan included the famous beef tongue of Sendai! 10/10 would recommend.

Brenda ShenBrenda Shen is a junior in the Honors Program at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy. Brenda is active in many groups on campus including Pharmacy Ambassadors, a program in the College of Pharmacy that introduces refugees to the U.S. healthcare system. She is originally from the Cincinnati, Ohio area.