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Pharmacy Student Pushes For Food Allergy Awareness in Medical Facilities

Updated: Apr 12

By Marianna Rieser

Ready to start rotations at the hospital (M. Rieser)

I am in my fourth and final year of pharmacy school at Drake University. Due to peanut, tree nut, and egg allergies, I always carry epinephrine, antihistamines, and tons of snacks. Pharmacy school is demanding, and finding time to prepare meals and source snacks is challenging. It has tested me both mentally and physically but I am happy with the progress I have made.

During my first three years of pharmacy school, I took classes in a traditional college setting, usually packing my lunch, eating at home before class, or treating myself to Chipotle. This final year, I instead rotate to clinics, hospitals, and retail pharmacies, and will continue to go to different practice sites until graduation. It has been fun, but full of constant changes, as I adjust from class to a traditional work environment. 

Name Tag students wear during rotations. (M. Rieser)

I have been surprised to find that many medical facilities are not allergy-friendly. Places may have some pre-packaged or frozen food options, but a hot nutritious meal is difficult to find. There is a lack of knowledge about cross-contamination, severity, and the correct labeling of items. Medical centers really should have healthy pre-packaged top 9 allergen-free options readily available to patients, visitors, and workers. The lack of safe food available is disappointing. However, this presents a great opportunity for medical facilities to distinguish themselves from other institutions by better catering to food allergy needs. Individuals may seek care at a particular hospital for treatment or surgery, knowing that dietary restrictions can safely be met.

After the pinning ceremony, a celebration of the final year of experiential education. (M. Rieser)

Many of these medical facilities also have nuts around, which concerns me. The treats and snacks in break rooms and other areas often contain nuts, and I worry that people will eat these items and then proceed to touch surfaces, medications, and equipment without washing their hands, putting patients and others with food allergies at risk. I have even observed nuts and other allergens in workplace areas that are supposed to be free of food and drink altogether. This is frightening and standards within medical facilities should be better enforced to account for allergens and contamination. 

On rotations, I have not had much time to cook meals, and the lack of on-site safe options has been challenging. Due to my time constraints, I have had to shift my focus towards finding items that need little to no cooking time. While making time to cook healthy and filling meals can be challenging, this process has enriched my creativity and time management skills. I enjoy visiting different grocery stores on the weekends to find new items to pack. 

Managing the stress and workload of pharmacy school in addition to food allergies, has been a huge breakthrough for me! I have learned to communicate more effectively about my allergies, better advocate for my needs, and educate others. Most friends I have met in pharmacy school have been very supportive. One benefit of pharmacy school is that all my friends are trained in using epinephrine, so they are prepared to act if I ever have a reaction. 

I am thankful for my pharmacy education. It is empowering to have a deeper knowledge and understanding of food allergies, the different types of hypersensitivity reactions, and available medications. Understanding scientific analysis also enables me to interpret research and determine the positive and negative factors in a clinical trial. It is great to look at published studies and make conclusions from the data. I will be graduating in May and while I cannot expect my workplace to have safe options in the cafeteria, I will advocate for these changes to occur one day. I hope to use my degree to impact food allergy research, by finding more treatments and a cure! 

This GFF Student Advocate Guest Blog Post was written by Marianna Rieser, a fourth-year pharmacy student at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa 


Gluten Free Friends raises awareness about the importance of safe, inclusive college dining. We encourage food allergy and celiac advocacy and welcome high school and college student blog contributors. Contact Us with your story ideas! 

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