The University of Iowa

30 countries and counting: Pharmacy grad Lukas to continue global health pursuits

May 14th, 2012

map of tour
By: Dawn Goodlove for Iowa Now

The trip across the stage to collect her diploma will be the shortest leg on the journey so far for Stephanie Lukas.

Just two weeks ago she was in West Africa, completing an elective rotation for her pharmacy degree. During four weeks in Liberia studying the pharmacy system and ways to improve it, she met with the ministry of health’s medication supply chain manager, interviewed health care providers and patients, and participated in a training session for pharmacy workers who dispense medications. She set up the rotation herself, in collaboration with Lloyd Matowe, University of Iowa assistant professor of clinical pharmacy and founder of the nongovernmental organization Pharmaceutical Systems Africa.

Liberia was the 30th country Lukas has visited but definitely won’t be her last. Leaving the UI with a Doctor of Pharmacy and Master of Public Health, she sees herself working with a global health organization to develop and deliver sustainable health care. She is headed next to western Kenya on a yearlong residency through a program associated with Purdue University.

“I’ve always been driven by a passion to make the world a better place, which I realize sounds hokey, but it’s true. It’s what brought me to the Peace Corps,” Lukas says.

From Tanzania to Iowa City

Before arriving at the UI, Lukas was a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania, where she provided education on nutrition, malaria, and HIV/AIDS. The village she served had no medical clinic or providers, so residents traveled to a nearby village to buy medications from shop owners. Seeing the limited access to health care motivated Lukas to return to school. She enrolled in the UI College of Pharmacy for the chance to work with underserved populations around the world.

“I really can’t imagine having gone to any other school. Iowa provided me flexibility and support, and was very open-minded and progressive. It was everything I was hoping for in global health,” she says.

Her UI studies also have taken her to India, Mexico, and Belize. Before the Peace Corps, she did study abroad in Ghana while earning bachelor’s degrees with honors in animal sciences, and agricultural and environmental communications and education at the University of Illinois. After graduating she backpacked through Europe, visiting 19 countries in four months.

“Stephanie is one of our most worldly travelers,” says Hazel Seaba, UI associate dean of pharmacy. “We have many students with global interests who want experiences outside the United States, but her interest is much deeper. To be able to do as much as she has done in her four years required a tremendous amount of initiative and focus.”

Helping at home, too

As a UI student, Lukas also completed an internship with a nonprofit global health consulting organization, served as a research assistant on a public health initiative to reduce unintended pregnancies across Iowa, and volunteered at numerous community outreach events organized by student pharmacists.

Not every experience as a Pharm.D./M.P.H. candidate came her way through official channels. One autumn day she encountered a homeless man with holes in his shoes and only a handful of change. She took him to lunch and was so moved by his story that she launched Rx: Soles for Souls, a shoe drive for the Salvation Army.

Lukas posted fliers in the College of Pharmacy and spoke to pharmacy classes. Her efforts not only raised awareness of homelessness, but also collected about 100 pairs of shoes, 15 coats, 12 bags of clothing, more than 700 toiletry items, and $284.

“Once I see something, I can ignore it or I can do something about it. I choose to do something,” Lukas says. “There’s so much to be done that you can get overwhelmed with where to start, but I’ve learned—especially in the Peace Corps—that things get done in baby steps.”

She has a knack for engaging others in serving the greater good, as she did with the shoe drive. While in Tanzania, she wrote to friends and family in her hometown of Warrenville, Ill., who responded with donations to send schoolchildren to visit a famous national wildlife park in Tanzania. The contributions were generous enough they also bought sports equipment and library materials for the school and sent a Tanzanian student to college.

“I know I want to be in a job where I feel like I did something that mattered that day, something that helped. I feel like I’ve been in school for a long time now. I’m ready to hit the ground running and do something,” she says.