Prescribing Transit: A Pharmacist Takes the Bus

Michael awaits his RAPID bus #6

Public transportation is not just for established residents in a particular community; it can also be used by new residents as they integrate into the neighborhood. Moving to a new city can be a headache, and having good public transportation eases those transitions for many, including pharmacist Michael Hilden. Although he currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michael moved from the Flint area, to Ann Arbor, and then to Big Rapids while receiving his education. And looking back, starting to ride public transportation was deeply impactful for Michael in multiple ways. 

During his undergraduate studies, the Ann Arbor bus system supported Michael’s transition into his new environment. Riding also changed his perceptions of public transportation altogether. “Before riding, I didn’t have the same mind for transit or urbanism as I do now,” he elaborates. In many ways, accessing public transportation was transformative for younger Michael. 

While growing up in the Flint area Michael was “entirely car dependent,” but once he relocated to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan, he was in for a transportation shock. “The bus was the only way I had to get anywhere,” Michael reflects, stating that he had to use the AATA (Ann Arbor Transit Authority) buses “extensively.”

Now that he lives in Grand Rapids Michael uses the bus less frequently, but still maintains ridership. He regards the RAPID bus system as “fairly dependable,” yet the long wait times prevent him from riding often. “Headways there are often 30 minutes or more,” he explains, “so it can be pretty inconvenient to use.” Still, Michael is grateful he has another urban bus system to call upon, especially when messy winter weather turns the corner. 

“Before riding, I didn’t have the same mind for transit or urbanism as I do now.”

Pharmacist, rider, advocate

Michael claims that riding the bus has impacted how he understands his professional role as a pharmacist, and has led him to become more of a transportation advocate. One influential mentor once told Michael: “It is not only the pharmacist’s job to make sure patients are on the right drug at the right dose for the right reason, but also to make sure (in consultation with their care provider) that they are not taking medications which may be unnecessary.” Michael believes that making some medications unnecessary can be accomplished through healthier lifestyle choices (of which using public transportation is one), but that evidence for this approach is often overlooked by healthcare providers. 

“If there were 15-minute headways, I would choose transit every time.”

“The roles of pharmacist and advocate intersect here,” Michael explains, as “the journey to and from a bus stop promotes walking,” which means getting people to their destination “in a healthier fashion.” Michael suggests that just walking to the bus stop may even be enough physical activity to lower an individual’s risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

In all, taking the step onto the Ann Arbor bus not only got Michael around campus, it also expanded his understanding of transit as a policy and equity issue. He acknowledges the “huge funding challenges” providers face, and wants to advocate for better service in his community. “If there were 15-minute headways, I would choose transit every time,” he remarks. Michael’s story emphasizes how public transportation is welcoming to all, and how that first bus ride is sometimes the most important.