It was the night before my 8th grade Career Day, and I had approximately 16 hours to decide what I wanted to be when I grow up and compile an outfit to represent my chosen profession. I contemplated the medical profession. Growing up, I was fortunate to have a wonderful pediatrician who was soft spoken and very compassionate. For most children, the physician’s office can be a scary place, but the opposite was true with my pediatrician. Sadly, it wasn’t until after he had passed away that I began to think about medicine. However, after my brief reminisce, I realized one critical element: I had no physician-like items to wear (e.g. white coat, stethoscope, etc.). Fortunately for me, things quickly changed with a surprise visit from my godfather.
Little did my godfather know that he would not only have an impact on my Career Day, but ultimately, my career path. I quickly shared with him my dilemma. After a brief silence, he said to me, “Why not be a pharmacist?” My response, “Why not! But what exactly does a pharmacist do?” As I listened to him talk about pharmacy, I became more excited about the idea of becoming a pharmacist. However, there was one last question to be answered: “What does a pharmacist wear?” My godfather said, “Hold on, I’ve got something in my car that I think will work.” To my surprise, he handed me a t-shirt he had received earlier that day from a pharmaceutical representative. Drawn on the t-shirt was a make-believe buttoned-up white short sleeved lab coat, with a nice blue tie, a pharmacist patch, and a fully loaded pocket protector. Needless to say, I rocked it on Career Day!
Career Day was truly an important milestone in my life, as it was the start of my professional journey into the world of pharmacy. During my (ongoing) journey, while I have learned many valuable lessons, there are three that stand out. Lesson one: it is important to be open minded, and to explore new ideas and opportunities. Lesson two: always “think outside the box” and be a pioneer. Lesson three: sometimes, opportunities need to be created.
As I transitioned into my last year of pharmacy school at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy, I recognized the need to differentiate myself from my fellow classmates. Similar to my peers, I contemplated a PGY1 residency. At that time, the majority of PGY1 programs were hospital-based and offered limited opportunities in other areas of practice. Unfortunately, I was looking for something “different” and “unique.”
One day, while on rotation, I received an unannounced visit from a faculty member. I was told the college was looking to create a new residency program with an emphasis on community pharmacy practice, and I was encouraged to explore this new opportunity. Naturally, it peaked my interest, as it did for a handful of classmates. As we all moved through the interview process, we learned this novel idea had little structure and many unknowns. To my classmates, it was a risk they were hesitant to take. However, I kept an open mind and was fortunate to have been selected as the first resident for the new program.
The year, as anticipated, had its ups and downs, but the opportunities were endless. With some creativity, I was excited to help enhance practice for my community colleagues and pave the road for future residents. I am pleased to share that I was the first resident in my state to successfully complete a community pharmacy practice residency. Furthermore, our program was the first in our state to receive accreditation (with an emphasis in community practice) from APhA and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
After completing my residency, I stayed on board with the community pharmacy in the role of clinical pharmacist. It was an exciting time with the launch of pharmaceutical care and a novel approach to patient care called disease state management (DSM).
While trying to implement this new approach to patient care in the community setting, pharmacists were faced with unforeseen barriers and challenges. The environment, in most cases, was fast-paced, with a high prescription volume and limited staff support. Most pharmacies were also located in the far back corner with high counters and plexiglass. This limited access to the pharmacist, counseling opportunities, and the ability to implement patient care programs. With limited funds, and in some cases lack of corporate support or understanding, it was necessary to think outside the box, to take another look at various aspects of practice, including workflow; the location of the pharmacy; the design of the pharmacy; the creation and use of internal and external marketing pieces; new business plans; and the need to collaborate with health care providers in the community.
Ultimately, the hard work paid off with the creation of new DSM programs, new relationships built within the community, and pharmacists welcoming the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to a greater extent. Our pharmacy was the first community pharmacy to obtain accreditation from the American Diabetes Association and the first to have pharmacists provide immunizations in Illinois.
Reflecting on the many successes, I am humbled to be a part of this exciting era of pioneers. But there is still much to be done. So please continue to seek out opportunities and keep breaking down those walls!
A few years later, I transitioned into a new role, a shared faculty position. Shared faculty positions were relatively new, and most often created by a college of pharmacy in collaboration with an external organization/institution. Most established positions were linked to either a health-system pharmacy or an ambulatory care clinic. As the first shared faculty between the college and a community pharmacy, I had the opportunity to help create the position.
In this new role, I was charged to increase awareness of the role of the community pharmacist within the curriculum and the community. Similar to prior positions, with little guidance and structure, it was yet another opportunity to be creative and innovative. Eventually, I transitioned into a full-time faculty position before joining APhA as a staff member.
While my roles and responsibilities have changed over the years, the one constant has been the opportunity to create and innovate. Approximately 10 years ago, I joined the APhA family as Director of Practice and Science Academies. While not new to APhA, the position was fairly new to my department. This was yet another opportunity to contribute to the creation of a new position.
Every day, I have the distinct pleasure and honor to work with leaders from across the United States. It is rewarding to contribute and support the work of our current and future pharmacists, scientists, and researchers.
I challenge you to take a few minutes to reflect on your own professional journey. Next, use your member benefit and get engaged via the APhA Engage communities (http://engage.pharmacist.com/home). Share your story and take this opportunity to network and collaborate with other APhA members. And connect with our current leaders to learn more about the professional and leadership opportunities in the areas of practice and science at www. pharmacist.com/appm and www.pharmacist.com/aprs.
After all, I am sure there are many more exciting Career Day stories like mine to be shared!