Patient care projects and community service have long been pillars within APhA–ASP Chapters. They are so much a part of what the Academy does that I sometimes forget the work that it took to make them a reality. In 1997, recognizing the need for education and increased opportunities to receive immunizations, APhA–ASP and the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA) collaboratively developed Operation Immunization.
Operation Immunization was the first service project of this magnitude in the history of APhA or SNPhA. Since its launch, the program has focused on an immunization education campaign designed to increase the public’s knowledge of immunizations, raising the number of adults receiving immunizations, and advocating for the expansion of pharmacist and student pharmacist– provided immunizations.
When the program began in 1997, only 22 states allowed pharmacists to immunize. Today, pharmacists can immunize in all 50. In 1997, 25,000 individuals received immunizations from pharmacists. During the last reporting cycle, more than 110,000 patients were immunized directly by student pharmacists. The growth and success would never have been possible without the thousands of student pharmacists and pharmacists who have participated over the program’s 20-year history. The achievements of Operation Immunization and generous support of pharmacy organizations paved the way for more nationally recognized projects: Operation Diabetes (2001), Operation Heart (2010), Generation Rx (2010), and OTC Medicine Safety (2015).
APhA–ASP national projects are often the first place that student pharmacists become involved in APhA. Each project provides unique opportunities and partnerships, and each chapter molds them to meet the needs of their community. They allow student pharmacists to take the lead in event management and to be at the forefront of patient care. During the stressful exam times of pharmacy school, they serve as a reminder of why you choose the pharmacy profession and that in the end, it will all be worth it.
Flash forward to graduation and life as a new practitioner. You are living and breathing pharmacy. It is exciting, dynamic, and overwhelming all at the same time. While you see and interact with patients daily, hectic work schedules, professional responsibilities, and the demands of personal life can make it easy to forget your why. Finding opportunities to connect with the community is more challenging, especially without the support of a team of chapter members. Feedback from surveys and focus groups indicates time and time again that community service is something that new practitioners are looking to continue. While it certainly benefits the community, it also helps volunteers reduce stress, combat depression, keep you mentally stimulated, and provide a sense of purpose.
Recognizing that continued involvement within their communities is a priority for APhA new practitioner members, the APhA New Practitioner Advisory Committee has developed the Community Health Ambassador program. Similar to the APhA–ASP national patient care projects, the goals of the program are to offer new practitioners the opportunity to give back to their communities, enhance their communication skills, and promote pharmacist–provided patient care services through community-based presentations. APhA has worked to make it easy for anyone to participate by providing the resources to educate and connect with your community.
Some of the tools include ready-made presentations, guidance on finding the right community partner, information on health literacy, and more. There are also recognition opportunities associated with the program that will allow APhA to showcase the success of participants.
While patient care projects and community service are not the only components that make APhA the organization it is, they are most certain our heart. In fact, it is the first line of the oath every pharmacist takes: “I promise to devote myself to a lifetime of service to others ...” The patient care projects have given us much to be grateful for and there are many milestones worthy of celebration. Those achievements come from each and every member taking the time to give back.
As the 20th anniversary of Operation Immunization and the launch of the Community Health Ambassador program are celebrated, it is important to recognize the journey. It is the work and challenges that got us from where we started to here, and they will continue to inspire and motivate us to go there.
There, what comes next, will be defined by you.