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The places pharmacists are going: A look at some nontraditional careers
Roger Selvage 7995

The places pharmacists are going: A look at some nontraditional careers

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On The Cover

Loren Bonner

Image of a Veterinary Pharmacist tending to the needs of cow.

The Pharmacy Palette: A Colorful Journey Through the World of Pharmacy, is a coloring book that features over 50 pharmacy specialties: a poison control pharmacist, a military pharmacist, a quality assurance pharmacist, and a veterinary pharmacist—just to name a few.

Sue Ojageer, PharmD, dreamt up the concept as a fun way to “reintroduce” pharmacy to the world.

“Pharmacists have so many opportunities to practice, and I want the world to see that,” said Ojageer, who started her entrepreneurial career after 14 years practicing in retail pharmacy. “I know there’s burnout, but there are still many options to utilize your pharmacy license and provide exceptional patient care.”

Results from the 2021 APhA/NASPA National State-Based Pharmacy Workplace Survey found that 75% of pharmacists from various practice settings disagreed with the statement “Sufficient time is allocated for me to safely perform patient care/clinical duties.” Additionally, 71% said there were not enough pharmacists working to “meet patient care/clinical duties,” and 65% said “payment for pharmacy services” did not support their “ability to meet clinical and nonclinical duties.”

“The findings show that pharmacy workplaces were so stressful in 2021 that personnel were unable to fulfill both clinical and nonclinical duties, which contributed to employee burnout,” said an APhA statement from May 2022, when the findings were released. “While the majority of pharmacy workplaces have cultures of patient safety, pharmacy personnel are at a breaking point when adjustments to team training, roles, and responsibilities are not made quickly enough to adapt to change and meet all of their responsibilities.”

In this current environment, pharmacists might be looking to take an unconventional or nontraditional career path. Pharmacy Today profiled seven pharmacists who have done just that. Their stories are in no way exhaustive of what’s out there for pharmacists, but they can serve as examples of the various career paths pharmacists have taken.

Crystal Yu, PharmD

Crystal Yu, PharmD,
educating pharmacists about skincare

Skincare became part of Crystal Yu’s life when she began treating her infant daughter’s severe eczema. Skincare is also what Yu specializes in at L’Oréal USA.

Yu, PharmD, graduated from Mercer University College of Pharmacy in Georgia and started her career at a local grocery store chain pharmacy, where she built close relationships with her patients and felt valued by her community.

But when her daughter was born, she longed for a change. Not only was she searching for a different skillset; Yu also needed more opportunities as a working mom. She gained new skillsets in a long-term care pharmacy and then in pharmaceutical affairs before discovering an opportunity at L’Oréal.

“The L’Oréal job opening was the perfect fit with my health care background and the experience I had with my daughter’s eczema,” Yu said. “I was the first PharmD to be part of the integrated health team at L’Oréal.”

As the senior manager of integrated health for L’Oréal brands CeraVe, La Roche-Posay, and Vichy, a big part of Yu’s job involved educating and empowering pharmacists.

According to Yu, these brands are deeply rooted in dermatology and scientific evidence.

“Pharmacists play a big role in recommending OTC products, and there are many patients who don’t have access to a dermatologist or a clinic provider,” Yu said. “There’s an educational gap in skin health for pharmacists, although many patients come with questions about skincare.”

In fact, Yu developed a L’Oreal professional resource site to provide pharmacists with support, such as accredited continuing education and access to free product kits (Learn more: www.lorealdermatologicalbeauty.us/pharmacy).

Yu recently transferred roles within L’Oréal and is now senior manager for medical affairs for SkinCeuticals.

Yu will precept a PGY-4 student from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this summer, and her peer at L’Oréal, Lyndsay Zotian, PharmD, has also launched a first-of-its-kind fellowship through the Medical University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy: SkinCeuticals MSL Fellowship. (Learn more: apha.us/SkinCeuticalsMSLFellowship).

“I’m passionate about opening up this space for pharmacists,” Yu said. “Pharmacists can and do work in skincare.”

 

Karen Brown, PharmD

Karen Brown, PharmD,
setting up clinical trials

Karen Brown graduated from the University of Montana in 2020 with her PharmD degree. As a student and eventual postdoctoral fellow, she worked in a research lab conducting pharmacogenomics research with rural American Indian and Alaskan Native populations in Montana and the northwest region.

“This was my introduction into clinical research,” said Brown, who is founder and CEO of a full-service contract research organization (CRO) called KLEO. “I became fascinated with how to bring clinical research into rural settings and went down a clinical research rabbit hole.”

Even though Brown didn’t know what a CRO was at that time, she knew she didn’t want to pursue a traditional pharmacy role.

Fast forward to today, and her company—what she considers a boutique CRO—supports medical device and diagnostic companies in bringing their product to market. This might involve setting up and managing clinical trials, going back and forth with FDA and other regulatory bodies, or even working with payers. Currently, KLEO is managing a 30-site clinical trial for a device company.

There were many small steps along the way that led Brown and her company to this point.

“I reached out to my network when I graduated and asked to work on any project,” said Brown. She took on many small projects, mainly in data analysis.

“I got obsessed with how to grow in an entrepreneurial way,” Brown said.

Brown used her professional network to get where she is today and advises other pharmacists in pursuit of other opportunities to do the same.

“No one should have taken a chance on me to do data analysis projects, but they did,” said Brown.

“Knowing that you have this advanced degree forces you to want to be the expert, but there are so many roles pharmacists can be fantastic in,” Brown said. “You might not be the expert, though, and you have to be okay with that at first.”

Brown also maintains a research position at the University of Montana where she continues to work toward bringing adequate health care to underserved populations.

Tara Schneider, PharmD

Tara Schneider, PharmD,
clinical services for independent pharmacies

Tara Schneider, PharmD, climbed the health system pharmacy administrator ladder until she reached a breaking point in 2020, at the height of the pandemic.

“I was working 20 hours a day,” said Schneider. “I was going into work, being on call, but still furloughed and unsure if my job would be around.”

Schneider’s outlook of pharmacy is inspiring from where she sits today, however. She left her position as a pharmacy administrator and created her own business: The Point of Care Testing Institute (POCTi), where she works with independent pharmacies to help them set up clinical services.

“It’s so rewarding to help like-minded entrepreneurs grow new service lines because you know they will have a big impact on their community,” said Schneider.

Schneider herself came from a generation of independent pharmacists, in fact.

Her career change all started with a single webinar about entrepreneurship. “I didn’t know anything else outside of health system pharmacy and I definitely didn’t know entrepreneurship, but it was so inspiring seeing what [these individuals] did, and I couldn’t unsee what I saw.”

Sure enough, she took the necessary steps to create a business. First, she created TD Pharmacy Services, a closed-door non-dispensing independent pharmacy that focuses on clinical services like point-of-care testing (POCT).

“I wanted to run clinical services on my own,” Schneider said. “This is what people really need. I did sick care for so long and what I want to do is prevent people from having to get [sick] care.”

TD Pharmacy Services is essentially a concierge pharmacy for patients who have acute and chronic conditions, providing everything from genetic consults and respiratory testing to gut health and supplements.

“In the summer of 2021, I started getting lots of questions about it and others wanted to know how to do this in their pharmacy,” said Schneider.

She started doing consultations late that summer and POCTi was born. Through a 5-week program, Schneider helps independent pharmacists launch POCT services and other types of clinical services. Lately, OTC hearing aids have come up as a possible—and viable—service offering.

“Busy pharmacists don’t have time to do what it takes to implement clinical services in a short period of time, that is where we come in to do the heavy lifting,” said Schneider.

Both of her businesses are cash-based and she still consults with TD Pharmacy Services patients via telehealth appointments. Schneider moved this year from Oklahoma to Kentucky.

Blair Curless, PharmD, PhD

Blair Curless, PharmD, PhD,
educating pharmacists about cannabis

This summer, purchasing medical cannabis will finally become a reality for patients in Georgia after years of roadblocks to obtaining the drug legally. Certain pharmacists will also be part of this long-awaited moment, creating access to medical cannabis oil for patients in rural parts of the state who don’t live near a dispensary.

Georgia’s 2019 cannabis law allows independent pharmacists across Georgia to dispense cannabis oil to patients, without association of an approved producer. Georgia’s legislature passed a bill in 2019 setting up a licensing process for companies to grow cannabis indoors under close supervision, convert the plant to oil, and sell the product to patients with a doctor’s prescription if they are in a registry run by the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Blair Curless, PharmD, PhD, is helping pharmacists get ready to dispense cannabis oil.

“Pharmacists are interested in this, and more are signing up for my classes,” said Curless.

Curless is a chemist by training. Before enrolling in pharmacy school, he worked for 7 years helping to research and develop a new revolutionary process in the aluminum industry. He entered pharmacy school in 2011 and earned both a PharmD and PhD through a dual program.

During his last year of graduate training, he got ahold of a CBD product and discovered that it contained harmful contaminants, a schedule I synthetic cannabinoid. Long story short, FDA was notified and they sent out a public warning letter.

“There’s so much that’s not regulated and there’s so much concern—especially these past few years—with cannabis products,” said Curless. “I believe pharmacists need to reign this in and be looking more closely at these products.”

As a pharmacist and chemist, Curless brings a necessary perspective, especially when it comes to educating other pharmacists about what’s out there and what to be aware of.

“If we can get pharmacists educated about this, it’ll be much easier for the industry,” said Curless.

Megan Freeland, PharmD

Megan Freeland, PharmD,
medical writing and communications

When Megan Freeland, PharmD, was in middle school, she often straddled two different worlds: the life of an honors student at school and a home life that couldn’t feel more different. Both were beautiful but had their differences, according to Freeland.

“I was translating information all the time,” said Freeland, who is a medical writer. “And now that’s what I do in my business. I understand the research and translate that into a format that resonates and makes sense to others.”

Her company, StockRose Creative, LLC, is focused on health content for digital health companies, with a special emphasis on improving the health and wellness of Black communities.

“When I started pharmacy school, I knew I didn’t want to practice in a traditional role,” said Freeland.

“From the beginning my question was always: How do I apply this to a public health setting? There wasn’t a clear path, so I was looking for other opportunities, like taking advantage of extracurricular activities related to public health. The common denominator between those two things was always writing.”

Freeland also teaches fellow pharmacists how to write through a 6-month coaching program—the Health Professionals to Health Writers Accelerator. She connects her pharmacist clients to both the soft and hard skills they learned in pharmacy school.

“Whether it’s the motivational interviewing as a softer skill or the drug information, those are all relevant to health writing because the information needs to be authoritative yet come across as compassionate,” said Freeland.

In teaching others, Freeland often has to go back to the place where she was when she was learning to write.

“Writing for me came through doing it, through practice, but it also came easily for me,” Freeland said.

Ghada Elnashar, PharmD, MS

Ghada Elnashar, PharmD, MS,
medical affairs

Ghada Elnashar, PharmD, MS, has a deep passion for pharmacogenomics. It all started in pharmacy school at the University of Minnesota where she met her mentors and got to network with pioneers in the pharmacy field, including those in the managed care and pharmacogenomics spaces.

“I’ve always wanted to create a positive change,” said Elnashar. After completing her managed care pharmacy residency, she started her career in managed care helping patients on the individual and population scale and worked for a startup before joining OneOme LLC, a precision medicine company co-founded by Mayo Clinic. She is currently associate director of medical affairs at OneOme.

“I think what’s unique to me is my master’s in biotechnology, which provided me with a scientific foundation of the biotech world, including precision medicine,” said Elnashar. She also completed a leadership emphasis in pharmacy school that she said gave her many essential tools and skills she currently uses.

In her role at OneOme, Elnashar helps educate clinicians, payers, health systems, and other thought leaders about pharmacogenomics.

 “The ultimate goal is to optimize a medication decision and reduce health care costs,” said Elnashar.

 In combination with her leadership training, she said she is always using her pharmacist skills in speaking on panels or meeting with clients.

“Pharmacogenomics is here to stay,” said Elnashar. “I empower [clinicians] with the tools necessary to use it in practice. It’s another tool in their toolbox and essential to know.”

Michael Corvino, PharmD

Michael Corvino, PharmD,
educating PA students

Michael Corvino, PharmD, took a nontraditional route in order to arrive at his current position. Not only is Corvino an adjunct professor at the Charleston Southern University Physician Assistant Program, but he also works for a company called UpStream, which provides chronic care management services in various primary care clinics.

Corvino graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy in 2015 and accepted a job with Walgreens, where he had his first taste of spending one-on-one time with patients through MTM.

“Because I didn’t do a residency, I knew it would be much harder to transition into a true clinical role later in my career,” said Corvino. “To continue my education and gain more clinical knowledge, I used all my days off work and my PTO to spend time learning from various pharmacists.”

As time passed, he wanted to move toward earning a board certification. “I was able to accumulate enough time working with MTM patients to become eligible to take the Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist [CDCES] exam,” said Corvino.

After receiving his CDCES, he went on to earn board certifications in pharmacotherapy and ambulatory care as well.

During this time, Corvino also started creating pharmacotherapy infographics for social media—which would land him his current job with the CSU PA program based on recommendations given by colleagues.

“I was hired to create the content for Pharmacology 1, 2, and 3 as well as teach the content when the school’s first cohort started,” Corvino said.

His pharmacotherapy infographics for social media also turned into a podcast that he created and cohosts called CorConsult RX: Evidence-Based Medicine and Pharmacy.

“I enjoy the variety of different settings and roles in which I work,” said Corvino. “The most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing patients grow in their knowledge of the disease state that they are living with. The same can be said about working with students. It’s very rewarding to see students start at the beginning of a program and help them get to a place where they are excellent providers.” ■

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