Age is just a number … or is it?
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”—C.S. Lewis
I have answered “age is just a number” to many people who have asked: “Why pharmacy school at 50?” What I have learned is that the number may not be important, but the wisdom and experience that comes with age is transformative. Thirty-six years ago, I found myself in Washington, DC, thanking then-Sen. William L. Armstrong Jr. (R–CO) upon receiving the U.S. Congressional Scholarship that allowed me to chase a dream and study abroad in Germany. Today, I am back in DC pursuing another goal: promoting the vital role pharmacy plays in the health care system as a member of the APhA Executive Postgraduate Training Program.
Hitting the career development jackpot
I have great admiration for those who found their path and unswervingly followed it. My knack is for getting lost, so whatever path I find myself on, I make it the best.
A degree in international affairs does not emphasize many marketable skills, but taught me that negotiation and communication is valuable in human resources. Housekeeping staff are plentiful in a casino town like Reno, NV, but I found myself disciplining, dismissing, and rehiring at an astonishing rate. Root cause, the schedule was not conducive and public transportation was limited. Solution: flexible scheduling and shuttle service. Bally’s employed more than 5,000 people and ran an airport shuttle for guests. Adding a back of the house service was an easy fix. With the help of a Tagalog translator, we maximized employee hours, gained loyalty, and reduced turnover to less than 5%, (and I learned to play a wicked game of Mahjong). This path led naturally to employee development and benefits administration positions.
I honed my skills working with insurance and retirement plans at the University of Denver. Professors on sabbatical, adjunct faculty, contract employees, work study programs, and a student health clinic exposed me to nonprofit organizations and state funded benefits. Balancing coverage with cost gave me an in-depth financial understanding of health care plans. Then I had kids, which changed everything I thought I knew.
Family health concerns engaged me hours a day on the phone with insurance providers, pharmacies, benefits managers, and hospital billing departments while caring for a sick child. It rivaled a full-time job, and I could not fathom how one incorrectly billed ICD-9 code could negate an entire treatment regimen. I became an advocate for transparency in billing, simplified plan language, and elimination of coverage loopholes. Formative events like medication errors, missed diagnostic protocols, and red tape entanglements costing thousands of dollars shaped my view of what is broken in the U.S. health care system. We spend more on medical services and have greater access to technology than any other country, yet our life expectancy is significantly lower.
My neighborhood grocery store pharmacist was an invaluable resource, as she assisted with prior authorizations, finding affordable generics, and researching off-label medication uses Wanting to share all I had learned, becoming a pharmacy technician became my new pathway. Community pharmacy experience emphasized how pervasive issues with access and affordability are, a condition exacerbated by the pandemic. Unable to justify to my patients rising drug costs and increasing obstacles to receiving care, my avenue for effecting change took another turn. Pursuing a degree in pharmacy opened doors to advocacy programs, legislative reform, and a means to impact a broader audience.
Helping others is who I am
I credit my parents for an intrinsic sense of civic duty, volunteerism, and community. Feeding the homeless, reading to the blind, teaching ESL, and helping those around me is not what I do, but rather who I am. The writings of Edward Everett Hale had a profound impact on me: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” Whether it is leading Girl Scouts, sewing masks, or speaking to congress, everything I do is based in my desire to give back to others. I am a fixer, meddler, talker, and connector.
I chose pharmacy—or pharmacy chose me—because it offers the opportunity to make a difference, care for those around me, and continue learning and growing. As an executive resident at APhA, I was an integral part of APhA Annual Meeting content development and made significant contributions to the implementation of the new learning management system. I remain passionate about educating pharmacy professionals and giving them the tools needed to advance their scope of practice. Delving into complicated issues like PBM reform, vertical integration of health care systems, and the growing population of underserved patients drives my desire to find innovative solutions. Advances in digital health offer exciting opportunities in pharmacy to create new channels of service delivery. I am applying my skills toward the creation of a certificate training program in this field.
The highlight of the residency program is the opportunity to work with and learn from a host of accomplished leaders. As a lifelong learner, I value everyone’s willingness to share their experience, provide insights, and make the connections that move us toward our goals. As a bonus we get to work in the historic APhA headquarters building, with an art gallery, archives, and a terrace overlooking the Potomac. For a history buff like myself, it could not be more ideal.
Laurrie Lorenzo, PharmD, is an executive resident at APhA in Washington, DC. She loves touring museums and cemeteries, historic architecture, and anything to do with reading. While in the nation’s capital, you can find her at Planet Word or the Library of Congress in her off time. When at home in Colorado, she enjoys quilting, spending time with family, and the great outdoors.