Advocacy: An essential skill for all pharmacists

MTM Pearls

Professionally speaking, this past year has been more challenging than any other in my career. A number of factors have affected our pharmacy, many beyond my control. In general, change is happening quickly in our profession—faster than at any other time in my career. And change can be intimidating and daunting, especially when it is rapid. In our pharmacy, change happened so fast, with drastic reductions in reimbursement, that I no longer had a clear vision of my future or that of our practice.

But with change comes opportunity, and as we have started advocating for our patients, our practice, and our profession, newer opportunities have begun to emerge. Not that these opportunities will be easy to implement. On the contrary, we will be working harder and smarter to ensure our practice remains viable. As I reflect on the past year, I also see how using my advocacy skills to their fullest potential has led to tremendous growth. This skill didn’t come easily to me in the past because I never had to use it as much or with as much tenacity as I did last year. Once I realized how helpful advocacy could be, I wanted to find out how to further refine my skills, as well as those of my staff and student pharmacists. An article in the December 2013 issue of the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education provided some insight on this topic.1

Key points

The article emphasized the following:

  • In today’s rapidly changing health care system, and as the roles of pharmacists evolve, our leadership and advocacy skills are becoming even more important and essential.
  • All pharmacists have the responsibility and obligation to serve as leaders and advocates in their own practices.
  • Leadership and advocacy are intertwined.
  • Advocacy includes both patient and legislative responsibilities.
  • Colleges of pharmacy vary in their educational offerings to students in the areas of leadership and advocacy.
  • The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy established a task force to develop recommendations and suggestions for colleges and schools of pharmacy to prepare faculty and students to be pharmacy leaders and advocates.

MTM pearls

Pharmacists have a responsibility to advocate on behalf of their patients for the right to safe and effective medication. This means that we must take a leadership role as medication managers on the health care team. These opportunities are becoming more apparent in the team-based care models that are emerging as a result of health care reform. But this responsibility requires that all pharmacists practice at the level of their degree—ensuring the quality care and positive patient outcomes demanded by payers. It also requires that pharmacists know, understand, and affect the performance measures that payers use to determine quality among providers. Patient advocacy requires that pharmacists are up to date with their therapeutic knowledge and clinical skills. Each patient encounter is critical to ensuring that patients are achieving their goals of therapy through safe and effective medication use.

Pharmacists must also advocate on behalf of the profession through legislative, regulatory, and public health policy efforts. This entails knowing and understanding the legislative issues affecting public health and pharmacy. Pharmacists need to become active in the legislative efforts of their pharmacy organizations through personal contact with local legislators. At the very least, all pharmacists should contribute to political action committees to financially support the legislative and lobbying efforts of their state and national pharmacy organizations.

Last, pharmacists have a responsibility to “pass it on” to our younger counterparts and students. This means we need to act as role models for younger pharmacists and student pharmacists. They need to see their mentors in action as advocates for our patients and our profession.

I want to end this column by challenging each one of us (myself included) to step up our advocacy efforts. Our profession needs us!

Reference

  1. Am J Pharm Educ. 2013;77(10),220.