ONGOING NATIONAL DRUG SHORTAGES that are negatively impacting pharmacists’ ability to care for patients can seem like an overwhelming problem to most practitioners.
But Benjamin J. Thompson and Nicole M. Wilson, students at Midwestern University College of Pharmacy, Glendale, Ariz., decided that they had a lot to contribute by educating fellow students, pharmacists, legislators, and other health care professionals about the issue.
They dove into the world of advocacy, partnering with mentor Mindy J. Burnworth, Pharm.D., BCPS, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice, to develop a poster on the issue.
Thompson and Wilson reached out to Burnworth during their first year of pharmacy school. Having settled into the routine of their studies, they were ready to expand their horizons in an area that interested them.
“We had gotten into the rhythm of tests and classes and were getting frustrated with not doing anything beyond that,” said Thompson. “We had talked about drug shortages and reached out to Burnworth through email with the idea of an introductory research project.”
From there, it was a matter of deciding on a project that would offer the students not only a chance to develop new skills, but provide a tool for advocacy.
“The poster format was short, sweet and concise, and it hit key points to discuss with pharmacists, physicians, and academicians,” Burnworth said. “And, because legislation was being proposed in Congress at that time, the poster needed to include talking points to cover with legislators.”
Moving Through the Learning Curve
The team began by developing a timeline of tasks. All three conducted independent literature reviews, and together they narrowed their resources down to those that identified the impact of drug shortages on health care and highlighted legislation that proposed an early warning system as a way of addressing them.
There was a learning curve in conducting the research, said Wilson. “We stumbled a little through trying to find the right articles and doing the literature search,” she said. “We needed to be detail-oriented, and because it was the first time we had done this, it took more time [than we expected].”
The poster took the form of a timeline that spanned from September 2010, when the Institute for Safe Medication Practice (ISMP) conducted a national survey of practitioners to assess the threat drug shortages pose to patient safety, to June 2012, when Congress reauthorized the Prescription Drug User Fee Act.
Highlights included the 2010 Drug Shortages Summit co-convened by ASHP and other stakeholders, several bills proposed to address the issue, and President Barack Obama’s 2011 Executive Order directing the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Justice to take action to reduce and prevent drug shortages. In her role as mentor, Burnworth shared resources and examples of posters for the students to use as a guide, and she discussed the nitty-gritty of poster production—how to find a printer, what the costs would be, and how to schedule poster reproductions.
She also gave the students pointers on submitting their work for presentation at meetings and conferences. All told, the process took two months from first meeting to printed poster. A mock poster session with fellow students and faculty gave Thompson and Wilson the chance to perfect their presentation and prepare them for their discussions with health providers and legislators.
The two then presented the poster four times in 2012: at the university’s Research Day, the Arizona Pharmacy Association’s Health-System Academy and Annual meetings, and ASHP’s Midyear Clinical Meeting in Las Vegas.
“Our mission was to make pharmacists aware that there was already a drumbeat for reform, and encourage them to contact their legislators and advocate support for the specific legislative items that had already been proposed,” said Thompson. “I found that people seemed much more inclined to take action once they realized that a proposed solution was already in place, and most of the people we spoke with indicated that they were strongly considering taking the time to contact their legislators.”
Poster Sparks New Interest in Advocacy
One goal of the project was to educate Thompson and Wilson about political advocacy. The students followed four key steps wherein they identified the salient issue; identified local, state, and national legislators; communicated with their legislators via telephone, email, or in person; and tracked the status of their efforts by following relevant legislation through government websites. It’s a formula the students plan to use going forward.
“Finding an opportunity to get involved during our first year of school was especially rewarding as it enabled us to share our experiences with our classmates, and take on roles as leaders and educators when other students wanted advice for similar projects,” said Thompson, who indicated that he continue advocating for ways to address drug shortages and is considering branching out into other issues. Wilson intends to advocate for provider status for pharmacists and advancing the profession as a whole.
The content of the poster and the steps the students took fit well with ASHP’s grassroots advocacy, said Joseph M. Hill, ASHP’s Director of Federal Legislative Affairs.
“The timeline presents the continuum of policymaking at the federal level. It shows the slow, multiyear process. It’s almost a case study of how an issue moves through Congress,” he said. “Overall, the students’ process could be used as a guide to work on other issues, not just in meeting with members of Congress, but other stakeholders with an interest in an issue.”
—By Terri D’Arrigo