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Love for Pharmacy and Midyear Meeting Learnings Contribute to Airplane Passenger Rescue

Feb 13, 2023
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Mirna Hanna, PharmD, BCPS, MPH, CCP, CIC, BCMTMS

THE THURSDAY NIGHT FLIGHT FROM Las Vegas to Newark, N.J., should have been a quiet one for pharmacists leaving the ASHP 2022 Midyear Clinical Meeting & Exhibition last December with time to reflect on new learnings. Instead, pharmacists Sylvia Narciso, PharmD, MS; Mirna Hanna, PharmD, BCPS, MPH, CCP, CIC, BCMTMS; and pharmacy student Anant Shah found themselves working together with a few others to help manage a male passenger experiencing a medical emergency.

Passion for Pharmacy

Despite some nerve-wracking moments, the pharmacists said the experience highlighted why they chose to pursue pharmacy and the importance of attending professional meetings like ASHP’s Midyear meeting.

“[Treating a medical emergency] is definitely not something that anyone anticipates doing when coming back from a pharmacy conference,” said Dr. Narciso, an ASHP member and a program director and clinical pharmacy specialist in the emergency department at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut. But as the pharmacists on the flight talked through the differentials of what could be causing the man’s illness, all the learnings from their collective formal education and on-the-job training came to mind, she said.

Dr. Hanna, a pharmacy leader in the pharmaceutical industry, noted the remarkable diversity within the pharmacy profession. “We can be in a room full of pharmacists, and no two pharmacists do the same thing. The impact that we bring to the healthcare industry is incredible,” said Dr. Hanna, an ASHP member since 2014.

Mr. Shah, a fourth-year pharmacy student at the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, witnessed the pharmacists come together to treat the patient quickly and efficiently.

“They really just went with it, from doing a mini mental status exam to checking his pupils with an iPhone flashlight,” he said.

Mr. Shah, a student member of ASHP, soon found himself setting up a glucometer and running for additional oxygen tanks as each one was used up. Although Mr. Shah is currently on an infectious disease rotation at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., “the experience on the flight and talking to pharmacists around me has made me much more interested in certain areas of pharmacy that I otherwise wouldn’t have known much about.”

Thanks to the pharmacists’ quick work and expertise, the pilots avoided making an emergency landing. They continued to their destination, where local paramedics picked up the passenger and took him to the hospital for further care.

Midyear Meeting Impact

Dr. Narciso said being at the ASHP Midyear meeting was incredibly motivating and the perfect precursor to this in-flight event. The first in-person Midyear meeting in three years attracted more than 20,000 attendees.

Sylvia Narciso, PharmD, MS

“I hadn’t been back in about five years, and just being around all of these great pharmacists working in hospitals and doing great work around the country—it’s just so invigorating in and of itself,” she said.

One session she enjoyed—and pulled lessons from on the flight home—was called Avoiding Paralysis by Analysis.

“It was basically about how to make better decisions in practice,” Dr. Narciso said. Seeing this critical patient and intervening brought home all of the lessons. “When you’re in pharmacy school, you take the oath of a pharmacist and you’re basically devoting yourself to a lifetime of service to others,” she said. “That oath doesn’t stop when you walk out the door of your hospital or community pharmacy. Sometimes it happens thousands of feet in the air.”

The Midyear session was particularly helpful because “a lot of the time, you’re making on-the-spot decisions and clinical recommendations,” she added. “That’s kind of what we were doing there, too. We were all taking information that we’ve learned through our various trainings, and we’re putting that to use with this person who became our collective patient.”

Mr. Shah said the Midyear for him was “a holistic conference.” He was inspired by the poster and continuing education sessions, as well as talking with other pharmacists.

Pharmacy is “not just about counting pills,” he said. “It is about drugs and patients and how we can put the two together. Just because we know the pharmacology and the pharmacokinetics behind the drug doesn’t mean that it’s always applicable to patients. There are a lot of differences between patients that make each drug very different from person to person. I like the fact that through pharmacy and patient interactions, we have a better understanding of how to individualize therapy.”

“I love the impact that we have. I love that we are drug experts. I love that we think creatively about how to use medication because of the knowledge that we have,” Dr. Hanna added. “I have three daughters, and when I come home from work, they always ask me, ‘Mommy, who did you save today?’ I love being able to really show them how we can make a difference. It’s just the most rewarding profession.”

By Karen Blum

Note: More information about the medical emergency on the flight can be found in an article published in the American Journal of Managed Care.

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