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September 28, 2021

Pharmacogenomics: Trailblazers Welcome

Amanda Elchynski, Pharm.D.

AMANDA ELCHYNSKI, PHARM.D., HAD AN ‘AH-HA’ MOMENT in her third year of pharmacy school. During her studies, she worked as a community pharmacy intern, counseling patients, and performing all of the other duties of a pharmacist. Like many other pharmacists and health care providers, she also became frustrated seeing patients respond inconsistently to their medications.

A New Career Direction

“During that same year, I took a course on pharmacogenomics, and it really opened my eyes as to why the patients I was seeing were having these variable responses,” said Dr. Elchynski, who at the time, was a clinical pharmacogenetics fellow at the Center for Pharmacogenomics and Precision Medicine, Department of Pharmacotherapy and Translational Research at the University of Florida (UF) College of Pharmacy. She pointed to research showing that genes may account for up to 95% of the variability in response to medications and that a growing number of gene-drug pairs can help guide prescribing to optimize treatment efficacy and safety.

After realizing the value of pharmacogenomics in patient care, Dr. Elchynski completed a rotation in pharmacogenomics in the outpatient setting, where she reviewed results directly with patients and found that many patients were relieved to understand why their medication wasn’t working or was causing side effects.

“Finding out the results also made patients more amenable to changing medications,” noted Dr. Elchynski, who is now a Pharmacogenomics Coordinator at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. “I want to deliver this up-and-coming care approach and also help expand it from being available only to select groups and locations to being widely used as a standard of care,” she said.

While pharmacogenomics is an exciting and cutting-edge field, one of Dr. Elchynski’s preceptors said that, partly because they have limited exposure to the topic during their studies, only a small subset of students wants to enter a career in the field.

Educational Programs in Pharmacogenomics

Emily Cicali, Pharm.D

“It’s hard to think about pursuing something as a career path if you only hear about it for two or three hours in your entire pharmacy curriculum,” said Emily Cicali, Pharm.D., clinical assistant professor in the department of pharmacotherapy and translational research at UF College of Pharmacy.

She said pharmacogenomics is spread throughout the didactic pharmacy curriculum at UF because “it is a concept that transcends any specific disease state.” UF pharmacy students learn about the topic through core courses as well as elective opportunities, like a clinical application course, a summer intensive research program for students in the Pharm.D. program, a fourth-year pharmacogenomics elective advanced practice rotation, and pharmacogenomics residencies and fellowships, she said. The residency/fellowship offers pharmacists the opportunity “to live and breathe everything pharmacogenomics,” Dr. Cicali explained.

“Once residents gain baseline knowledge of the topic, they start writing consult notes, either in the form of recommendations for clinical interventions or as part of a clinical trial,” she explained. “And every resident does a deep dive into one gene-drug pair and creates a best practice alert for providers in the electronic health record, and they participate in a research project that’s pharmacogenomics related.”

Pharmacists considering a career in pharmacogenomics can look forward to employing both clinical and research skills, Dr. Cicali enthused. “It’s an evolving field, so you can combine skillsets in really interesting ways, like collecting metrics for clinical practice in order to show growth and sustainability of the program,” she said. “Every day is different, which is one of my favorite things about this work.”

Encouraging Patient-Learners

To help pique his own students’ interest in the field, ASHP Fellow George E. MacKinnon III, R.Ph., Ph.D., M.S., Founding Dean of the School of Pharmacy and professor in the genomic sciences and precision medicine center at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and his colleagues have created a first-year pharmacy class on pharmacogenomics that turns students into “patient-learners.”

Julie Johnson, Pharm.D.

In addition to presenting the course material through conventional pedagogical approaches, students submit their own saliva for pharmacogenomics testing if they are willing to do so. They then discuss the results with their peers, focusing on the relevance of the results to their or their families’ medication histories, Dr. MacKinnon explained.

“Getting some perspective as to what this testing really means gets students very excited about the topic,” he said. “The reality is that 97% of us have a clinically significant gene variant that could result in sub-optimal therapy or side effects, and these could be mitigated if we guide treatment with pharmacogenomics.”

MacKinnon is confident the field will attract an increasing number of students and pharmacists, given the growing importance he expects it to play in clinical practice.

“I think it will become our bread and butter and no different than what we started doing 30 years ago in the hospital setting, when pharmacists began pharmacokinetic monitoring in our patients receiving anti-infectives, theophylline, and other agents that were managed for optimal outcomes and reduced toxicities,” said Dr. MacKinnon.

Opportunities and Professional Growth

Trained graduates with expertise in pharmacogenomics can expect a growing number of job opportunities, agreed long-time ASHP member Julie Johnson, Pharm.D., Dean and Distinguished Professor of the UF College of Pharmacy said.

“The number of health systems hiring people with this expertise in the field is rapidly expanding,” she said, noting that UF has 16 faculty members focused on the clinical and research aspects of pharmacogenomics.

“I see a lot of demand moving forward, but if pharmacists are not there to lead pharmacogenomics at an institution, [administrative] leaders will turn to nurses or physicians or genetic counselors to do so,” she noted. “For people who are creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial, I think there are a ton of ways to be a trailblazer, like implementing pharmacogenomics in the healthcare setting, being a leader in research or working in the private sector to develop tools to help advance the field.”

 

By David Wild

 

 

September 8, 2021

Pharmacists at the Helm of Pharmacogenomics Efforts

Pat Peters and his daughter, Trish Brown

AFTER SUFFERING A HEART ATTACK IN 2014, Pat Peters needed a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) – a procedure that many Americans undergo each year. However, unlike most other patients, Peters was lucky to have a seasoned genetic counselor and pharmacogenomics advocate by his side.

Pharmacogenomics Impact

“When my dad’s physician placed an order for clopidogrel as antiplatelet therapy, I knew from a pharmacogenomics test that he was one of the [small number] of the population that are CYP2C19 poor metabolizers, so clopidogrel would have been ineffective for him,” said Pat’s daughter, Trish Brown, who is director of AMR Payer Partnerships and Field Market Access at Illumina, a genetic sequencing company based in San Diego.

With over 20 years of experience in the genomics industry, Brown knew pharmacogenomics could immensely improve treatment decisions and improve the likelihood a drug will be safe and effective. With that in mind, she had her father’s genome preemptively tested for known gene-drug pairs. When it came time for the discussion with the cardiologist about post-PCI antiplatelet therapy, Brown informed the physician of her father’s CYP2C19 status.

“Thankfully, the cardiologist accepted the genomic results and chose an alternative agent, but unfortunately, there was no place to include the test results in the EHR other than as a PDF attached to a clinical encounter, where it would really just sit and not be seen,” Brown said, noting the hospital also did not have any staff that knew how to order or interpret genetic test results.

Pioneering Pharmacogenomics

Peters’ experience stands in contrast to the care pharmacists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, help provide. For the past 30 years, pharmacists have been incorporating pharmacogenomics results to help their physicians make the best treatment decisions possible.

Mary Relling, Pharm.D.

Although the hospital’s patient population is almost entirely pediatric, there was one instance where pharmacogenomics proved invaluable when a patient needed antiplatelet therapy, explained Mary Relling, Pharm.D., who holds an endowed chair in the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the hospital.

“This particular patient was ordered clopidogrel, and we had tested her CYP2C19 status in advance and found she lacked the gene needed to activate clopidogrel. Thus the drug would have been ineffective for preventing stroke,” said Dr. Relling, who spoke during a Pharmacogenomics Virtual Summit jointly organized by ASHP and the American Medical Association.

Avoiding potentially ineffective care in this patient “goes to show that while it’s usually a minority of the population that has a high-risk genotype, for that small percentage of patients, pharmacogenomics testing can yield a really big benefit,” she said.

Pharmacogenomics is deeply embedded at St. Jude, with Dr. Relling and her team regularly testing for genes like thiopurine methyltransferase (TPMT) and CYP2D6, which affect the metabolism of medications more commonly used there, like thiopurines for leukemia and codeine for pain.

Implementing Actionable Findings

Since 2011, pharmacists at St. Jude leading the PG4KDS program have tested for hundreds of gene variants and used those genetic data to improve medication efficacy and safety outcomes. They have so far enrolled nearly 6,000 patients and implemented 14 genes affecting 66 drugs, Dr. Relling said.

“We want to implement as many actionable findings into the electronic health record as we can, along with decision support tools, and we want to provide specific recommendations to help make better treatment decisions,” explained Dr. Relling.

One of Dr. Relling’s most significant contributions to the field of pharmacogenomics was co-founding the Clinical Pharmacogenetics Implementation Consortium (CPIC) in 2009. The 400 members of CPIC, from 269 institutions in 36 countries, generate peer-reviewed and evidence-based guidelines for providers, pharmacists, and laboratories to follow.

“We want to make these guidelines freely available to whichever institutions and laboratories want to incorporate pharmacogenomics into routine care,” Dr. Relling said. She noted that while institutions using pharmacogenomics are in the minority today, “the number is slowly growing.”

Incorporating Findings in the EHR

While Dr. Relling and her CPIC partners are developing guidelines for pharmacogenomics-based decision making, affiliates of the Implementing Genomics in Practice (IGNITE) Consortium are focusing on how best to incorporate and implement these results into the healthcare workflow.

At the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, which is an IGNITE affiliate, Nita Limdi, Pharm.D., Ph.D., MSPH, director of the program for translational pharmacogenomics and associate director of the Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute, and her colleagues are documenting what they believe will be better outcomes when genomic information is used to guide the treatment of patients like Pat Brown undergoing PCI.

To improve the chances that pharmacogenomics results are integrated into the treatment decision-making process, Dr. Limdi and a health system informatics team are developing a “genomic medicine landing page” in their EHR, where pharmacogenomic results and recommendations will be housed.

“Our position has always been that once you find something that is important to patient care, you put it in the hands of clinicians,” said Dr. Limdi, an ASHP member.

Preemptive Whole Panel Testing

Dr. Limdi hopes to further expand use of pharmacogenomics at her institution through in-house whole-panel preemptive and reactive testing. She and her team are in the process of validating the system and plan to offer it to all hospital service lines.

Nita Limdi, Pharm.D., Ph.D., MSPH

“While most testing has been done reactively— for a patient who has not responded to treatment with an antidepressant, for example — I believe it will become fairly routine to do whole-panel testing preemptively,”Dr. Limdi said.

Dr. Limdi’s conviction that pharmacogenomics holds great value is partly rooted in her experience as a pharmacist specializing in neurosciences, when she observed patients inconsistently responding to drugs like warfarin and anti-epileptics.

“Coming from that service line gave me a really deep appreciation for how much of the variability in drug response can be accounted for by genomic factors and how useful it is to have that genomic information in the patient’s record,” she said.

Pharmacogenomics Pharmacist Teams

In another effort to increase the use of pharmacogenomics at her institution, Dr. Limdi is building a team of specialized pharmacogenomics pharmacists who will lead testing efforts at her hospital. An innovative part of the model is that these pharmacogenomics pharmacists will mentor clinical pharmacists in the use of pharmacogenomics as it applies to their specialty.

“The idea is to have our pharmacogenomics service line start by doing all the initial genotype interpretation and consults, but as they hand off those results to clinical pharmacists embedded in different units, they will also shepherd them so they can be proficient in interpreting results on their own,” said Dr. Limdi.

If the model proves successful, it could be adopted at other institutions to integrate pharmacogenomics testing into routine clinical care, she suggested. As the demand for pharmacogenomics services increases, a highly specialized pharmacogenomics service team would be free to manage more complex cases, such as those with polygenic drug response signatures.

Pharmacogenomics programs like those at St. Jude’s and the University of Alabama are only two examples of the initiatives pharmacists are leading across the country. Dr.  Limdi believes this is an area of care that will grow tremendously in the coming years. “This is very much an evolving field, and I’m really excited about the possibilities it will bring,” she said.

 

By David Wild

August 26, 2021

Johnnie L. Early II and Peter H. Vlasses Named Honorary Members of ASHP

Dr. Johnnie L. Early II, R.Ph., Ph.D., FNPhA

TWO PHARMACY LEADERS WITH A PASSION for education have been presented with Honorary Membership Awards by the ASHP Board of Directors.

The awards, which recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to pharmacy practice, were given to Johnnie L. Early II, R.Ph., Ph.D., FNPhA, dean of Florida A&M University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Institute of Public Health, in Tallahassee, and to Peter H. Vlasses, Pharm.D., D.Sc. (Hon.), FCCP, executive director emeritus of the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) in Chicago. Both were elected for life by unanimous vote.

A lifetime of pharmacy leadership

Dr. Early was recognized for his nearly four decades of pharmacy education and his dedication to expanding opportunities for youth from various racial and ethnic backgrounds to explore careers in pharmacy practice and the pharmaceutical sciences. A charter member of the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA), Dr. Early has worked tirelessly to recruit diverse students and create more diverse workforces at the several universities he has worked for. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his contributions to pharmacy, including the 2018 ASHP-ABHP Joint Leadership Award, the Outstanding Alumnus Award from the Purdue University chapter of the SNPhA, the National Pharmaceutical Association’s Chauncey I. Copper Award, and the ABHP Wendell T. Hill Award. He also was among the first to be honored as a Fellow of the National Pharmaceutical Association.

Dr. Early “is a distinguished educator and visionary leader in pharmacy,” ASHP said a formal announcement. “He has been instrumental in addressing racial disparities in healthcare, expanding opportunities for BIPOC youth to explore careers in pharmacy practice and the pharmaceutical sciences, and developing a more diverse and culturally competent healthcare workforce.”

Home grown brew    

Growing up, Dr. Early said he always had an interest in science and science fiction. But his first memory of being impressed by pharmacology was around age 5. He was sick, and laying in his bed, when his maternal grandmother came to the house and asked what was wrong. She felt his forehead, then went to the kitchen and rummaged through the knife drawer. The sound piqued Dr. Early’s curiosity (“The first thing I thought was surgery,” he laughed). Instead, his grandmother went out to the front yard, cut some leaves off a plant, and brewed him a warm, bitter tea to drink. Within 30 minutes or so, he felt better.

Years later, Dr. Early considered a variety of careers in the health sciences. As an undergraduate biology major at Fort Valley State University in Georgia, he was one of several students recruited directly by the dean of Mercer University Southern School of Pharmacy, Dr. Oliver Littlejohn. The day he started pharmacy school he was also invited to be interviewed for medical school.  He explored public health and took the Dental Aptitude test where he was asked to carve a piece of chalk. Despite his dexterity, the chalk broke, and his career in pharmacy began. After graduating from Mercer, Dr. Early went on to receive his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in pharmacology/toxicity from Purdue University.

A dedication to academics

Dr. Early has had a long academic career, holding several positions at Florida A&M including program director of the Minority Biomedical Research Support Program, assistant dean for research, and dean. He then served as dean and professor for the Medical University of South Carolina and for the University of Toledo, in Ohio, before returning to Florida A&M in 2018 for his current role.

Inspired by the dean who recruited him to pharmacy school, Dr. Early has made a point of recruiting potential trainees in person when possible. Over the past two decades, he has established programs at the University of Toledo and at Florida A&M through which minority high school students spend a few days on campus learning more about pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences careers. Last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the course was shortened and put online, but students still got some hands-on experience, including making capsules.

“I’m a guy who likes to work,” he said. “And I’m always trying to figure out how to make my people and programs better. Every time somebody gets hired with us, and then is promoted and moves on to higher positions, I see that not as a loss but as an applause for the program.”

Grateful and humbled          

Dr. Early, who started attending ASHP meetings when he first became dean of Florida A&M in 1987, said he was floored to receive a call from ASHP CEO Paul Abramowitz, Pharm.D., Sc.D. (Hon), FASHP, letting him know of the honorary membership award. “It was not in my thinking that that kind of award would be anything that would come my way,” he said. He thanked Dr. Abramowitz on the phone and, in his signature style, later in a handwritten note. “It’s a most significant award, and something that I’m ever so grateful for.”

Longtime pharmacy education leader

Dr. Vlasses was honored for his nearly 45 years in the pharmacy profession. During his 20-year tenure at ACPE, he oversaw the accreditation of the professional degree program in pharmacy; strengthened continuing professional education and development for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians; and championed interprofessional collaboration in education and accreditation. He also led the establishment of the ACPE International Services Program and supported its reach to improve pharmacy education and training worldwide.

Dr. Peter H. Vlasses, Pharm.D., D.Sc. (Hon.), FCCP

In 2014, Dr. Vlasses joined forces with ASHP to create the Pharmacy Technician Accreditation Commission (PTAC) to assure and advance the quality of pharmacy technician education and training programs. He has received numerous honors including the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy’s Board of Directors Distinguished Service Award and the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education Pioneer Award.

“Dr. Vlasses is a prominent leader in pharmacy who was a significant ASHP partner in developing the ASHP/ACPE national accreditation standards for pharmacy technician education and training programs,” ASHP said a formal announcement. “His vision, commitment, and collaborative leadership have helped strengthen the foundation of excellence in accreditation of the education of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in the United States and around the world.”

A desire to change the world

Dr. Vlasses’ parents were Greek immigrants. As the older of two sons, he was expected to take over the family’s restaurant/bar and liquor store in Camden, N.J. This was in the 1960s, when young people were talking about changing the world and working to serve others. Dr. Vlasses said he didn’t see the liquor store/bar part of the business as helping, so he reluctantly approached his father and asked about pursuing college and a profession.

Instead of being upset, his father talked through three career choices with him. They ruled out medicine because Dr. Vlasses was squeamish around blood. They ruled out law because as a native Greek speaker, he had some challenges with English. But a family friend was a pharmacist with his own store. After a visit, Dr. Vlasses chose to study pharmacy, enrolling at Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science. He attended his first ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting as a student in 1970, when pharmacy education was starting to change. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy, Dr. Vlasses completed a one-year hospital pharmacy residency at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and then completed his Pharm.D. education at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science.

Passion for research and academia

Dr. Vlasses then spent many years in academia, working for Ohio State, the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, and Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He got involved in research and was elected president of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy. At the time, there was some controversy over whether pharmacists could be clinical investigators on research trials. He wrote to the Food and Drug Administration to inquire if that was permitted; the agency said it was.

“A lot of people subsequently told me that letter helped them do research and get funding,” he said. “That was something I always valued that I contributed to the profession.”

During that time, Dr. Vlasses also became more involved with professional organizations including ASHP, serving on the Council on Therapeutics and on the Research and Education Foundation and Awards program, before moving to ACPE in 1999. Not only did he help develop PTAC seeing that pharmacy technicians needed better training, but when he joined the organization, he worked to improve accredited continuing education standards for continuing education for pharmacy technicians.  providers in pharmacy who were also committed to interprofessional continuing education.

Interprofessional collaboration

“When I joined ACPE, I saw medical professionals learning in silos—doctors in medical school, nurses in nursing school, etc.,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of interactions to say we’re on the same team, we should learn and practice together, and everybody should contribute at the top of their license.”

Dr. Vlasses worked to change the accreditation standards for pharmacy degree programs so students were “team ready” at graduation, with education in the classroom, clinical experience, and exposed to interprofessional education in practice. Similarly, he worked with accreditor colleagues from other health professions to improve accredited continuing education standards to facilitate team-based continuing education, “planned by the team and for the team.” He initially developed joint CE accreditation standards for pharmacy, nursing and medicine. That has since grown to include acceptance by accreditors for CE accreditors for athletic trainers, dentists, dietitians, optometrists, physician assistants, psychologists, and social workers. Any combination of those trainees can learn together and receive CE credit in their professional as well as interprofessional CE credit.

Living the American dream  

Dr. Vlasses retired in 2019. He said when he received the call from Dr. Abramowitz about the honorary membership award, “I was very much honored that ASHP and the board would see me in that light, and valued the contributions I have made as a member of the organization and as a pharmacist. Starting out as a son of a Greek immigrant and the first college graduate in my family to being able to be recognized by a number of pharmacy organizations and ASHP was in many cases the American dream for me.”

 

By Karen Blum

 

July 26, 2021

For P1s, Getting Involved with ASHP is Key to Success

Lisa Lubsch, Pharm.D., rounds with student pharmacists.

TAKE IT FROM EXPERIENCED PHARMACISTS: getting involved early on with professional organizations like ASHP is crucial to building a successful career and enjoying all that the profession has to offer.

“Engaging with ASHP as a first-year (P1) pharmacy student allows them to explore more career paths, take on leadership roles within the organization and develop skills that will benefit them in post-graduate training and throughout their careers,” said Lauren Pamulapati, Pharm.D., assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Pharmacy in Richmond.

Free Membership to P1 Students

Starting in 2020, ASHP has waived the membership fee for P1 students, making it easy for P1s to dive deeper into the field of health-system pharmacy. Members gain access to a host of resources to help them prepare for residency, investigate potential careers, and build an effective CV. Benefits like daily email briefings and podcasts also keep members abreast of pharmacy and healthcare news. Summer internship opportunities and networking and leadership possibilities can help pave the way for professional growth.

Dr. Pamulapati, who advises students and residents and serves on the ASHP Society of Student Health-System Pharmacists (SSHP) Advisory Panel, said she has found that students who get involved in professional organizations early on benefit more from advanced learning opportunities.

“I’ve noticed that students who actively participate in their local ASHP societies tend to feel more prepared for the post-graduate training application process, and they have a good idea of where they want to go because they have often already looked into career opportunities using ASHP resources,” said Dr. Pamulapati.

Moreover, networking through ASHP can give students a competitive edge when applying for a residency, she added. Dr. Pamulapati recalls being a student member of ASHP herself and being told that “pharmacy is a small world.”

“It was not until I was in residency and practicing that I realized how small it truly is, so I recommend to all my students that putting yourself out there early on and building a network helps you develop more quickly and fully as a professional,” said Dr. Pamulapati.

Benefits of ASHP Membership

Lisa Lubsch, Pharm.D., a longstanding ASHP member and clinical professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Pharmacy, said there are “outstanding benefits to getting involved with ASHP early in pharmacy school.” For example, she said, students can access internship and leadership opportunities, like joining an ASHP committee, advisory group, or council.

Jerika Lam, Pharm.D., pictured with Prashanti Alekal, M.D., provides student pharmacists with experiential education opportunities.

“Becoming a leader enhances your own professional development and can help you find and cultivate a relationship with a mentor,” said Dr. Lubsch, who said she has built her own network of colleagues and collaborators through ASHP.

One of Dr.  Lubsch’s students, who is now completing her P2 year, is a case study in how participation in an organization like ASHP can lead to a cascade of growth opportunities. After taking advantage of the complimentary P1 ASHP membership, the student, in short order, became the P1 liaison for her SSHP and began developing a professional network. The student also completed an ASHP Summer Internship and then became President-elect of the school’s SSHP.

“I’m eager to hear all about her internship and watch her take on more leadership roles,” said Dr. Lubsch.

This student may be exceptionally ambitious, but all P1 students can expect to come across opportunities for growth and leadership if they join ASHP, Dr. Lubsch said.

“Not only will they have the chance to learn about careers in the acute and ambulatory care settings, but the students will also gain an earlier understanding of the residency process and will be better able to prepare for it,” she added.

A Multitude of Networking Opportunities

ASHP member Jerika Lam, Pharm.D., associate professor at Chapman University School of Pharmacy in Irvine, California, hopes P1 students take advantage of the free ASHP membership and get “the same positive experience I had when I was a pharmacy student member of ASHP.”

“An ASHP membership will connect the student to the ASHP community and social network, which is huge!” Dr. Lam enthused.

Dr. Lam is the faculty adviser of her school’s ASHP-SSHP and works with student leaders to organize social and professional functions, including networking events with pharmacy managers from large health systems and pharmacist leaders in the pharmaceutical industry.

“These events always energize Chapman pharmacy students as they move towards their residency and fellowship post-graduate training programs,” said Dr. Lam.

Lauren Pamulapati, Pharm.D., counsels a patient.

Apart from residency-focused activities, Dr. Lam said P1 ASHP members have the chance to engage their political muscles by participating in advocacy campaigns and student-focused activities like the annual Clinical Skills Competition, and they can pursue scholarship opportunities.

These days, Dr. Lam enjoys participating in ASHP’s clinical sections, dropping in on conversations covering a range of topics, from COVID-19 vaccination efforts to drug shortages, and discussions around policies and protocols that affect patient care and safety.

“ASHP has a treasure trove of expert and specialist pharmacists who can be easily connected with through the clinical sections and other forums,” noted Dr. Lam.

Dr. Lam said her own early participation in ASHP’s student forum community informed her career choices and led to opportunities to work with pharmacy leaders across the country. The benefits of networking through ASHP have continued throughout her career, and she regularly learns about models of best practices from other institutions, Dr. Lam said.

“ASHP is a very large organization, but its community is close-knit, and the interactions are professional and personable,” Dr. Lam noted.

The way VCU’s Dr. Pamulapati sees it, joining ASHP is not only beneficial for members, allowing them to enjoy professional and academic perks — it is an act of service to the entire pharmacy profession.

“The future of our profession is in the hands of student pharmacists and new practitioners, and we need them to share their perspectives and help shape policies and create new initiatives,” said Dr. Pamulapati. “I think students should dive feet first into an organization, apply for leadership positions early on and take risks. You may not feel qualified at first but know that your voice is so valued.”

 

By David Wild

June 9, 2021

Pharmacy Mentor Helps Black Student Pharmacists and Practitioners Reach Their Potential

Joshua Blackwell, Pharm.D., M.S., volunteers his time to help those in his community.

THE ROAD TOWARD GREATER DIVERSITY, inclusion, and equity is long, but Joshua Blackwell, Pharm.D., M.S., clinical pharmacy manager for ambulatory services at UT Southwestern Medical Center, is committed to seeing it through as best as he can.

Helping the Underrepresented

Dr. Blackwell has spent the better part of the last decade helping underserved pharmacists move up in their careers. In 2013, during his pharmacy studies, he took on leadership positions at the Student National Pharmacy Association (SNPhA), an organization dedicated to serving the underserved. Dr. Blackwell started off as his chapter’s president but quickly rose to oversee all SNPhA chapters in the Midwest and ultimately became National President.

“I had the honor of helping the organization home in on their mission by creating innovative programs and opportunities to serve and strengthen communities,” said Dr. Blackwell, an ASHP member since 2011.

One initiative he worked on was the Prescription for Service competition, a collaboration with Walmart and Sam’s Club, which provides scholarships to pharmacy students based on projects they develop to help the underserved in their community.

“I’ll never forget the winners of the very first competition, in 2013,” Dr. Blackwell said. That project was done by pharmacy students at Howard University and led to a partnership between the University and the Capitol City Pharmacy Medical Reserves Corps, in which the school manages outreach efforts to local student organizations, including wellness fairs and scholarship opportunities. Another winning project Dr. Blackwell is particularly proud of was developed by pharmacy students at Texas A&M University and included a cleanup of a community park and a mural painted on a nearby basketball court to help promote equity and inclusion.

Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy

Joshua Blackwell, Pharm.D., M.S.

After strengthening his leadership chops at SNPhA, Dr. Blackwell co-founded the Pharmacy Initiative Leaders (PILs), a nonprofit organization aimed at empowering underrepresented individuals and “helping them, through authentic support and connection, succeed at every stage of their pharmacy journey,” he said.

“A key to the organization’s success has been creating a culture of community and going out and really cultivating and amplifying people’s strengths, particularly those who may not have an advanced education or the greatest financial resources,” said Dr. Blackwell.

Recently, he and his colleagues at PILs addressed vaccine hesitancy in Black communities through a webinar open to the public.

“When I got the COVID-19 vaccine myself, I had reactions from family ranging from, ‘I’m so happy for you, how’re you feeling?’ to, ‘Are they trying to kill you with the vaccine?’” Dr. Blackwell said, pointing to the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study as an event that spawned suspicion in Black communities regarding the motives of healthcare institutions and public health campaigns.

While historical suspicions are understandable, “People who hold on to fears based on news and social media find it hard to see the positive impact COVID-19 vaccination can have on the community,” Dr. Blackwell said.

To mitigate the impact of these fears, he and his co-presenters explained how COVID-19 vaccines work, answered questions about these medications and about the disease, and highlighted that vaccination is important for all, including Black communities.

Navigating Widespread Biases

Dr. Blackwell’s passion for helping Black pharmacy students and practitioners reach their potential was sparked when, as a student, he faced his own race-based barriers.

“As a black male at a predominantly white institution, people assumed I played football just because a lot of African American males at the university did,” said Dr. Blackwell. In other instances, he faced microaggressions, such as being told that he was “surprisingly articulate.”

Rather than taking these slights to heart, Dr. Blackwell transformed their energy into a stronger resolve to serve his community and reach greater heights. “I’ve always tried to be an example so that other people that look like me try and have a seat at the table, along with the many other underrepresented groups out there,” he said.

Divya Varkey, Pharm.D., M.S., clinical associate professor at University of Houston College of Pharmacy, has been one of Blackwell’s most admired mentors. She said Dr. Blackwell “epitomizes the idea of ‘paying it forward,’ and his passion is easy to see when it comes to providing guidance, support, and mentorship to those around him.”

“His goal for those around him is simply stated: to ensure they are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to be the best version of themselves,” Dr. Varkey said. “To that end, as a mentor himself, Dr. Blackwell spends countless hours working with mentees to help them cultivate their own definition of success and then – and most importantly – connects them to opportunities to achieve those goals.”

ASHP and Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Dr. Blackwell recently served on ASHP’s Task Force on Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), where he helped develop recommendations on marketing and advocacy. The recommendations range from calling on ASHP to provide scholarships to Black, Indigenous, and persons of color (BIPOC) to asking the organization to spotlight the accomplishments of BIPOC students.

“To make all pharmacists feel that ASHP is their home, they need to see themselves playing a role within the organization, and marketing and awareness of ASHP opportunities is one way to get more people at the table,” Dr. Blackwell said, adding that by virtue of taking on leadership roles – including currently serving as a member of ASHP’s House of Delegates  –  he believes he has helped further the cause of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“Having a seat at the table is so important because it inspires others who look like me to go further, ultimately giving them more of a voice and expanding the conversation to include other viewpoints,” said Dr. Blackwell.

He is hopeful the DEI Task Force recommendations will help chip away at society-wide racial inequality and urged ASHP members to review and reflect on the recommendations as well as the actions ASHP takes to address health disparities.

“And be a voice within your state affiliates for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts,” Dr. Blackwell urged. “While work at the national level is critical, it all starts at the state level.”

 

By David Wild

April 23, 2021

Hospital Pharmacy Leader Makes Mentorship a Top Priority

Vickie Powell, Pharm.D., M.S., FASHP

WITH A PASSION FOR MENTORSHIP and a dedication to her community and the pharmacy profession, Vickie Powell, Pharm.D., M.S., FASHP, is a pharmacist to emulate. Dr. Powell, site director of pharmacy for New York-Presbyterian Hospital, first thought about a pharmacy career during high school, where she had an interest in and maintained good grades in science. A guest speaker encouraged her and some of her high-achieving classmates to pursue careers in the medical field.

“I did not want to be a doctor because I didn’t like blood,” she said. “I didn’t want to be a dentist. So I thought pharmacy would be the best profession for me because I wouldn’t have to come in contact with all of those things. I love pharmacy. I’m glad I took that path.”

After completing pharmacy school at Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, Dr. Powell got married and moved to New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, where she took a pharmacist position at a drug store downstairs from her apartment. While she found it rewarding working in the community, she wanted to do more. Then one of her customers, a pharmacy director at Harlem Hospital, encouraged her to try hospital pharmacy.

Dr. Powell applied for and was offered a registered pharmacist job with St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital Center. She threw herself into work with enthusiasm, volunteering for everything from backing up computerized pharmacy records to learning all about then-upcoming USP <797> regulations and developing plans for a compliant I.V. room. She soon moved up to an inpatient pharmacy supervisor and developed numerous specialty satellite pharmacies throughout the hospital.

Valuable Mentorship

Because of her expertise, Dr. Powell found herself giving talks to the New York City Society of Health-System Pharmacists. At first, she wasn’t sure how to balance work and being involved in professional pharmacy societies with family life. But her supervisor and mentor, Harvey Maldow, R.Ph., believed it was so important she participate that he told Dr. Powell’s husband that he had to watch their young children while she attended meetings. She became the second African-American president of the group.

During her acceptance speech, Dr. Powell discussed mentoring and her philosophy of “Each one, teach one,” based on every mentee helping pull up someone behind them. The vice president of pharmacy at New York-Presbyterian Hospital was impressed and approached her about a director job. Maldow encouraged her to apply.

Today, Dr. Powell oversees pharmacy operations for three of the health system’s 11 hospitals, and oversees around 600 pharmacy employees. Besides her work tasks, Powell continues to make mentoring a priority, promoting good communication skills and lifelong education. She’s proud to have encouraged many technicians to become pharmacists.

“We meet on a regular basis because I don’t want to just tell people something and then hope they’ll follow it through; I try to work with them one-on-one to help them achieve whatever goals we’ve set out for them,” she said.

Community Service

Dr. Powell also maintains close ties to her community, serving for many years as a Sunday school teacher and member of the health committee at her church. Powell brings in guest speakers on topics important to their membership, such as hypertension and diabetes. One speaker, celebrity cardiothoracic surgeon Mehmet Oz (TV’s “Dr. Oz”), awarded free gym memberships to a few audience members. She also has been a special events coordinator for the Harlem Little League. More recently, Powell supervised a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at her church run by her hospital.

“I try to do a lot of things to help our community, and I do whatever I can to propel the practice of pharmacy,” she said. To that end, Dr. Powell serves on the Board of Directors for Long Island University’s College of Pharmacy and has given guest lectures at Touro College of Pharmacy. In 2009, she was the first African-American president of the New York State Council of Health-System Pharmacists.

ASHP Leadership       

Dr. Powell also has been very active in ASHP, serving over the years as a delegate as well as on several committees, including the Council on Education and Workforce Development and the Committee on Nominations. In 2020, Dr. Powell was honored to be invited to join ASHP’s Task Force on Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Dr. Powell and her colleagues celebrate receiving the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Our social and justice systems are broken, and conscious and unconscious racism exists,” she said. “We talked a lot about institutional racism, which sometimes has been embedded as a normal practice within a society or organization. We made some changes in the structure of how things will be done to assure equity for all members. I don’t think people realize how institutional racism can lead to such issues as discrimination in employment, health care, and even with access to the [COVID-19] vaccine.”

The group suggested some changes to ASHP policies, Dr. Powell said, one being that a person can only run for a board position if they had just been a delegate. “That eliminates a lot of people,” she said. The group recommended that members did not have to have delegate experience to run for a board office. They also changed governance so the chair of the house of delegates no longer presides over the nominations committee, which could be a conflict of interest.

“We opened it up so that more people would have the opportunity to run for office,” she said. “We’re going to make mentoring a big part of the process.”

Dr. Powell stands out because of her intelligence, her mentorship, her compassion, and her ability to listen to people and understand their needs, Maldow noted.

“She’s one of the best people I ever worked with in terms of how she managed both down and up, and the staff adored her,” he said. “When I look at the people I mentored in my career, she’s on the top in how successful she has been, and it’s a credit to her, not me. The only thing I take credit for is being able to identify her potential. She’s a great health-system pharmacist and someone people should model themselves after.”

 

By Karen Blum

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