Tammie Lee Demler, B.S., Pharm.D., MBA, BCPP
Mentorship and the teaching of students is the responsibility of all practitioners as we move ahead in our efforts to ensure the health and well being of our patients through future generations. Teaching elements of drug related challenges is only one part of our mentorship responsibilities. Equally important is that we “walk the walk” through our own volunteer activities and, thus, challenge our students to do even more to help their communities. By our providing such mentorship and modeling, many pharmacists who might not otherwise have done so can come to appreciate that being seen as a key member of their community can lead to positive outcomes such as leveraging support from elected officials for scope expansion. Pharmacists engaging in community volunteer activities is one of the more visible ways of being a key part of this.
Volunteer activities that enhance and promote the role of the pharmacist should be continually explored and we should include our students whenever possible. One such area includes activities with the Department of Health (DOH). My volunteer experiences with the DOH have been among my most rewarding, not only in establishing an enhanced collaborative relationship with the Commissioner of Health, but also being able to roll up my sleeves and pitch in on activities which help our community. Drug take back days, disaster preparedness and Medicaid population-based academic detailing are among some of the activities in which I have included my students and residents.
Educating the Community
With the ever increasing number of medications available on the market and the number of total medications in use by a person today compared to decades past, the importance of responsible drug disposal has become a much more mainstream conversation. Drug take back days have become a major collaboration between agencies and offer another way the pharmacist can helpthe community and connect to agencies like the DOH. The DEA has reached out to all community agencies and partners, including the DOH, to get the word out about how to responsibly dispose of medications. I have found that this volunteer activity is a great starting point for students and residents who are new to the community volunteer experience. Activities like this can result in opportunities to educate community members and even general providers about my specialty area. For example, psychiatric medications are frequently surrendered during drug take back days and general providers, who are largely unfamiliar with such medications, ask a lot of questions about these drugs and about my specialty.
Although there were discussions about disaster preparedness prior to September 11th, 2001, the urgency of establishing training and supply distribution strategies has never been greater than since the terrorist attacks. The DOH closely focused on establishing the contents of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) and on how Points of Distribution (POD) would need to be organized to help the largest number of people in the shortest period of time. Our county’s DOH developed a civilian medical response team—Specialized Medical Assistance and Response Team (SMART) as a key strategy in mobilizing an organized trained team to step in if and when disaster strikes. As part of the NYS SMART team, I serve as the receiving pharmacist and am responsible for signing in our SNS and although not all pharmacists will be able to share my experience in volunteering in this role, there are many volunteer activities available in similar disaster preparedness and civilian medical assistance in your own communities. Students and residents have assisted me in exploring the regulations in storage and handling of controlled substances as well as reviewing the contents of the SNS and making recommendations for what could and should be considered in the future. I have also included them in simulated disaster preparedness missions that require a large number of trained medical professionals to triage, prepare and provide care to “victims” in the field.
Medicaid and a Role for Academic Prescriber Education
Medicaid population-based academic detailing has become an increasingly popular alternative to the traditional “industry” sponsored training programs, thus avoiding inappropriate, biased influence. In New York State, our DOH has worked to develop and implement a team of clinical pharmacists who are not only knowledgeable in ambulatory care pharmacy, but are also trained in communication strategies that are effective in translating DOH “key messages” into information a practitioner can use in practice. The key messages developed by our DOH have included, among others, the appropriate use of antipsychotic agents. Cost savings to tax payers as well as the safety and wellness of patients in the Medicaid program have been the primary drivers leading to success of this program.
As one of the academic detailers in this program, I have been able to incorporate both my students and residents in a number of the critical aspects of my volunteer activity. The development of drug information questions for the providers, including extensive literature reviews, is merely one aspect of student involvement. Additionally, I have allowed my students and residents to observe me when making appointments with providers who are established in the program and, thus, are comfortable with the presence of a "practitioner-in-training" being present. I have also found that when I have been asked to provide educational support to nurses within the practice, students and residents enjoy developing the training materials, as well as co-presenting some of the actual training. Some of my students and residents have assisted in the development of these key messages and have assisted in developing white papers and manuscripts surrounding these principles for further distribution and to ensure a solidified understanding.
These are just a few of the examples of volunteer community activities that enhance and promote the role of the pharmacist. As you think of your community’s needs, don’t forget the role that students can play and vast experience they can gain from these much needed volunteer opportunities.