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The CPNP Consumer Relations Committee will be highlighting the volunteer activities of several CPNP members in the coming months to increase awareness of these activities and to provide insight and guidance to other CPNP members that may be interested in getting involved in volunteer activities in the future. This month, CPNP would like to highlight the volunteer efforts of one of our members, Ken Brasfield.

Ken Brasfield, PharmD, BCPP
Consultant in Clinical Psychopharmacology
Western State Hospital, Staunton, VA

What organization do you volunteer for and what does your volunteer work consist of? Ken has been volunteering for about 20 years at two local NAMI chapters. He leads a medication Q&A annually for each chapter.

How did you become involved with the local NAMI chapters? Ken became involved when he was contacted by NAMI members asking him to come to a meeting for a medication Q&A session.

How are the meetings structured and what do you do to prepare? The meeting is informal. Usually about 40 – 50 people come, including patients, family, friends, caregivers and students from local nursing schools.  It seems each year more people come to the meetings. The meetings are scheduled for about 2 hours but often run longer because, as Ken puts it, the people are hungry for information. It is truly a Q&A session. Ken doesn’t prepare anything prior. After a few opening remarks, the meeting is opened up for audience questions. The focus is to allow the group to have their questions answered. Occasionally, after the meeting Ken will pull an attendee aside and provide them with his card. Thus, if the person is interested enough to follow-up later Ken can provide more information. But this really is meant to be a one time thing. Ken doesn’t spend the following weeks fielding questions over email or the phone.

What type of topic come up during the meetings? The questions cover all topics. Some topics that tend to come up at each session include “why did my doctor give me a medication that causes diabetes?”, “Why does medication A work really well for patient 1 but not for patient 2?” and “Are there any medications in the pipeline for disease X?”

Are there advantages to having nothing prepared? The topics just flow from one question to the next in an organic manner, with no real need to steer the conversation. Ken says that by letting the audience steer the meeting he is “in the moment.” For people who might be nervous, Ken believes letting the conversation flow naturally helps to allay some performance anxiety.  It also provides an opportunity to really connect with the people, just looking into one of their eyes and everything else slides away into the background.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering with NAMI in this manner? Ken enjoys running these sessions because patients with mental illness are so knowledgeable that they can often have science based discussion beyond the usual; what is the medication for, what are its side effects, etc. Ken finds it gratifying to see when a light goes on and one of the members makes a connection from something Ken has said. It also provides an opportunity to work with real people and impact their lives.

How does volunteering relate to your work? Ken works in an inpatient setting at a state hospital and many of his patients are discharged to the local mental health clinics where the NAMI meetings occur. Because of that he often sees patients he has worked with inpatient. For Ken, seeing his former patients out in the community helps to complete the picture of how patients with mental illness really live their lives.

Why should other consider volunteering? It is important for clinical pharmacists to see patients. It reminds you that these are real people and they have real lives and are trying to recover. Also, people often ask why Ken aren’t there more clinical psychiatric pharmacists. It is a genuine complement but also shows that there is a need for more pharmacists out in the community to meet medication needs.

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