It's World Pharmacists Day. Today on the blog, a pharmacy student talks about why he wants to be a pharmacist clinician and a key player on the health care team. By Joe Oropeza
Eleven years ago my dream of becoming a soldier in the U.S. Army – to serve my country, my community and my family – was shattered. While training exceptionally hard on an early spring day in 2006, I endured two mini-strokes (TIAs) that nearly rendered half of my body completely useless. Doctors told me that the strokes were caused by a mass in my heart that would need to be removed through open heart surgery. Now what could I do with my life? What I could physically do and how I could continue to serve my country, my family, my community?
A team of amazing health care providers were involved in my recovery, both generalists and specialists alike. Nurses tended to be the first and last people I saw. They always took the time to greet me with warmth and care, no matter how busy they were. My primary care physician, who originally sent me to the hospital, coordinated between all my specialists and facilitated my recovery. The physical therapists that helped me regain much of my strength and coordination were so kind and encouraging during my rehabilitation. However, the first visit to my PCP after being discharged was the most memorable during this timeframe as it set the stage for my future. Once the nurse finished taking my vitals she left the room with a smile saying, “the doctor will be in shortly.” Several minutes passed when I was greeted by two people in white coats. I assumed they were both physicians, but I quickly learned otherwise.
My PCP introduced his female colleague as a pharmacy resident. My initial reaction was ‘Why was there a pharmacist in the room?’ Were they going to dispense my medications here? Then the physician explained that the pharmacist was there to educate me about the slew of medications I was going to be on during recovery. How difficult could it be, I wondered. I just need to take the pills with some water, right? After my visit, my PCP left, I presumed to take care of his many other patients, leaving me and the pharmacist behind in the exam room.
Before talking about any specifics of medications, the pharmacist recognized my challenging situation and asked - “How are you feeling?” She followed that with, “This whole experience has to be scary for you, with all the procedures you’ve had and all these medications you have to take.” After about 10 to 15 minutes, the pharmacist had taught me all about what times of day I should take certain medications, how some medications work better with food in my stomach, what each medication did and how I could expect to feel on them. She even caught a duplication in my medications and was able to contact my cardiologist and cardiac surgeon, as both had ordered the same type of medication to be dispensed later that afternoon. She was able to serve as my advocate between the different specialists on my care team and make appropriate changes. This helped promote my well-being and facilitated my recovery.
That day, during my conversation with the pharmacist, I discovered my answer to how I could serve others, and a passion was ignited in me to become a pharmacist clinician. I was fired up to be a part of a team of health care professionals continually seeking to help patients attain their goals in a personalized way, while maximizing positive clinical outcomes. I entered my training with this vision in mind and soon realized that the typical health care world often doesn’t function this way. The classic, lone-wolf model, where we all work independently, is alive and well and continues to fall short of optimizing care while minimizing potential errors. Despite this, I have been able to work on some amazing teams, where we’ve collaborated to care for patients, just as my PCP and that pharmacist did in their encounter with me that day.
We need that type of collaboration to be the norm. The journey to achieving that will require diverse, inter-professional teams in primary care, in which each member is willing to step up to not only be a liaison between each person involved in a patient’s care, but also an advocate to change the system. It has been over a decade since I decided to pursue my career as a pharmacist. My commitment to that vision, where we all work in teams, empowering patients and each other, remains strong. I am encouraged and hopeful by the change I have seen around me in my training, as we collectively move toward making that vision a reality.Joe Oropeza is a third-year pharmacy student at Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. He completed his BS in biology at University of Colorado at Denver, where his passion to serve underserved populations was born. Joe is excited to work in and promote an interdisciplinary approach to patient-centered care and provide services to the underserved populations of Aurora Colorado.Check out other posts by pharmacists.