Today, when most people think of a pharmacist, they are reminded of the person in a white coat behind the pharmacy counter, filling prescriptions and answering general health questions. Pharmacists are considered medication experts and receive extensive training about current drugs on the market and how they work within the body. As such, pharmacists are expected to provide counseling to patients on how to take medications safely, and to know which drugs work best for which disease state. In other words, pharmacists have a very direct, hands-on role in patient care.
However, this was not always the case; in fact, this image as a pharmacist has only developed relatively recently. About 70 years ago, pharmacists were strictly drug dispensers. The law dictated that pharmacists could only prepare medications for patients who presented to them with prescriptions, and forbade pharmacists from talking to them about any medical issues, or even offering advice on how to properly take their medications. Pharmacists were viewed more as scientists than part of the healthcare team.
This is the complete opposite of today’s roles and expectations of pharmacists. We are not only encouraged to talk to patients about their medications, but are mandated to do so. Current legislation on pharmacy practice requires that pharmacists make an active effort to counsel patients and answer any questions with every visit to the pharmacy—this is why, whenever you pick up prescriptions, you need to answer “yes” or “no” to the question on the pin pad asking if you have any questions about your medications. In recent years, leaders in healthcare and legislators have recognized that pharmacists, as medication experts, are an underutilized resource. They realize that integrating pharmacists into the healthcare team can make a huge impact on improving health outcomes of patients and reducing healthcare costs. Because of this, the roles of pharmacists are expanding. While we certainly need pharmacists behind the counter answering patient questions and ensuring safety, we also need pharmacists in more clinical roles in hospitals and outpatient settings, helping to make important therapy decisions.
Because of this, there has never been a more exciting time to be in the profession of pharmacy. This is only the beginning of a new and increasingly patient-centered focus for our profession. However, we would never have made it to this point were it not for advocacy. As pharmacists and pharmacy students, we know exactly what we are capable of based on our training, but this knowledge will not advance our profession until we share it with current members of the healthcare team and our legislators. The only way we will be able to reach our full potential and gain the most out of our training is through advocating for our profession—to convince those making decisions why pharmacists are critical to patient care, and how exactly we can help reduce healthcare costs and improve patient outcomes.
The School of Pharmacy recognizes how critical it is that student pharmacists become involved in advocacy, as we are the future of our profession. As such, the school requires that all students participate in an advocacy trip in Washington, D.C. in the fall of their PII year so we can understand the importance of advocacy and help our legislators understand what we can bring to the table. In D.C. we meet in groups with our local Senate and House representatives and hold discussions about current legislation we would like to see passed that will not only advance our profession, but also lead to improved health outcomes of patients and reduced healthcare spending. This trip has been one of the best experiences I’ve had at the School of Pharmacy thus far. It has not only helped me to appreciate the role of a pharmacist even more, but also made me feel as though I’m making a difference in the future of my profession.
Additionally, if advocacy is something that students particularly enjoy, they have the option to become involved in Duquesne’s chapter of the Pennsylvania Pharmacist’s Association (PPA). Through this organization, students can not only learn more about current legislation about pharmacy in Pennsylvania, but also have the opportunity to travel to Harrisburg to meet with local legislators about laws specific to Pennsylvania we would like to pass. Organizations such as this, as well as the annual D.C. trip, are only two of the countless reasons why I love the School of Pharmacy so much.
As student pharmacists, we are are the future of our profession. If we are to make strides in advancing our roles and helping patients to the best of our abilities, we need to ensure that we advocate for legislation that will help us do so. Advocacy is extremely important, and it is encouraging, not only for students but for the entire profession, that Duquesne University sees the value in sending students to actively participate in the legislative process that will enable us to shape our future.