Alumna Vyishali Dharbhamalla finds her voice in pharmacy advocacy

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May 24, 2021

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During her time at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, Vyishali Dharbhamalla, PharmD ’19, BSPS ’15, learned how vital pharmacists are in their patients’ health care while working at a community pharmacy.

“I remember an interaction where a patient spoke to a pharmacist to get advice about her son’s health regarding what medications to use before speaking to their physician,” Dr. Dharbhamalla said. “I saw how accessible pharmacists are and the impact they have in the health care system.”

Now, as the manager of professional affairs at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP), Dr. Dharbhamalla works to support pharmacists in expanding their expertise – and she credits her time at Ohio State with preparing her.

Finding a path in advocacy

When Dr. Dharbhamalla started the Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences (BSPS) program at Ohio State, she knew she wanted to do something to affect health care on a large scale but wasn’t sure what.

Her mentors at the College of Pharmacy helped her chart a path for herself. Associate Dean for Outreach and Engagement Jen Rodis, PharmD, BCPS, FAPhA, played a particularly important role by helping Dr. Dharbhamalla get involved in advocacy as a student.

Dr. Rodis urged her to join and seek leadership in several student organizations. An experience with two of these organizations – the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) and Ohio State Advocacy Collaboration – solidified her interest in pharmacy advocacy.

2016 Visit with congressional staff in Ohio photo
2016 visit with congressional staff in Ohio

NCPA sent students to Capitol Hill to speak with legislators about the field of pharmacy. Dr. Dharbhamalla was surprised by how willing legislators were to listen to students like her.

“I realized I can make a difference as a student; I don’t have to wait until I’m more established in my career to drive positive change,” she said. “People wanted to hear my voice. As a student, the policymakers are very receptive to what I was saying.”

Dr. Dharbhamalla helped establish the Ohio State Advocacy Collaboration, a student organization that allows students to take an active role in working with lawmakers and stakeholders to encourage provider status for pharmacists – a provision that would formally recognize pharmacists as health care providers under state law, making it easier and more accessible for patients to receive care.

The organization hosted Ohio Sen. Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls) to discuss Senate Bill 265, which would establish provider status for pharmacists under Ohio law. Dr. Dharbhamalla and her peers discussed the bill with Sen. Dolan, the bill’s primary sponsor, and gained a better understanding of what it would take to pass the legislation. In January 2019, Gov. John Kasich signed SB 265 into law. The experience stressed to Dr. Dharbhamalla the importance of having a seat at the table and advocating for what you believe in.

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“I wanted to learn how advocacy and policy can make a difference on a larger scale.”

Dr. Dharbhamalla and Rep. Beth Liston photo
Vyishali Dharbhamalla, PharmD ’19, BSPS ’15

Involvement leads to opportunity

Photo with Senator Burke
Dr. Dharbhamalla with Ohio state Sen. David Burke

In her final year of the PharmD program at Ohio State, Dr. Dharbhamalla attended a fundraiser that Ohio Pharmacists Association (OPA) hosted and spoke with OPA staff about her experiences in student organizations. The staff informed her about a new fellowship opportunity in association management and urged her to apply.

The opportunity for the OPA fellowship came at a time when Dr. Dharbhamalla began to think beyond helping patients one-on-one in clinical pharmacy.

“I wanted to learn how advocacy and policy can make a difference on a larger scale,” Dr. Dharbhamalla said. “As much as I wanted to practice at the top of my license, I realized this cannot be accomplished without the policies and regulations guiding us.”

As executive fellow in association management at OPA, Dr. Dharbhamalla learned how to manage an association – from finances to staffing committee meetings to penning continuing education articles and immunization training program updates, skills that would prove valuable in the next phase of her career.

In her current role at AMCP, Dr. Dharbhamalla supports the organization’s mission to ensure patients have access to high-quality, cost-effective medications and other therapies through her work as a staff liaison to several national organizations. She spearheads the thought leadership work of the organization through the management of partnership forums and assists the policy and government relations team as a clinical expert.

Dr. Dharbhamalla credits her time in various student organizations, working in community and hospital pharmacy settings, and her fellowship with providing real-world patient insights that inform her current work.

“During my fellowship and current job, I see the impact that legislative and regulatory changes have on the system,” she said. “My experience as a pharmacy technician, pharmacy intern, and pharmacist helped educate me about the field of pharmacy and provided me the background knowledge to draw upon as I’m speaking to the different members of AMCP.”

Carving the future of pharmacy

Students at OPA Legislative Day photo
Students at OPA Legislative Day in 2018

The experiences Dr. Dharbhamalla gained in pharmacy advocacy during her time at Ohio State, OPA and AMCP have solidified her notion that professional associations can have a large, long-term impact on the profession.

“How can we make large-scale changes within pharmacy to ensure pharmacists are able to practice to the top of their license? We have to be at the table where health care decisions are made,” Dr. Dharbhamalla said. “Because if we’re not, especially for policy and in Washington, we can’t provide the necessary care for our patients.”

Dr. Dharbhamalla sees the future of pharmacy transitioning from a fee-for-service model to value-based care, where quality of care becomes integral when taking care of patients. She also envisions pharmacists playing a much larger role in the health care system – not only providing patients their medications but also focusing more on providing clinical expertise to patients.

“As pharmacists start working in different roles within the health care system, we’re going to have a larger voice at the table,” she said. “And if we’re at the table, we can make crucial legislative changes to better serve our patients.”