March 5, 2020
Students at the College of Pharmacy are no strangers to the importance of advocating for their profession. Not only is it a component of the PharmD curriculum, but there are electives they can take, student organizations they can join – and starting this year, there was even an entire week of events devoted to the topic.
Despite all of the exposure to advocacy for COP students, there has not been a concerted effort to enable students to engage with legislators outside the classroom and within the community – to empower them with the skills to connect with legislators when they are in practice after graduation. To encourage a way to make this happen, Dean Henry J. Mann, PharmD, FCCP, FCCM, FASHP, tasked Associate Dean Jennifer Rodis, PharmD, BCPS, FAPhA, with finding a solution.
“Our preceptors have been incredible allies to the college, not only in educating our students but also working to transform the profession of pharmacy through their own advocacy,” Dr. Rodis said. “When the dean brought this idea to me, it seemed only natural to connect our fabulous students and preceptors through APPEs (advanced pharmacy practice experiences) so that students can continue to utilize the unbelievable resources we have in our preceptors to make this happen.”
Dr. Rodis recruited the help of Julie Legg, PharmD, director of experiential education; E. Michael Murphy, PharmD, pharmacy advancement fellow; and Andrew “Andy” Myers, a fourth-year PharmD student at the college, to coordinate implementation. The team chose 10 innovative pharmacy practice sites to place students for the inaugural experience – a variety of health systems, independent and chain community pharmacies, and federally-qualified health clinics.
“Andy and I have been working together on advocacy initiatives for over two years,” Dr. Rodis said. “When presented with this opportunity, he jumped right in to help, bringing passion for the possibilities and the understanding of what students needed to learn in order to feel ready to host legislators at their APPE sites. Andy and Dr. Murphy pooled their collective experience and made this happen.”
With assistance from Antonio Ciaccia, director of government and public affairs at the Ohio Pharmacists Association (OPA), Myers drafted a step-by-step guide for students on how to host a visit with a legislator, including templates and a timeline so students could follow along and know what to do and when to do it.
“When I was creating the guide with Antonio and Jen, I really wanted to focus on making this process seem as easy as possible,” Myers said. “Hosting a legislative visit for the first time can be daunting, especially when you add it in on top of other requirements students are facing during a rotation. The goal of the guide was really to equip students hosting a visit with skills they could bring into their careers to continue to advocate for our profession.”
Students were provided the guide as their primary resource as they began their nine-week rotation last fall. Myers helped students and preceptors connect with state legislators’ offices to extend the invitation. By the new year, they received a flurry of responses from legislators wanting to visit the sites.
“Once we figured out the best communication practices, the project really took off and we started to get visits scheduled,” Myers said. “There are a lot of current issues impacting Ohioans that pharmacists can play a critical role in improving, from the opioid epidemic to pharmacy benefit manager reform, so I think legislators were really excited about being invited to see what our great pharmacists and students across Ohio are doing to impact patients and improve public health.”
Four site visits have taken place since 2020 began:
- Rep. Erica Crawley of Ohio’s 26th district visited PrimaryOne Health, a federally qualified health center in Columbus. She was hosted by Cassie Rush, a fourth-year PharmD candidate, who said that throughout her hour-long visit, Rep. Crawley actively engaged in discussions with pharmacists at PrimaryOne Health and representatives from Ohio State.
- Rep. Jay Edwards of Ohio’s 94th district went to Shrivers Pharmacy and Wellness in Athens. He was hosted by student Kyle Zanath.
- Sen. Jay Hottinger of Ohio’s 31st district visited Licking Memorial Health Systems.
- Rep. Beth Liston of Ohio’s 21st district visited Giant Eagle Pharmacy and was hosted by student Ari Lopez.
With positive responses from students and preceptors, and the enthusiasm from legislators to work with students in the future, the advocacy APPE proved to be a worthy new cornerstone of the PharmD experience.
Dr. Murphy will lead the rotation next year and said that he is hopeful the college can offer this opportunity to more students.
“It is the professional responsibility of all pharmacists and students to advocate for optimal patient care. As the importance of advocacy comes into the spotlight, we must be sure to equip our students with the skills to create positive change in the health care system,” Dr. Murphy said. “Through experiences such as the advocacy APPE, students can see that engaging with legislators isn’t intimidating and can feel empowered to pursue similar efforts after graduation.”
Dr. Murphy will give a presentation about the new program at the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Annual Meeting in March.