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My background as a physician and my work in healthcare technology has allowed me to work alongside many different types of clinical providers – including pharmacists. It makes sense that collaboration is key to understanding and advancing technology that supports how we all deliver patient care. But could collaboration also benefit patient care itself? Are pharmacists trained to provide clinical care?
A few of my colleagues shared their experiences, education and training as pharmacists to help debunk some of the misconceptions about pharmacists’ ability to provide accessible, clinical care services to patients across the country.
This is the first of a two-part series. Check back next month for part two.
Shannon Reidt, Pharm.D., MPH, MS, BCPS, Director of Medication Research and Analytics
Bri Palowitch, Pharm.D., BCPG, Informatics Clinician
Meg Murphy, Pharm.D., Pharmacy and Regulatory Affairs Manager
Fact: Safely dispensing medications is just one of the ways pharmacists are trained to support patient care, but it doesn’t end there. More than half of the nation’s licensed pharmacists are Doctors of Pharmacy. They receive as much classroom clinical instruction as medical doctors, according to a Deloitte report on the profession’s future.
Pharmacists must earn an undergraduate degree or complete multiple years of undergraduate work before starting pharmacy school. According to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, most students graduate with a Pharm.D. after first completing a 4-year program that equips them to practice in a broad range of settings, including primary care.
Shannon Reidt: After receiving my Pharm.D. degree, I completed a two-year pharmacy residency, providing clinical pharmacy services, care for complex patients and teaching pharmacy students, which also helped me earn a master's degree in public health and board certification as a pharmacotherapy specialist (BCPS). As a result of my education and training, I've been able to build and evaluate clinical pharmacy programs in a variety of settings, including primary care clinics, home care agencies and skilled nursing facilities.
Through my career, I have applied my clinical and analytics skills to demonstrate the value pharmacists bring to the health care team by ensuring patients take medications that are appropriate, safe and effective.
Meg Murphy: I received my bachelor's degree in pharmaceutical science and entered a 4-year pharmacy program, allowing me to work in community-based pharmacy settings and as an advocate helping to advance the practice of pharmacy. The practice of pharmacy is incredibly multi-faceted and that’s because our education focuses on how to treat and manage health conditions, including an emphasis on self-care and preventative care strategies. This patient care training also prepares graduates to mitigate health disparities and address public health concerns.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, more than 360,000 pharmacists were trained to administer the COVID-19 vaccine when it became available. Since then, pharmacy teams have administered more than half of the COVID-19 vaccines in the United States and today there are over a half a million pharmacists, student pharmacists and technicians trained to administer routine vaccinations to patients of all ages.
Fact: Pharmacists’ education provides a foundation for them to practice as an extension of primary care providers, especially with respect to chronic condition management. Pharmacists’ education teaches a process by which pharmacists evaluate the indication, effectiveness, safety and convenience of drug therapy. Equipped with this skill set, pharmacists are ideal collaborators among the health care team and can manage complex medication regimens. They can also provide prevention services like health assessments, screenings and test-to-treat for common illnesses, like conducting a test for streptococcal pharyngitis (strep throat) and prescribing treatment as needed.
Many pharmacists pursue additional specialized training in clinical settings after graduating, including one- and two-year residency programs focused on certain patient populations or disease states. In addition, licensed pharmacists can also become board certified in one of more than 14 recognized Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS), with approximately 50,920 total active BPS credentials in the United States in 2022.
Pharmacy residencies have grown from 5,127 in 2019 to 5,832 in 2023, according to this report from the American Society of Health System Pharmacists. Moreover, 4,890 people matched with 2,162 pharmacy residency programs across the country in this year alone, signaling the value of pharmacists with advanced clinical training.
Bri Palowitch: Like many others in the practice today, after I earned my Pharm.D. degree, I furthered my specific interests and earned my board certification in geriatric pharmacy (BCGP). With these added credentials, I am recognized as a medication expert for the aging population.
As our aging population grows in the United States, the need for more high-touch care is likely to increase along with it. Pharmacists are experts in medication management, and they are also widely accessible to patients. With nine in ten Americans living within five miles of a pharmacy, there’s clear opportunity for pharmacists to deliver the clinical care patients need.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 5 Americans will be classified as elderly by 2050 and more than a quarter of U.S. adults face multiple common chronic conditions, like diabetes and hypertension. One analysis of high-risk patients found they visited their community pharmacy an average of 35 times per year, compared to four visits to their primary care provider and nine visits to specialists.
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