Be a good idea champion
Student pharmacists are sometimes told that they don’t know enough yet to create legislative or policy change. They are told that they need to wait, that they aren’t ready. Well, I am here to tell you being ready is overrated. With the state of the world, there isn’t time to waste. There are many good policy ideas, but not every good idea has a champion. Students can—and should—be those champions.
If asked to describe myself, I would say that I am a student pharmacist at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, a cat mom, and a Taylor Swift stan. While arguably those are equally important to me, I am writing this from my student perspective. In the 2019 Minnesota state legislative session, I championed a good idea and I was able to successfully create a new state law.
Find your fellow champions
It started with a good idea, not a new idea: medication repositories. Medication repositories aim to reduce medication waste from long-term care facilities that are still safe and unexpired and donate these medications to those in need. Twenty-one other states already had operational programs.
I found out about medication repositories when I took the PCAT. Starting pharmacy school, I knew I wanted to be involved with them, but eventually found out that for Minnesota to have a medication repository, the legislation would have to change. I decided to try to do just that.
When this journey started, I had never worked with policy on a legislative level. I didn’t understand the process and I didn’t know what to do. So, I asked for help and guidance. I also made and learned from many mistakes along the way. This process of learning and growing is exactly what makes students such perfect champions.
I did not try to change state legislation alone, because you cannot do it alone! There were many students who partnered with me. We were able to arrange meetings that can be difficult to procure once you are out in the working world. Using our student status, we met with the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy, multiple health care organizations, and state legislators.
On May 31, 2019, Minnesota Governor Tim Waltz signed the Health and Human Service Omnibus bill into law, which included the language for the medication repository. Starting January 2020, Minnesota statute 151 will now contain language that permits and sets the general safety regulations—not expired, no opioids, room temperature, etc.—for a medication repository to exist in Minnesota.
Don’t fear failure
Changing legislation doesn’t require extensive knowledge, but it does require time. Honestly, if this process had to be summarized in one word it would be “meetings.” You have to get as many people and organizations as possible to believe in your idea. Most of the time these meetings must be held Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm. Once you enter the working world, this can be difficult to manage. As a student though you can study at 10 am or 10 pm.
Failure is also part of the process of anything worth doing. If there is a possibility that I can fail at something before someone is paying me to do it, I always try to take it. Additionally, the fact that we weren’t being paid was another reason that legislators liked us. They knew that what we were there for no other reason than that we believed in a program.
In summary, you don’t have to know the entire process—you can learn along the way. Don’t be afraid to fail, because you are going to. Ask for guidance and build a team. Being a student is not a hold on your life. You can create the change, you can bring the ideas forward, and you can be the champion right now.
Rowan Mahon is a final-year PharmD candidate at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities College of Pharmacy.