Student Pharmacist

Written by student pharmacists for student pharmacists, Student Pharmacist magazine provides the latest on career preparation, leadership, legislative activities and advocacy efforts, patient care projects, APhA–ASP Chapter innovations, life on rotation, tips from new practitioners, and more.

Jamila Negatu
/ Categories: Student Magazine

Be an advocate for patients

Michael Harvey receives the APhA Good Government Student Pharmacist-of-the-Year Award from APhA's Mary-Ryan Douglass at APhA2019 in Seattle.

By Michael Harvey

In the United States, there are more than 700,000 physicians, almost 3 million nurses, and approximately 300,000 pharmacists, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.  These statistics alone should be reason enough for all pharmacists and student pharmacists to participate in professional advocacy and get involved in a pharmacy association. As health professionals, pharmacists are vastly outnumbered, which means if we do not advocate and shape the future of our profession, other health professionals will do it for us.  

Some of the best advice I received as a student pharmacist was to get involved in a state and national pharmacy association. I took this advice to heart, and through these efforts, I was selected to receive the APhA Good Government Student Pharmacist-of-the-Year Award at APhA2019 in Seattle.

Getting active in Iowa

I got involved on committees with the Iowa Pharmacy Association (IPA) in my first year of pharmacy school, specifically the Legislative Advisory Committee and the Professional Affairs Policy Committee. These committees gave me a window into legislative and regulatory issues and opportunities that were having an impact on pharmacy practice at the state level. I was elected to serve as the Drake University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences student pharmacist representative on the IPA Board of Trustees.

It was through my early involvement in IPA that I heard about the annual Pharmacy Legislative Day at the Iowa Capitol. The first Legislative Day I attended, I didn’t think I was qualified to speak to politicians about issues facing health care and the pharmacy profession. Thankfully, there were several pharmacists at these events who enjoyed showing student pharmacists how to best advocate for patients. I quickly learned that students have more than enough knowledge and experiences to draw from to make a difference.

Educating the decision makers

Legislators have to know about a large variety of issues, but often do not have the in-depth knowledge for every topic. This means they cannot possibly be an expert on everything and are often willing to consult with their constituents regarding issues of importance to pharmacists.

It is essential when talking to legislators to detail patient stories. These stories are the things that most often resonate with public officials and can illustrate how the law will impact patients living in your district or state. Notice how I did not mention anything about bringing your Principles of Drug Action text book—leave the medical jargon at home. You have to assess understanding with legislators the same way you have been trained to assess patient understanding.

A few years ago, there was a bill pertaining to naloxone in the state of Iowa and I was with a few classmates meeting with a representative to discuss how the bill could impact patients and save lives. This representative listened to our perspective and asked good follow-up questions. In answering one of the questions, a classmate started explaining the mechanism of how naloxone works on opioid receptors. As soon as the discussion turned to the mechanism of action, I could see the representative’s eyes glaze over. We had completely lost his attention.

One of the biggest concerns I hear is, “What happens if I don’t know the answer to a question?” When a legislator asks a question that you do not know the answer to, let them know you would be happy to follow up with the answer. It gives you a great opportunity to reach out to the individual later and remind them of the issue.

Valuable internship

The most incredible advocacy opportunity for me came during the spring of my third year through an internship working for Iowa State Rep. John Forbes, BSPharm, a community pharmacist. He is one of the few representatives in our state with a health care background. This makes him an incredible resource to his fellow representatives on both sides of the aisle. Each year, he selects two to three student pharmacists to do policy work with him at the Capitol, and it was an incredible opportunity for me to be selected and see policy in action on a daily basis.

While working with my fellow pharmacy interns at the Iowa Capitol building, we attended committee hearings addressing a variety of issues of importance to pharmacy, including the passage of mandatory e-prescribing of controlled substances, technician product verification, Medicaid privatization, and PBM transparency.

After serving this internship and participating in my other advocacy efforts, my best advice for student pharmacists would be to put yourself out there and find ways to advocate for the profession. You do not have to have all the answers. At the end of the day, you should be advocating for what is best for patients, and that is where pharmacists can make the biggest impact.

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