The "Utah experience"

APhA Institute By Jessica Marx, PharmD

A few years back, as a student pharmacist in APhA–ASP, I kept hearing about a conference pertaining to alcoholism and drug dependencies. Previous attendees could not praise it enough, saying, “It’s amazing! You have to go and have the ‘Utah experience.’” I never knew what that meant, and no one was really ever capable of describing it. Maybe that was part of the allure, but I was easily convinced to attend, given the importance and timeliness of the topics addressed.

In addition, the amount that student pharmacists learn about alcoholism or addiction in pharmacy school is minimal given the degree at which they may be involved with this disease on a daily basis as practitioners. I figured that attending this conference would help enrich my knowledge and better assist me in treating my patients. But it has afforded me so much more.

Perspectives are changed
The APhA Institute on Alcoholism and Drug Dependencies—formerly known as the Utah School—is held in Salt Lake City, UT, in June each year, and it is unlike any of the other professional conferences you may have attended. The meeting offers a multitude of sessions, from an introduction to addiction to co-dependency and beyond. But more importantly, the APhA Institute is a comfortable, safe environment where personal stories are shared by speakers who are pharmacists and recovering addicts, as well as through meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous, where anyone is able to take the floor and share their story or share their strength with those recovering.

It is through this openness that perspectives are suddenly changed. Addiction is personified and given a face. An addict doesn't have to be the homeless person asking you for money on the street. An addict may be your brother, your sister, or a parent. They may be your co-worker, your friend, your son, your daughter. And as much as I had heard that addiction does not discriminate, I didn’t fully grasp this until I attended the Institute. It was here that I realized how widespread of an issue addiction really is, affecting nearly everyone in some way, shape, or form.

Serving as an NP Ambassador
My first APhA Institute in 2015 as a student pharmacist was pivotal. It changed me as a future practitioner and, more importantly, it changed me as an individual. I knew immediately that I wanted to apply to become an “Ambassador” at future meetings because I wanted to facilitate the same experience for future attendees. In addition, I wanted to attend for the “Dinosaurs,” (the attendees who keep coming back year after year), and I also wanted to attend again for myself. When I was selected as a student pharmacist in 2016, I was ecstatic because I knew I could help to give back the experience I was fortunate enough to have.

I most recently attended this past June for my third consecutive year, and I can honestly say, my experience was just as meaningful at this meeting as it was my first. I served as a New Practitioner Ambassador, which I am beyond grateful for, as it is such a fulfilling experience, and I was able to see many familiar faces, but also meet so many new pharmacists and student pharmacists who we welcomed to the Institute.

I believe that the “Utah experience” is entirely defined by the individual attending, which is why it is such a difficult concept to materialize into words.  But when I think about it, there is one thing for certain: you will leave with a different perspective than you had when you arrived. I strongly urge you to consider attending the APhA Institute because even as a third-time attendee, I still felt the impact of each meeting I attended. I felt the strong sense of camaraderie and support that surrounded me when I was in that conference room. I felt the breaking of  the stigma that addicts are forced to face every day. I felt the empowerment to be the change and to serve as an ally as a New Practitioner in my community.

To me, all of this encompasses my “Utah experience,” and I can only hope that you will have the chance to experience it, too.