Encouraging new pharmacists to stay professionally engaged
It was only 10 years ago that the Doctor of Pharmacy degree became the sole degree accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education for pharmacists’ entry into practice in the United States. As an educator, I continue to be impressed with the quality and dedication of student pharmacists and the commitment of faculty and staff. Pharmacy education is shaping the next generation of pharmacists who will provide outstanding patient care in both community-based pharmacies and collaborative, clinical healthcare teams.
Community pharmacies should remain a cornerstone of our healthcare system, particularly in rural areas of the country. Nine out of 10 individuals live within 5 miles of a community pharmacy. We have all heard stories of community pharmacists who made a difference in the lives of patients and their families. From our rural communities to urban areas, the community pharmacist’s daily practice ensures optimal patient outcomes. Yet, there are challenges in community pharmacy practice. Rising prescription volume as the population ages, additional services such as vaccinations and medication management, DIR fees, and pharmacy profit concerns amid rising mail-order options are dampening enthusiasm in the profession.
What is most concerning from my perspective, however, is the decrease in the number of community pharmacists who are involved in the professional organizations representing pharmacy and pharmacy practice.
Throughout my academic career and involvement with local, state and national pharmacy organizations, a common refrain of the leaders is their concern about the newest pharmacists, specifically their declining membership in these organizations, lack of attendance at meetings, and reluctance to assume leadership positions and advocate for the profession. There is quite a contrast between the time student pharmacists actively are engaged in professional organizations versus the time new practitioners are involved.
Certainly, we know that many are working extra hours to reduce their student loan debt, while starting their new careers and families. They also likely are to be in positions with less work schedule flexibility. The costs of local, state or national pharmacy organization involvement may also be prohibitive.
Perhaps we should consider how we encourage our newest pharmacy colleagues to stay involved with professional pharmacy organizations. Should pharmacy organizations and employers focus on engagement strategies that utilize social media and video/teleconferences as alternatives to face-to-face meetings? Rather than traveling to state capitals for advocacy days, can we encourage legislative advocacy meetings with their representatives at their local offices? Or, should there be a greater focus on local versus state pharmacy organizations?
We should also consider how employers could provide greater support. If employers are passionate about evolving pharmacy practice, should we not allow as little as eight hours per month for professional advocacy? This could be as simple as one to two hours a week when pharmacists could participate in professional meetings or advocacy efforts while at work. Furthermore, where is the opportunity for at least some partial support from their employers for new pharmacists to attend at least one professional meeting at the state and local level annually?
Professional engagement and advocacy require a continuous learning process that involves commitment, time, mentoring and networking. It involves building relationships across all the stages of pharmacy practice, from the new to the experienced practitioner, as well as support from employers and pharmacy education.
If we want our newest practitioners to become engaged in advancing pharmacy through professional organizations and advocacy, we must rethink how professional organizations and employers provide the opportunities and, more importantly, afford their support, encouragement and time. Success in engagement and advocacy only will occur through collaboration of individual pharmacists with professional organizations, employers and the academia. It seems that eight hours a month or attendance at one professional meeting a year is a small cost for our newest pharmacy colleagues to further advance our collective efforts for community pharmacy and the patients/families that are served each day.
Gayle A. Brazeau is a professor and dean at Marshall University School of Pharmacy.