A Pharmacist’s Transition to the Other Side.

Here’s some things I've learned going from the front lines of community pharmacy to the business side of the industry.

It’s been six months since I started my role with VUCA Health and I wanted to provide some insight to how it’s been going transitioning from a practicing in a community pharmacy to the more business/tech/drug information side of things.

The Jump

Why did I even make this move in the first place? I always knew I wanted to help people, it was truly one of the driving forces to becoming a pharmacist. And while I was having a direct impact on all the patients I took care of, I felt that I’d be able to do more and have a wider impact. And that’s what’s great about being a pharmacist, you can really take your career anywhere, especially as our field continues to innovate. In doing some self reflection, I started to think about how growing up, I was always fascinated by the new ways society began to communicate with each other. Remember two-way pagers? Nextel walkie talkies?! The sidekick? Omg, the sidekick was literally my favorite gadget of all time pre 2007. With a passion for communication, connecting with others, and a drive to have an impact on improving patients health outcomes, it started to become clear that patient engagement is where things were headed for me.

Speed of Innovation

Diving into this role, I began meeting with a lot of decision makers for both small and large healthcare organizations. What was interesting to learn was the reasoning behind the speed of innovation, or lack thereof. Previous to my current role, I mainly worked on the front lines as a community pharmacist for large organizations like Publix and CVS. At the time, I always thought there was lack of innovation because of corporate not wanting to take risks, or maybe they just didn’t care to even try. But, as I get to talk with these leaders and understand what’s important to them, lack of compassion and innovation is not why they’ve made it to where they are. On the contrary, these individuals love innovation and truly do care about the patients their companies serve. What I’m realizing the reasons for what appears to be lack of innovation is the barriers of bureaucracy needed to overcome implementing something new. In addition, sometimes their company’s culture demand a proven ROI for any new initiatives, an ROI that’s never been tested or even well established. Which, makes sense, after all, it is a business. So I get it. I do think (mostly hope) large organizations will start to realize that sometimes a new innovation or initiative just may be the right thing to do.

Keeping the Clinical Sword Sharp

Another thing that was surprising to me was the difficulty it is to keep up clinically. Due to the nature of my company, I’m fairly keen on new approvals and safety warnings that are announced by the FDA. But, aside from a measly 30 hour CE requirement every two years, I’m not getting a lot of clinical exposure. I really have to go out of my way to try to keep up (Thanks CorConsult Rx). And even with that, it’s much different when you’re keeping your clinical sword sharp because someone’s life is at stake. But when that isn’t happening day to day, it’s more difficult.

Underestimating Seniors

Being that my company provides medication education videos through a digital platform, I often get a lot of push back from healthcare providers. They’ll say things like, “but my patients don’t use technology,” or “they’re not on social media.” What I’m seeing is a clear underestimation of people above the age of 50 using technology. If we took a look at some numbers, we’ll see that it’s actually the opposite. Seniors are on social media and are using technology. According AARP, 7 in 10 adults above the age of 50 own smart phones, and 4 in 10 own tablets. According to the Pew Research Center, in people between the ages of 50 and 64, 65% of them use Facebook, and 68% of them use YouTube. Sixty Eight!!!! The number lowers a bit when they looked at people above the age of 65, it dropped to around 40% and 41% of them using both YouTube and Facebook, respectively. But, that’s still significant.

But okay, fine…since it’s not 100% of seniors using these platforms, let’s go with “they’re not using it.” They say, give a man a fish, feed him for a day…you know the rest. I think we should apply this line of thinking to helping our patients. How about we start taking the time to show our patients how to use technology? As healthcare providers, we know for a fact health literacy is a huge problem and has a significant impact on health outcomes. What if they key to health literacy is, well, actually, tech literacy? Because well, you know the saying, send a patient a YouTube link, teach them about ProAir, show them how to use YouTube, lower ER visits due to asthma related complications. (Okay, maybe you didn’t know that one)

Lack of structure

If you’ve heard any of my recent Rx Radio podcast episodes from the Magellan Rx Health series, you would’ve noticed the common theme of their pharmacist’s day to day never being the same. Well, that is no different from what my current role is like. Which is interesting because some people actually go into pharmacy because they like structure or consistency in their work and careers. However, one of the main reasons I love what I do is because it’s the exact opposite. My days are always different and because of the small size of my company, I wear many hats and can innovate at the speed that only time can constrain.


I think pharmacists (and students) that feel like they want to be able to have more of an impact should consider taking some time for self reflection. Is there a hidden passion you never knew you could mix with pharmacy? Is there a specific disease state that always stuck out to you? Believe or not, no matter where you are in your journey, you could be come the next Asthma expert, or what ever it is that you’re passionate about. What’s stopping you?

Thanks for reading.

Take care,

-Richard

Richard Waithe, PharmD | Richard@vucahealth.com

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