/publications/career/2006/Careers_2006-02/Careers_2006-02_3145

CUTTING-EDGE PHARMACY WITH THE VA

Author: Barbara Sax

IT IS HARD TO BEAT THE Veterans Administration (VA) system when it comes to career opportunities. With over 200 sites across the United States and a reputation for cutting-edge research, the administration allows pharmacists a unique opportunity for unparalleled career developments within one organization.

?The VA system has diverse practice settings that provide primary services, outpatient clinics, tertiary acute and sub-acute inpatient care, long-term care, hospice, and domiciliary services,? said Louis Cobuzzi, associate chief consultant for the VA?s pharmacy benefits strategic health group. ?Pharmacists can move throughout the system, so there are no dead-ends for them as they develop in their careers.?

Cobuzzi said that too often, poor planning and a failure to identify long-term goals leave pharmacists without growth opportunities in many positions. ?In the VA system, there are many ways to advance your career. If you don?t find movement through one division, you can move to another VA site in another part of the country,? he said. ?Working within the VA system allows you to find the practice area of your choice and use it to advance your career goals. You can navigate your career through the administration to find the place where your strengths and desires meet.?

The administration?s focus on research is one key reason pharmacists are attracted to a career in this vast organization. ?We have the largest resident training program in the United States with nearly 300 residents a year,? said Cobuzzi. ?Residents are all involved in research programs, in cooperation with medical staff and sometimes independently.?

Cobuzzi said the system?s focus on research makes for an aggressive and dynamic proactive setting. ?There is an entire wing of responsibility on therapeutics and another on prosthetics. In fact, many of the prosthetics used [today] were developed in the VA system,? he said.

Pharmacists work in cooperation with their peers, so information can be shared quickly. ?We offer pharmacists an extensive support system so they can dialogue on a daily basis with many people. Any new accomplishments can be plugged in immediately across the country, so it is a very dynamic environment.?

It?s notable that such a vast organization can move so quickly. ?Clinically, our model is a leader,? said Cobuzzi. ?Our autonomy and the absence of oversight by state law give pharmacists the opportunity to prescribe. Over 400 of our pharmacists are board-certified by the APhA [American Pharmacists Association] for clinical skills practice, and all of our sites now have pharmacists with that scope of practice.?

Pharmacists run patient clinics as well. ?Our pharmacists run anticoagulation clinics, medicine management clinics, and other clinics,? said Cobuzzi.

The organization has also become a leader in electronic prescribing? all of its prescriptions are generated electronically, and the organization is 95% paperless. The administration is a big supporter of e-progress in other areas as well. ?We piloted the program for ordering Schedule II drugs electronically,? said Cobuzzi.

Although research is one huge area of pharmacy practice at the administration, patient care is certainly a key component. ?Our patient-base is not all elderly, but a great deal of those patients are seniors, and that requires that health care providers are able to educate patients,? said Cobuzzi. ?We are responsible for a patient?s care over a continuation of time, so good outcomes require good communication skills, and our pharmacists learn how to educate patients so they can become partners in their care.?

In addition to a dynamic and exciting professional environment, a career in the VA system offers financial benefits as well. ?We offer employee debt reduction programs so that pharmacists with student loans can get up to $45,000 debt reduction over 5 years,? said Cobuzzi.

Another advantage includes being able to grow with an organization that can accommodate an array of professional needs. ?Retail tends to keep pharmacists where they need them,? said Cobuzzi. ?We don?t have a say where a pharmacist goes if he or she wants to move.?

Cobuzzi said that while some professionals may find the bureaucracy of a government organization overwhelming, others find it fascinating to see how legislation immediately affects practice. Hurricane Katrina definitely had an effect on the administration, as pharmacists were pulled in to help aid those in need.

It is an ever-changing environment that Cobuzzi finds exciting. ?I could not imagine spending 30 years in the same facility under the same administration without outside interaction,? he said. ?Working here allows you to meet leaders in your field and be on the cutting edge of your practice.?

Ms. Sax is a freelance writer based in Chevy Chase, Md.