Ms. Farley is a freelance medical writer based in Wakefield, Rhode Island.
As student pharmacists enter the profession, they must be ready to take on a variety of roles. Besides dispensing, patient counseling, running clinics, among other tasks, they must be willing to take on the important role of advocate—for both their patients and the pharmacy profession. Advocacy is the way pharmacists shape their profession and point it in the right direction.
One of the professional leaders helping to guide students in that role is Cynthia J. Boyle, PharmD, FAPhA, director of the experiential learning program and associate professor in the department of pharmacy practice and science at the University of Maryland. She also serves as one of the instructors for the course "Effective Leadership and Advocacy." In appreciation of her achievements, Dr. Boyle was named the 2002 Pharmacist of the Year by the Maryland Society of Health System Pharmacists and the 2008 American Pharmacists Association Good Government Pharmacist of the Year. Dr. Boyle has learned, through her work with the professional organizations, "we need to do more than what we are doing."
An "aha!" moment came to her when she observed students discussing policy items. "They were not aware of existing efforts, and they did not have a good grasp of what was going on." So Dr. Boyle immediately began to draft a syllabus, and now she is teaching the Effective Leadership and Advocacy class for the eighth time. The course is partnered via satellite with the School of Pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University. The students in this course have the unique opportunity to hear from a diverse pool of speakers, learn about different leadership styles and elements of advocacy, and write letters to their legislators as well as participate in a congressional visit.
The experiential learning that occurs when students work in pharmacies, dispensing and counseling patients about their medications, is what shapes how they will eventually form their practice. By applying that theory to advocacy and allowing students to learn through doing, they are developing a competency in an important and perhaps overlooked area of the profession.
Student organizations can collaborate on a variety of issues, says Dr. Boyle. She offers the example of Operation Diabetes—a nationwide project run by pharmacists and students providing early screening for diabetes. The project gives students a chance to work on the front line and practice what they have learned in class. It also gives them the opportunity to see their roles in society. "And then the interest in advocacy comes along," says Dr. Boyle.
She also suggests dual degrees as one way to round out a pharmacist's knowledge base, particularly for a career in advocacy. The PharmD/MPH degree, for example, combines the clinical side of treating individuals with an understanding of how to treat populations.
Education on many levels is a key factor in advancing the profession. This is true for educating policymakers on pharmacy issues. "The legislators do not have a good grasp of the issues," says Dr. Boyle. "They do not know the full roles of pharmacists."
"It takes patience and persistence to be effective," says Dr. Boyle. "We can be that resource—reactive and proactive." Professional organizations are a vital part of advocacy and achieving goals. "Through professional membership, we can give expert guidance. It is a lifelong commitment." She acknowledges the many competing demands on pharmacists' time, but she notes that different levels of advocacy exist. At the most basic level, a pharmacist can become a member of a professional organization. The next level might be volunteering for a committee. Networking is important, she says, and it can help pharmacists become better at their practice site.
"You need exposure across practice settings. We strengthen our decisions this way. Be a member, read the e-mails. American Pharmacists Month is in October; use that as an opportunity to bring in the reporters. Across the board, everyone should do this, including students," concluded Dr. Boyle.