An Overview of the Role of ATOPP in ‘Training the Trainer’ in Oncology Pharmacy

Amy Woodard, PharmD, BCOP, the steering committee co-chair of the 2022 ATOPP Summit, highlights key topics and discussions at the in-person summit in July in San Diego, CA.

Pharmacy Times interviewed Amy Woodard, PharmD, BCOP, steering committee co-chair of the 2022 Advanced Topics for Oncology Pharmacy Professionals (ATOPP) Summit, on what ATOPP is as an organization and how its annual summit impacts the oncology pharmacy profession.

Question: How does the ATOPP Summit impact the oncology pharmacy field, and is the annual summit the primary way ATOPP reaches out to oncology pharmacy professionals?

Amy Woodard: The ATOPP Summit is definitely important to oncology pharmacist in the field because it really provides a unique form that is different than other oncology health care conferences. ATOPP was envisioned to meet that higher level educational—as well as networking—needs of the more experienced oncology pharmacy professional. The phrase that I remember that really drew me to ATOPP in the beginning was the question ‘Who trains the trainer?’ And I really saw that in the messaging from the original ATOPP visionaries, and they really still use that phrase today in their mission, and their ‘About’ information on their website.

The ATOPP founders really recognized that there was an educational gap for the trainers in our field and the mentors, and ATOPP has provided that much needed forum for these advanced and experienced oncology professionals. And these trainers or advanced professionals include our preceptors and our experienced clinicians who are paving the way for the next generation of pharmacists. ATOPP has really been able to provide an excellent opportunity for these pharmacists to have these higher-level discussions, and much needed collaborations with their peers and other thought leaders at organizations and other practice sites. Those areas may include colleagues from nontraditional roles, which is very important to get their input as well.

So I think ATOPP has really been able to meet the needs of those looking to truly further their clinical knowledge beyond just what are in the most current guidelines or the best practices, and to also be able to experience advanced level research and also administrative topics that are held all at the same venue, which is, I think, a little bit unique.

The other part of your question is on if the summit is the primary focus, and it really is. I mean, ATOPP has really branded to be this standalone annual conference, and that's really their way to engage and interact with their target audience of oncology pharmacists.

Question: What is the focus of your work on the ATOPP steering committee, and what kind of work does this committee engage in?

Amy Woodard: So I this is my first year on the steering committee. Last year, I was on the program planning committee, which I liked a lot, it was very engaging, very interactive. But this year, being a part of this steering committee gave me a very different overview and a very different way to engage in the ATOPP Summit.

The steering committee really serves in an advisory role to provide that strategic direction for the planning, the organizing, and really that execution of the annual summit. The steering committee needs to ensure that it is designed for and that it will meet the needs of the advanced level pharmacy professionals, seeing as how that's the target audience, and that all aspects of the summit will stay true to the ATOPP’s mission.

The steering committee also supports the work of the other ATOPP committees, there are 3 other main committees, and the steering committee strives to ensure smooth and hopefully seamless collaboration among them so that we all know what each committee is doing, and we have different representatives that are on cross committees, but that way we don't have to be on each committee individually. So the steering committee is ultimately responsible for reviewing and endorsing the program agenda, and then the speakers that the program planning wants to invite, and then also the ancillary events that will be planned for each summit, and then what will be the content of those ancillary events.

The steering committee members are charged to work as ambassadors within their own professional communities to promote the summit, to engage our target audience, which is definitely more than just pharmacists, and with steering committee oversight, all of the ATOPP committees are really striving to engage those non-pharmacy professionals as well into our summit. The physicians that we work with, the HPPs, supportive care specialists, reimbursement, financial specialists, patient advocacy groups—these are all important groups, and they play various roles and ways that they can be involved in the summit, and I think it's important to have all of these groups represented because we really need to have a meaningful look at all the aspects within the landscape of oncology care for our cancer patients, not just the pharmaceutical aspect.

Question: Is there anything at the ATOPP summit this year that you’d like to highlight?

Amy Woodard: I think that the whole summit itself is very important for the field of oncology as I stated; this year’s summit has excellent programming. But the aspect to me that is the most unique and valuable to me in my role, in my responsibilities in my job in my career will be the networking and the collaboration opportunities that the ATOPP has purposefully embedded into the summit. It's these experiences that provide a much richer educational experience really beyond just normal programming, we really hope that that leads to better application for attendees, once they get back home, that they can apply what they learn from their peers, on their own level within their own jobs in their own roles.

This year, we have some unique and new things that we are, we're going to do we have coffee conversations, we have ‘Spill the Tea,’ so that's, that's a morning event, and then a late afternoon event. They're organized events that are designed to bring together a smaller group of attendees into a discussion that they can choose based on the designated topic. But these smaller groups are really important to have more informal conversations. They're meant to be very valuable to gain insight, and to also be able to ask questions of peers and other colleagues. It's more informal than a general session, and also more than just a, ‘Hey, we're just going to touch base at the coffee break that we have in the 15 minutes between sessions.’ So it's a great way to network with the colleagues that we know are going to the summit that we're excited to see that we anticipate seeing year after year at these conferences, but it's also a great way to meet new professionals and make new contacts that have similar interests, or that are also facing similar challenges, because they will have picked that topic to attend based on the challenges that they may be facing in their positions.

The topics that that we have planned this year are some are extensions of general sessions that will allow that continued smaller targeted discussion, while others are just some different standalone key topics that we do think are facing oncology professionals currently. Some of these range from different challenging case studies, we do have administration and practice management topics, and variations on different oncology treatment approaches. So, the intent is that attendees can mix and match and participate in as many as they want to for discussions that suit them best. They may have to kind of hop from different sessions and glean different things from each one if there are more than one that interests them, but that's definitely doable.

Question: Are there any key topics you are particularly looking forward to at the ATOPP summit this year, and why are these of particular interest?

Amy Woodard: So I have to say, I'm biased. I think they're all of particular interest to me. But some of the practice management ones are definitely interesting to me, and the one that is personally most interesting is going to be the session on the real-world impact of biosimilars on health care costs. For me, this is important, because I was at the front of the development of our hospitals biosimilar policy several years ago, as the biosimilars were rolling out into the oncology landscape. I was a key presenter and organizer in our department's educational efforts of biosimilars to our medical staff, to our PMT committee to really gain that buy-in as we were planning to implement them as our formulary preferred products and also worked with our multidisciplinary teams on an EHR solution for hopefully seamless biosimilar formulary management into our chemo orders and our whole formulary system, and part of this process was to develop an electronic process to communicate payer preferences to our clinical team.

So we're trying to make it as easy as possible, while still in the background as all hospitals have had to deal with the inventory, all of the other operational challenges have come along with adding more and more biosimilars to the landscape. So, to me seeing what the real-world impact has been to this point in time for oncology biosimilars will be very telling to learn if all of these operational and clinical management challenges that we've all dealt with are panning out in the long run for truly decreasing overall health care costs, and I think it's really important to learn if these cost savings have been shared with our patients, because that's really the goal at the end of the day.

Question: Are there any discussions at ATOPP of particular interest in terms of the group of professionals speaking on the panel?

Amy Woodard: Yes, so, we have a session on hospitals at home, really focusing on providing pharmacy services. I think the exciting thing about this panel is we're going to have representatives for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). So this is going to really be a dynamic discussion between our panelists.

We also have 2 pharmacists that are from different hospitals that have already implemented a successful hospital at home program. I'm sure their programs look different as all hospital at home programs that have been implemented across the country are different, but we're going to get different perspectives, so one of those pharmacists is an oncology clinical pharmacist, the other is a director of a pharmacy patient care services at his institution. So I think this mix of panelists will be very interesting to get these different insights.

As site of care steerage continues to affect more oncology medications, hospital-based oncology practices are increasingly pressured to transition our patients to lower the cost side of care. So, these practices, including at my hospital, you really have to decide what are we going to do with these patients, we don't want them to slip through the cracks. Do we need to adventure into additional businesses such as our own home health, or this more comprehensive hospital at home, and my hospital has sort of looked a little bit at both, but we haven't really committed to either one. So definitely having the CMS representatives on this panel, I think it will be insightful for oncology pharmacist, because we're always having to be at that downstream of what are the regulatory requirements, what are the payer requirements for our patients, but getting their perspectives will hopefully shed some insight into that.

Planning and executing the pharmacy services for a hospital at home is a topic that many hospitals are hoping to learn from others that have been able to do it successfully. Even those that haven't really been able to jump over into the chemotherapy landscape yet—some have, and some haven't. But just learning how they're doing the pharmacy piece of it; I think will be very interesting.

Question: In your view, what are some of the underlying causes of the hematology-oncology pharmacist “great migration?”

Amy Woodard: Yeah, well, that that is the question. I think that is the burning question that we are all asking ourselves is: What is causing this? I mean, we know it's happening, it's been happening, and it has been happening at a faster rate. So some of my just personal thoughts from what I've seen, and what I've experienced in my role as a as a clinical manager, is there's not going to be just one reason, I definitely think that it's multifactorial. One thing that I've really thought about is I do think that oncology pharmacists specifically are prime targets for being recruited into some of these nontraditional positions.

I think it's oncology pharmacists, specifically, because they have such depth of knowledge. They have to stay up to date with the current landscape of all the treatments that are coming out and the complexity of the oncology cases and the complexity of implementing some of these new novel oncology treatments. These pharmacists also specifically have such a great problem-solving skill set that they've been able to hone through their work and providing oncology pharmaceutical care. So I really think that they're being recruited heavily, and some of them really are succumbing and they're tempted by these positions, and I think it's because they've started to struggle in their career with some of the known dissatisfiers that are facing hospital pharmacy practice, and a lot of these dissatisfiers we know are contributing to burnout, and so burnout has been the topic that's been talked about at conferences and across health care as a whole for many years now, and it's a real thing.

I think that some of these some of these dissatisfiers that are facing the pharmacists are increasing expectations of the role and the scope of clinical pharmacist on the care team. Pharmacists have done such a great job, and especially in oncology, of integrating themselves into the care team, and really proving their worth. But it comes to a point when they're being relied on to do so much more than just was really in line with what a pharmacist scope was. I think that coupled with a lot of organizations having minimal advancement opportunities, or they lack professional development opportunities that some of the younger generation are really hoping to see, and that can really make these nontraditional positions, I think, look that much more appealing.

I also believe that younger generations are seeking and maybe even expecting more flexibility in their worksite arrangements and also in just their work schedules. I think they're looking at that more preemptively as a way to improve their work-life balance as a way to prevent burnout for themselves. They don't want to wait till they've been in the role for 10 years and are burned out. I think they're really looking at ways to get into roles and positions that are going to help them really mitigate that, and the flexibility of work sites and schedules are really harder to accomplish in the more direct patient care pharmacist position.

Question: How can oncology pharmacists who are interested learn more about the ATOPP summit?

Amy Woodard: I think the most comprehensive information on the ATOPP summit, the history of ATOPP, the vision, the mission can be found on ATOPP’s website, which is ATOPPsummit.com. Then as we get closer to an actual summit, there'll be more and more information on that website about the summit that's been planned and the summit that's coming up that year.

Also, LinkedIn and Twitter are excellent resources. As we get closer and get into the planning and get closer to the summit, we have a great branding and marketing committee, and all of the ATOPP committee members and those that have attended ATOPP really see the ATOPP information on LinkedIn, they share it. So #ATOPPsummit on LinkedIn and Twitter is great information to get some more detail, but just snippets of some of these sessions, our keynote speaker, ancillary events—so all of those are great places to get more information.

Question: Any closing thoughts?

Amy Woodard: Well, I'm just really excited to attend the second ATOPP Summit. Last year was great. I think last year, not many people had been out to conferences in person, and so this is going to be the second time that we are all meeting with our pharmacy colleagues and pharmacy leaders for ATOPP, and I'm just really excited. Like I said, I think the programming is great. I've never been to San Diego; I live in Florida. So the sunshine isn't what's appealing to me, but I just think it's very different landscape out there.

We had a great turnout in attendance last year, so I only imagine that we're going to have that much more attendance this year. I can't wait to see new faces, meet new people, but also see some old friends that we haven't seen for several years because of the pandemic limiting live events.