Pharmacy Careers
Volume 0

Ms. Farley is a freelance medical writer based in Wakefield, Rhode Island.

Afton Yurkon

Afton Yurkon

As a high school student,Afton Yurkon visited the Bouvé Collegeof Health Science at NortheasternUniversity in Boston. Originallyfrom upstate New York, she lovedBoston and the college town atmosphereand was looking to expandher horizons at Northeastern. Whilethere, she mistakenly attended a sessionon pharmacy but soon becamefascinated by what the speakers hadto say, and she quickly developed aninterest in pharmacy and the opportunitiesit could offer. Fast-forward afew years, and Yurkon is busy workingon her executive residency at theNational Association of Chain DrugStores (NACDS) in Alexandria, Virginia,after completing the 6-yearPharmD program at Northeastern,and she has never second-guessed herdecision to study pharmacy. "I amdefinitely satisfied with my decision,"she says. "I think it was the way theydescribed the profession—gettinginvolved with patient counseling—that got my attention."

As someone who loves communication,working with people, andbeing involved, Yurkon found theNACDS residency to be a perfect fit.While not the traditional residencyfor many pharmacy students,Yurkon'sinterest in professional associationsstems from her participation in thesegroups on the university level. Shebecame a leader in Northeastern University'schapter of the AmericanPharmacists Association Academy ofStudent Pharmacists (APhA-ASP)and built up its role at Northeastern,while serving as a chapter presidentand as a Regional Member-at-Large.At Northeastern, Yurkon also workedwith a pharmacy preceptor who wasinvolved in government affairs andlegislative issues and taught her theimportance of becoming involvedand effecting change at that level.


Association management would letYurkon use her love of writing towork on continuing education (CE)programs and tohelp pharmacy students.Most importantly,this residencywas a great opportunityto increaseawareness. BecauseYurkon was able toshape her residencybased on what shewanted to study, she worked in differentdepartments—student development,pharmacy operations, andCE—but decided that governmentaffairs and lobbying was where shewould concentrate her efforts.

It is through the government affairsarm of the NACDS residency thatYurkon can promote pharmacythrough legislative process. In thisniche, she would visit legislators onthe federal level, attend hearings, listento testimonies, educate memberson issues, and address issues accordingto members' needs. "That's thepath I want to pursue," confirmsYurkon.

One of the big projects Yurkonworked on during her NACDS residencywas a tamper-resistant prescriptionpads initiative. She did a lotof research on the back end to educateNACDS members on vendors ofthese tamper-resistant pads. NACDSmembers will then use this informationwhen implementation takesplace April 1, 2008.


In her capacity as an NACDS resident,Afton was able to see firsthandhow groups of pharmacists can gettogether and lobby to influence legislationin an effort to benefit theirpatients. One of her greatest experiencesas a resident was going toWashington, DC, to lobby on CapitolHill. She was able to take part in severalvisits to legislators with chainpharmacy executives.


As an NACDS resident, she alsowas able to sharpen her writing skillsand business communication skills."I have always loved writing. Now Ihave to write on a daily basis." Someof her responsibilities include composingbusiness letters and proposals,as well as writing articles for variousNACDS publications. She notes, "Iam relearning basic writing skills!"She has written updates for the memberchief executive officers on thelatest happenings and issues in theassociation and also wrote for theAPhA New Practitioner Newsletterabout why it is so important to be anadvocate as a new practitioner.


Another big project has Yurkonheavily involved in developing Internet-based seminars known as "Webinars" that focus on helping pharmacistsand student pharmacists learnhow advocacy can impact policy.NACDS is partnering with PharmacyTimes to deliver this series of 4 free,live CE Webinars that address thebasics of pharmacy advocacy, how toput knowledge into action with grassrootsadvocacy, and issues affectingpharmacy on the state and federal levels.Yurkon played a vital role in theimplementation of the Webinars bydeveloping content. For this, Yurkonhad to brush up on her civics—howdoes a bill become a law, etc. Shewrote the first draft of "Pharmacy101" for the Webinar, as well as materialabout grassroots efforts to effectchange in pharmacy and about howone becomes an advocate. "I talk tothe presenters and assist in developingthe content. The content should bebasic and simple for pharmacy studentsto grasp. The Advocacy Webinars,by far, are my biggest project. Ihave been able to work with the technologyvendors, Pharmacy Times, aswell as the presenters. I have been themain communicator among thegroups and, for that, you need goodorganization skills. We have neverdone a Webinar before, so it has beena learning experience for everyone atNACDS. Really, it is a great developmentalexperience," notes Yurkon.


With all her hard work in advocacyinitiatives, it is important to rememberthat Yurkon is still considered amedication expert. Yurkon says thatshe feels possibly even more pressureon her to stay on top of her clinicaltraining. Fortunately for her, theassociation makes every effort tokeep her at the top of her clinicalgame. "NACDS provides me with aplethora of information to stay ontop of the new material and CE. Anythingclinical that I can go to, I willattend," she says. "The associationdoes a good job of making theseopportunities available."

"In actuality," she adds, "I use myclinical knowledge a lot. [...] Overtime, if you are not in a particularhealth care setting, you may lose clinicalknowledge. I still love the clinicalaspect, and I applaud my colleaguesout there in clinical and hospital pharmacies.At the end of the day, however,everything I am doing affects patients.The government affairs part of it—everything goes back to pharmacistsand students. Legislation affects theentire profession."


According to Yurkon, the mostimportant attribute needed to pursuethis particular career path withinpharmacy is passion for the profession."You must have determinationand perseverance and being a selfstarter is very important.You must beable to motivate yourself. With theprojects I start, I get direction, but Istill have to go ahead on my own. Ihave to be the one to make the directinitiation. Also, be independent. Aswith any residency, it is what youmake of it.

You also must be a good communicatorand know your issues. Patientcare is what we are most concernedabout. When approaching lawmakers,it is important for them to understandthat these laws may affect theirconstituents. You should be friendlyand have good follow-up abilities. Itis not hard to lobby for pharmacy.Not everyone needs to go to CapitolHill to lobby. There are other methods—phone calls, letter writing. Allpharmacists and pharmacy studentsshould note that the little thingscould really help."

Of her brief stint as a lobbyist,Yurkon says, "it was a great experience.I feel it is a pharmacist's responsibilityto become an advocate.Schools do not seem to focus enoughon pharmacy legislation," notesYurkon. "There is a need to embracepharmacy advocacy in general."

At the halfway point in her residency,Yurkon says that her top experiencesto date were getting to hear testimonyfrom an NACDS member onCapitol Hill, working on the tamperresistantprescription pads informationinitiative, and attending variousevents for networking. She adds, "Iam very proud of what my colleaguesare doing to promote the profession.It is a great exchange of ideas." Sheemphasizes that the best aspect of theNACDS residency is that "you cancraft this type of association residencyto your own interest."


By taking a path perhaps less traveled—an association residency ratherthan a clinical residency—have the24-year-old's career opportunitiesbeen limited? She asserts that quitethe opposite is true. "The residencyprovided me with the opportunity tocombine my clinical knowledge withmy communication skills in a waythat could positively affect the profession."She continues, "I feel that thisresidency has prepared me for apromising career."

For Yurkon, that is the best way toserve her profession. She began herresidency in July 2007, and it will endin July 2008. When it is over, heroptions are numerous. She says that inher residency, she has accomplished somuch already, and "everything getsmore exciting day by day. It is great tosee how you can change the professionin this behind-the-scenes way."

As for her future plans,Afton wouldlove to be a part of a government affairsdepartment at a pharmacy association.She also is considering furthereducation in law or public policy. "Itwould help me get into that law schoolway of thinking. It is a completely differentschool of thought. I have heardthat it will really help me."

For now, she says, "I am still tryingto discover what I want to do."

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