Experts: Pharmacists Provide Patients With Answers, Guidance


Kate Smullen, PharmD, CSP, MSCS, senior director of clinical services at Shields Health Solutions, discussed her journey to becoming a pharmacist and how she has been celebrating this American Pharmacists Month.

In an interview with Pharmacy Times, Kate Smullen, PharmD, CSP, MSCS, senior director of clinical services at Shields Health Solutions, discussed her journey to becoming a pharmacist and how she has been celebrating this American Pharmacists Month. Smullen said she first became interested in pharmacy while working at a local nursing home, when she realized that patients needed answers about their medications.

Q: Can you introduce yourself?

A: Yeah, hi, everyone, my name is Kate Smullen and I'm the senior director of clinical services here at Shields. I've been with the company for about 8.5 years and been a pharmacist for over 15 years.

Q: How did you originally get into pharmacy?

A: You know, the story is kind of funny, but I'd love to just walk you through it. When I was 16, I got my first job, I was a kitchen aide at a local nursing home, just learning the ropes of getting started with a with a job and what I was going to do with in my career in my life. I didn't quite have all that figured out, but knew I wanted to start somewhere with learning, you know, responsibility. And my parents had interacted with a local nursing home and introduced me to it; they saw a ‘Help Wanted’ for a kitchen aide. I loved the opportunity, but I fell in love with the residents in this job. I might have only been bringing out some sandwiches and snacks at their dinner time, but really, you couldn't put me back in to do the dishes. And I wanted to spend a lot of time with the residents, I found them fascinating to talk with.

One thing that I noticed from all the residents was like, there were good days, bad days, but their whole lives revolved around medication and appointments, and they often asked me questions because they didn't feel like they got all these answers about their medications and changes. And “I guess I have to start an 11th pill now and I just don't understand.” And I just felt like, well, why don't you understand why? You know, why don't you have somebody to speak with. I legally wasn't allowed to look up anything and give them answers, so I kind of went home and researched, you know, how I could be that one that could give him those answers.

Q: How have you seen pharmacy change throughout your career?

A: Yeah, I think throughout my career from when I when I first started to now, in present state, I love the direction it's going in. I think we're getting more recognized as health care providers and it's getting more and more specialized, to tell you the truth. And we're just becoming increasingly more involved in the patient care continuum of how impactful we can be. And if you think about it, we're in an amazing position to interact with patients, and we have hours, you know, early and late nights and weekends. So, we're really just streamlining our role in in the health care world and how we can better assist patients, and kind of bridge those gaps that existed. The average patient, I think, visits a pharmacy 35 times a year versus the doctor about 4 times a year. So, we have so many opportunities to truly influence the patients and I really just have seen the profession, you know, grow in these non-traditional roles, becoming more specialized for the patient. And there's also been a lot of changes with technology and how technology really just makes it easier for patients to access and adhere to their medications. And we still need a human to kind of walk them through this journey and show them how to use them.

Q: What does the value of the pharmacist mean to you?

A: Yeah, I mean, I think you know, I probably am biased with the value of pharmacists, but we're truly an invaluable part of this health care team. Again, we're providing these personalized consults, advice, and even interacting with other health care professionals to really truly find the most effective and appropriate therapy and how we can optimize it for the patients. Pharmacists provide that really valuable one-on-one connection with the patients, and we can really boil it down to speak in a way that that we can understand each other and be relatable. So, I feel like we're that safety net for the patients and helping them make informed decisions. We don't want to make these for the patients, but we want to provide them all the best educational resources so that they know how to make these decisions, and the right questions to ask. You know, starting from my observations at 16, there's a lot of questions and you kind of feel inferior sometimes in that whole white coat syndrome when you're at the doctor's. So, I feel like we make them feel very comfortable and educate them, empowering them with the ability to make these decisions or a little more hand holding—everybody has different needs. So, I hope we can continue to, you know, upscale in this journey and provide them with their correct medication and just what is the desired effect, and what are the best questions to ask. So, I think it has a great impact on the whole health care system and working together in synergy with all the other amazing health care professionals.

Q: How are you celebrating this American Pharmacists Month?

A: Yeah, we're celebrating our team. We've done some amazing patient care connect stories where we just celebrate those moments and milestones and the impact that they've had with patients, and we're just trying to get that out and share those stories because they're truly amazing. That can't be captured in a single word, phrase, or statistic, but it's listening and hearing those stories shared that we want to celebrate.

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