HOPA President: Networking, In-Person Education Can Change the Course of Oncology Pharmacy Practice

Larry Buie, PharmD, BCOP, FASHP, outgoing president of the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association (HOPA), shares some details of HOPA’s upcoming 2022 annual conference in Boston and provides an overview of his term as HOPA’s president.

Pharmacy Times interviewed Larry Buie, PharmD, BCOP, FASHP, a clinical pharmacy manager and PGY2 adult oncology residency program director at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the outgoing president of the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association (HOPA), on some details of HOPA’s upcoming 2022 annual conference in Boston and some of the successes and initiatives that HOPA was engaged in during his term as president.

Alana Hippensteele: Hi, I'm Alana Hippensteele with Pharmacy Times. Joining me is Larry Buie, a clinical pharmacy manager and PGY2 adult oncology residency program director at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, as well as the outgoing president of the Hematology Oncology Pharmacy Association, or HOPA. Larry is here to share some details of HOPA’s upcoming 2022 annual conference in Boston, and to provide an overview of some of the successes and initiatives that HOPA was engaged in during his term as president. So, Larry, let's begin with some general information about HOPA, and specifically membership who you represent, and the mission and vision of the organization.

Larry Buie: Alana, thank you for that introduction and it's really a pleasure to be here with you today to talk about HOPA. HOPA is an organization of around 4000 pharmacists, technicians, student, and resident members that really work in all areas of oncology. So, really anything you can think of inpatient, outpatient, academic medical centers, community cancer centers, infusion areas, investigational drugs, specialty pharmacy—the list really, really goes on and on.

We're HOPA, we want to be the professional home for all those pharmacists. Our mission is really to support pharmacy practitioners to help make sure that we can optimize the care that they're receiving. But ultimately, our vision is to make sure that every oncology patient has an oncology pharmacist as an integral member of their care team. And what we know is that the care team continues to expand. And HOPA, again, really wants to be there to support all those pharmacists. We can achieve our mission and vision really by executing our strategic plan. And our strategic plan does have 4 pillars: professional development resources and tools, as well as advocacy and research.

Alana Hippensteele: Right, right, absolutely. During your term as HOPA as president, what are some initiatives that you championed?

Larry Buie: Well, I had 3 main areas of focus, really, in addition to all the work that a lot of our committees were already performing. The first really centered around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how we can do more work as pharmacists in that space. Secondly, we have tried to expand our reach. I mentioned the different types of pharmacists that work in a variety of different settings. Again, we want to reach all those pharmacists. So, specialty pharmacists, investigational drug services—we've had programming that has been targeted for them. And I think that that has been quite successful. And then the final area of focus that I've had was really on the development of a collaborative research framework.

Alana Hippensteele: Absolutely, let's dive into each of these a little further. So specifically, tell me a little about the national student group that was formed.

Larry Buie: So, this is exciting. We have just formed actually; the board just approved the final makeup of that national student group that HOPA has been interested in really engaging students earlier and earlier for quite some time. In spring of 2020, we formed a student engagement task force that was led by Amy Pick and Ginah Nightingale. And ultimately, they held focus groups with a variety of different students at different institutions. And they took all of that, looked at the landscape, and made recommendations back to the board of directors about how best to engage students.

So, we felt after the discussions—that having a national presence—the formation of this national student group would be the best way for us to sort of jumpstart our student initiatives. That way students can immediately bring their voice to HOPA, the national stage, and help us with things like programming and other offerings that are going to be beneficial for students, right. This national student group is made up of a combination of faculty members, as well as students, and the group is going to be led by Amber Clemmons and Nicholas Chow.

Alana Hippensteele: Great, fantastic. How has HOPA worked to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion, and specifically in the hematology pharmacy field over the past year?

Larry Buie: Yeah, and I think that's really a fantastic question and one that I'm excited to be able to talk about. The past couple of years, there has been clearly a spotlight that has been put on diversity, equity, and inclusion, particularly in health care. But really all aspects of our lives. I think that the pandemic has layered on top of that, as well as a lot of social injustices that have really put the spotlight on these activities even more. HOPA, like many other organizations, was looking to find ways to really sort of step up its game in terms of a variety of initiatives that we were hopeful to offer. So, we were able to work with a consultant that made a variety of different recommendations. One of those was the development of a diversity equity inclusion task force, which we did assemble. And that group has been amazing. It has been led by Maurice Alexander from [the University of North Carolina] and Britny Brown from the University of Rhode Island. They have done an amazing job.

We have put together a diversity equity inclusion statement, but other things that that group is doing is they are also looking at how to make our members really feel more included. So, making sure that the leadership of our committees, and even our board of directors, is reflective of the membership.

Another area that we hope to make progress in is really to have a better understanding of disparities among cancer patients and how pharmacists can be engaged to help break down some of those disparities. And then again, I think one of our goals is to be able to provide tools and resources, so making sure that pharmacists have access to things that are going to help them better understand diverse patient populations and help them improve the quality of their care.

Alana Hippensteele: You mentioned the oral chemotherapy collaborative as an important initiative, can you describe that group and their short- and long-term goals?

Larry Buie: Absolutely, and this is a group that is really, I think, important for HOPA in the future to really be able to have a leadership role in this space. There are so many oral chemo therapies out there now. And clearly there is a role for pharmacists to be engaged from things like making sure that patients are adherent to their medication to make sure that we are identifying toxicities quickly, so that ultimately, we can keep those patients on their therapy, and hopefully out of our emergency rooms or the hospital. I think that's ultimately one of the goals. So knowing that pharmacists can participate in improving the quality for patients that are receiving oral chemo therapies, we did assemble a group that has been led by Karen Farris from the University of Michigan and Benyam Muluneh, from the University of North Carolina, to really assemble what we believe are some of the best in terms of quality research adherence, being able to use metrics to really improve the care of patients that are receiving oral chemo therapies.

There will be a session at the annual conference on the oral chemotherapy collaborative and how it's moving forward. But they're also going to talk about some of those shorter-term initiatives, such as really being able to drill down what some of the metrics should be when taking care of patients on oral oncolytics. But also looking across our membership, performance surveys of those that have an expertise in chemotherapy. And ultimately, what we want to know is what the value is, what does it bring to the care? And what is the value that is demonstrated by having a pharmacist leading sometimes the initiatives around oral chemotherapy?

Alana Hippensteele: Burnout is a huge issue in the pharmacy field, also in the medical profession more broadly speaking—what are some ways that HOPA is attempting to address burnout, as I understand this was an issue even before the start of the pandemic?

Larry Buie: That's right. I think that I can say that we have probably all experienced at least some degree of burnout from time to time. It is a huge issue in health care and it's certainly not pharmacy-specific, but there definitely are data out there that would suggest that pharmacists do experience a high amount of burnout, and burnout can be as bad for so many reasons. You know, not only can it make you feel disgruntled in your current job, but it can change the quality of your life. It can lead to things like depression sleep disorder, so it can give a person poor overall health. But it can also decrease performance and even lead to things like compassion fatigue, which is absolutely something that we don't want to have happen. So, we don't want to negatively impact the care that patients are receiving due to things like burnout.

So last year at our annual conference, which was virtual, there was an award-winning post on burnout research that was conducted by Allison Golbach and some of her colleagues from Mayo Clinic. And what they really showed is that there is a high rate of burnout among oncology pharmacists, in fact, it's greater than 60%. But I do think one of the things that's even more important is that many those that were experiencing burnout also felt like they may have made a major medication error within the last 3 months. So that is something that is concerning and a real opportunity for HOPA. To try to come up with some solutions to help mitigate burnout.

So, some things that we can do immediately is to have sessions at our annual conference that are focused on burnout. Our keynote, Dr. Bryan Sexton, is going to be talking about burnout, resilience, and wellbeing in the workplace. We also have some leadership roundtables. That will be part of our annual conference, to look at number one, how can we make the work experience better for employees, but also one of those sessions will be focused on burnout among leaders. And how we can tackle that because I think a lot of times, we don't necessarily think about the folks that are in the leadership roles as having burnout as well. So excited that there's an opportunity to talk about that.

I think, finally, HOPA has been able to engage with a consultant group that helped us better understand issues of burnout in our own organization. And they are currently helping us put together a roadmap, a plan moving forward. So, I think that there are a lot of exciting things that are to come in the burnout space on how HOPA can really help to promote wellbeing among our members.

Alana Hippensteele: I hear that HOPA is also recruiting for a new pharmacist position, a director of strategic partnerships positions. So, could you describe this opportunity and why is it important for HOPA?

Larry Buie: Yeah, absolutely. So first, I want to say this is going to be the first pharmacist that will have been on staff for HOPA. So, we are very excited about it from that perspective. We have recently been able to transition over to EDI, which is executive director incorporated as our management company. And they are a fantastic group. And Anne Krolikowski is currently our executive director.

So, this would be a position that would report to our executive director but would support the board. And we felt like we needed to add this position. Because HOPA clearly has a mission and a vision that we hope to be able to achieve. And we have really learned over the years that we can't do it all on our own. We can't do everything that we want to do that we know is going to better the patient experience, improve the quality of their care, or demonstrate our value. We can't lead every one of those initiatives, right, we need partners. And those relationships need to be built over time. And so that is really going to be the role of this person to come in and support the board. And the work of the mission and vision to really build out relationships that are going to make HOPA successful long-term.

So, I think that this person will be involved in a lot of strategic discussions for HOPA. And really, I think that that their role will touch every single pillar of our strategic plan, everything from education to our professional practice, to research and advocacy. I do think that collaborations are key moving forward. And I think the relationship building piece of that is critical, ultimately for there to be success. So really excited about the opportunity and the position. This is going to be a position for a more seasoned pharmacist—a pharmacist that has been in practice for at least 10 years will need to be board certified—a large portion of our membership are board certified oncology pharmacists, but they also need to have an active pharmacy license wherever they're practicing. But we're happy to answer any questions about the position for sure. And we are taking applications until April 1.

Alana Hippensteele: The HOPA 2022 conference will be meeting in person this year in Boston. What networking opportunities will be present at the meeting this year?

Larry Buie: Well, I can tell you, I think that our annual conference planning group has really done a phenomenal job of really putting together an amazing conference. We're going to have over 40 hours of continuing education. But we also definitely did want to make sure that we had ample opportunity for networking. We are kind of just rolling, or on the backside now, of this pandemic. Many of us have not seen our colleagues now for 2 years. And so, this is going to be the first time, so we're excited about the science. But we're also excited about the heart at our annual conference, which sort of lends to the theme that we have for this year, the heart and science of cancer care. And so, we really do hope that there are opportunities to bring people together, so that they can be able to network together again.

We have our welcome reception, which is going to be on Wednesday night. And then on Thursday, we have a poster session that is also a huge networking event, a great time to be able to interact with some of our trainees and some of those that are that are newer practitioners. We are speaking of, in that space, we're having our very first LGBTQ+ reception right this year. And so, I'm very, very excited about that.

And then I think, on Friday night, we have our closing reception. So, we're going to have a band and more of an opportunity just to be able to bring people together. I think outside of those receptions, there are lots of opportunities to meet the board. We have several meet-and-greets planned throughout, where folks can come up and ask questions of the board members, talk more about what HOPA is going to look like in this next year and beyond. And then we have also prepared these luncheons for our special interest group. So those are going to be meeting on Thursday and Friday of the conference. But that's really a great opportunity for people to come together that have specific interests, everything from bone marrow transplantation to investigational drugs, to residency program director. So be sure to check the schedule for when those are going to be offered, as well.

Alana Hippensteele: So, on that note around, just as a follow up question, to the topic of networking, we were talking about burnout. Networking, I think potentially in the age of COVID-19, has the potential to provide community. For pharmacists, who may feel somewhat isolated from colleagues during the pandemic, do you think networking has taken on a new role considering some of the shifts that have occurred?

Larry Buie: Yeah, I think networking is always important. I think it's one of the most important things that we're able to do right, interact together, learn from each other. And I do think that it's, you know, we've had to find different ways to be engaged and to network. I think that clearly being able to have everyone together to talk about their shared experiences, how they've made it through the pandemic, what their coping mechanisms have been, the ways they they've modified their care, the way they use things like telepharmacy and other things. I think networking allows us to introduce ourselves to one another, I think it allows us an opportunity to become comfortable with one another, and then I think from that networking, we're able to build relationships with our colleagues that ultimately lead to change back at our own organization. So, I think that it would kind of be remiss not to put the spotlight on how important networking is and, in a professional organization, such as HOPA, or oncology pharmacy practice in general.

Alana Hippensteele: So, are there any sessions you're particularly looking forward to at HOPA this year and you plan to attend in particular?

Larry Buie: Yeah, and I will say I think one of the some of the best types of sessions that I enjoy are a lot of our research sessions. So, we obviously have grants that HOPA is able to award and so seeing some of the work that they are producing, also, those that have been awarded our research platforms will be interested in seeing those as well as the top 10 trainee posters. I hope that everyone will sort of come and support the research that is being done and promoted by the organization. As an RPD myself, I always encourage people to go to the trainee posters as well. It's really a great time, speaking of networking, to be able to network and meet your future colleagues, who are going to be the future of the organization at those trainee posters. So, it's a great time to establish some connections, for sure.

Thursday evening, we are having an advocacy update. And I do think that for us to continue to move our organization, our membership needs to be engaged and updated on our advocacy initiatives. So, things like oral chemotherapy, parity, the use of biosimilars, as well as other things that are on our policy agenda will be reviewed at that time. And then on Friday we have Dr. Sexton, who is going to be giving our keynote. And that will also be followed by the incoming [HOPA] presidential remarks of Heidi Finnes, who is a great friend, colleague, and is just going to be an extraordinary leader for the next year. So, I'm very, very excited about how to hand it over and be able to work with her as past president.

Alana Hippensteele: Absolutely. Perfect. Yeah. As you wrap up your term as HOPA’s president, what are you most proud of the association being able to accomplish?

Larry Buie: I guess I'll be a little bit biased in this answer. I am the board liaison to our diversity, equity inclusion task force. But it has just been, it was something that I was so passionate about, and they have done such amazing, amazing things that group has, and I just could not be prouder of them. I think it also stems from the fact that I am a member of the LGBTQ community. And so, whenever I read our D statement, the one that this group developed and put together, it immediately made me feel like I belonged at HOPA and it was an organization for me, and that they cared about me as an individual, and as a member of the organization, and that they wanted to help me be able to take better care of my patients, my colleagues. And so, I would say that is probably the thing that I'm most proud of.

Alana Hippensteele: Absolutely. That's beautiful. Any closing thoughts?

Larry Buie: Yeah, I think, I do just want to say one thing to our volunteers, there is no way in the world that we would be able to do this without all our volunteers. We have 37 committees, task forces, work groups right now, and that number continues to grow. But in the end, HOPA is always expanding. And we just could not do any of that without the volunteers. So, a huge thank you to all the volunteers out there, we have over 300 folks on all these different committees and task forces. Also want to thank all our staff. So, Anne has been an amazing executive director to work with this year, and all the staff and all the areas, they have been so helpful. And finally, I do want to thank our board of directors, it's been a lot of hard work, we've been working through the pandemic. And we have made a lot of progress this year. And we just could not have done it without that dynamic group as well. So, ultimately, it takes a village right, to make things happen. And all of this is happening in all the various groups, the volunteers, everyone, right, wow, everyone has also been dealing with COVID. So, there are a lot of heroes out there on the frontlines, and I think that we absolutely have a lot of thanks and appreciation for all the work that they've done to take care of our cancer patients.

Alana Hippensteele: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Larry, for taking the time today.

Larry Buie: Oh, it's been perfect. Thank you for having me.