Pharmacy Heroes: Extraordinary Stories

Pharmacy TimesMarch 2014 Mental Health
Volume 80
Issue 3

This new series highlights pharmacists who have gone the "extra mile" to help others.

This new series highlights pharmacists who have gone the “extra mile” to help others.

Hero.The word evokes amazing acts, often involving great personal sacrifice, and almost always involving lifesaving and totally selfless activities.The pharmacist behind the counter and in the community may not seem like a hero to some, but we know that there are extraordinary stories to tell about pharmacists who have accomplished truly amazing deeds—and have made a huge impact on the lives of their patients and all those who come into their sphere of influence.These are special individuals who take the already selfless attitude of pharmacists to the next level. They don’t get much recognition, accolades, or even thanks from the general public, but we feel that their stories should be told. Pharmacy Times talked to these heroes for insights into the personal stories that often don’t get told.

Curtis McManus, RPh, can summarize one of his goals as a pharmacist in a single phrase.

“You give to many, you hope to save one,” McManus said. “And you hope that that one will save another.”

That statement is the mission underscoring McManus’ entire career, one that led him from the Newark, New Jersey, housing projects to successful posts in the pharmaceutical industry. Regardless of practice setting, McManus uses pharmacy to reach less fortunate patients—and, he hopes, to change their lives.

His journey began with “Doc,” the community pharmacist in the crime-ridden, rundown Newark neighborhood where McManus grew up.

“He was almost like a father to many of us in the community,” McManus said. “He’d put a hand on a shoulder. He’d step down from the counter and tell you what was going on from a medical perspective, and why you should see a doctor, or what this OTC product could do for you. It was a level of engagement that was uncommon.”

McManus relied on his experiences at his home pharmacy when reconsidering the path onto which he defaulted in his tough Newark neighborhood.

“I decided that if I do not turn my life around, I’m going to end up dead or in jail,” he recalled. “So I did some soul searching, and looked around the community and at the businesses: there was a liquor store, and a bakery, and the pharmacy.”

He decided then, at age 14, to become a pharmacist like Doc: engaging and knowledgeable, and willing to provide a positive influence on patients, particularly those in disadvantaged areas. It is an attitude that led him and a group of student-pharmacists from the Long Island University Schwartz School of Pharmacy to a high school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and to other speaking engagements with inner-city youth. He spearheaded the push to visit the high school located in the “bad area” while president of several student-pharmacist groups, recalling the positive influence from his youth.

“There are people in these communities looking for inspiration,” McManus said. “We go back into the community and inspire and motivate these kids.”

The same sentiment took him to Haiti in 1995, as part of a medical mission. He’s been back numerous times during the past 19 years, treating and counseling up to 150 patients a day during his twice-yearly trips.

“As the chief of pharmacy, I’m doing what Doc did,” McManus said. “While there is a temptation to work fast and dispense fast, I felt like, I’m going to do pharmacy differently, so my patients see what pharmacy can do.”

It takes a certain amount of compassion—touched with patience and fortitude—to reach out in the way McManus does. If you ask him, though, it takes another trait.

“I think you have to be unafraid,” McManus said. “Not everyone who lives in the inner city is a criminal. There are a lot of people in some difficult financial and economic situations.”

“I was and am still not afraid to go to the inner city or any other difficult environment,” McManus said. “What an awesome feeling to know you helped to save someone.”

Meredith Driscoll, RPh, tends to work very closely with physicians.

“I don’t begrudge them for their lack of respect for pharmacists,” she said. “I don’t think many of them had good interactions with pharmacy.”

“Sometimes, they don’t understand the voice of the pharmacist,” she added.

Driscoll has had more than her share of frustrating experiences when relaying messages through medical assistants and waiting for a physician’s reply. As a pharmacist at a medical clinic, she’s also encountered her share of roadblocks with providers that limited her ability to reach her desired goal. Although she can occasionally stop by a physician’s office in the clinic, she developed a strategy for other situations that allows her to maintain professional relationships, while also ensuring patient care.

“I never throw doctors under the bus,” she said. “We are part of the team. I will let the patient know why I’m concerned though, and arm them with information. You just have to keep your cool, arm the patient, and document it on the hard copy or in the EHR.”

In the case of a patient receiving metolazone and furosemide for congestive heart failure, for example, her strategy helped save her patient from a life-threateningly low potassium level. Despite inquiries from the patient’s wife and Driscoll about the medication regimen, the physician’s office opted against adding a potassium prescription, she said. Two days later, Driscoll learned that the patient’s wife rushed him to the emergency department with severe leg cramps brought on by a critically low potassium level.

Maintaining her professional cool is a question of respect, even in complicated situations, she said. Acknowledging that putting other providers on the defensive rarely produces positive outcomes is helpful, too.

“My dad was a physician, so I have a lot of respect for them,” Driscoll said. “You just have to respect all the training they go through.”

Like many pharmacists, Driscoll has had apologies from physicians after she has detected a medication error, but she’s never had an apology from a patient after her advice prevented an adverse event.

“Younger doctors seem to have a better respect for the pharmacy,” she said. “I think their training has more interaction with the pharmacy and pharmacy students, so they know to call and to reach out to the pharmacist more.”

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