As pharmacy students, you are embarking on a rewarding and noble profession that addresses the well-being of patients at its core. While your primary role may be dispensing medications, there is an essential aspect that deserves equal attention: patient advocacy. Patient advocacy goes beyond traditional practice, allowing a broader impact on health outcomes. By working with patient advocacy organizations, you contribute to improving health care access and quality for all. Pharmacy students and pharmacists should collaborate with patient advocacy organizations to benefit the patient experience.
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4 Tips to Collaborating for a Greater Cause
- Provide medication education and counseling: Pharmacists and pharmacy students possess expertise in medications and can contribute to patients’ care by providing medication education. Most patients take the medications they are prescribed, but the interaction at most pharmacies is transactional. When engaging a patient, pharmacists have a wonderful opportunity to build relationships with them. They also have the opportunity to collaborate with advocacy organizations to share their materials in the pharmacy, such as Barrier Toolkits,1 as well as build trust and deepen relationships by cocreating educational materials, engaging in workshops, and delivering presentations on various medications, their uses, potential adverse events (AEs), and interactions. By actively participating in patient education initiatives, pharmacists and pharmacy students can empower patients to make informed decisions about their health care, improve medication adherence, and ultimately enhance patient outcomes.
- Advocate for medication access and affordability: Patient advocacy organizations often champion equitable access to medications and address issues related to their affordability. Pharmacists and pharmacy students can collaborate with these organizations by participating in advocacy efforts to promote policies and programs that increase access to affordable medications. They can contribute by providing insights into medication pricing, offering expertise on formulary development, and participating in discussions on drug pricing transparency. By leveraging their knowledge and experiences, pharmacists and pharmacy students can help patient advocacy organizations fight for fair and affordable medication access for all.
- Contribute to health policy development: Patient advocacy organizations often play a crucial role in driving policy changes that benefit patients and promote patient-centered care. Pharmacists and pharmacy students can collaborate with these organizations by actively engaging in health policy development. They can provide valuable perspectives on medication-related issues, contribute to the development of evidence-based guidelines, and offer input on initiatives that improve medication safety and quality. By participating in policy discussions, pharmacists and pharmacy students can ensure that medication-related concerns are adequately addressed, leading to improved health care outcomes and a more patient-centered health care system.
- Be advocates: Tigerlily Foundation has a national program called the Advocate Now to Grow, Empower and Lead (ANGEL) Advocacy Program,2 which educates individuals on how to be their own best advocates and engages providers, policy makers, pharmacists, and others in understanding how to better understand and interact with patients. Becoming an ANGEL Advocate also enables pharmacists to be a health ambassador in their community and advocate for patient empowerment. This type of relationship can contribute not only to better health literacy, but also to improved adherence, empowerment, trust, and relationships.
Benefits of Engaging With Patient Advocacy Organizations
- Enhances patient care: An article published in the Canadian Pharmacists Journal states: “In order to continue moving the role of the pharmacist into the future, it is important that pharmacists advocate for their expanded scope of practice as health care providers. Research has proven that clinical services provided by pharmacists improve patient outcomes—the goal of all health care professionals.”3 Working with patient advocacy organizations allows pharmacy professionals to gain a deeper understanding of patient needs, concerns, and challenges. This knowledge can inform their practice, enabling them to provide more empathetic, patient-centered care. By actively listening to patients’ stories and experiences, pharmacists can advocate for tailored solutions and for necessary improvements in health care services.
- Amplifies your voice: Collaboration with patient advocacy organizations provides an opportunity to amplify your voice on important health care issues. By partnering with these organizations, pharmacy students and pharmacists can contribute to public awareness campaigns, policy discussions, and legislative efforts. Through collective advocacy, you can influence positive changes in health care systems and policies, ensuring that patient perspectives are at the forefront. For example, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) collaborates with patient advocacy organizations to champion policies that improve medication safety and access. Through joint efforts, it has successfully influenced legislation and regulations, leading to changes that benefit patients and enhance health care delivery. One example is when the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs released a report on the drug shortage that incorporated ASHP’s advocacy expert recommendations for tackling the national security risks in the drug supply chain and indicating ways to improve supply chain transparency for the benefit of patients.4
- Builds professional networks: Engaging with patient advocacy organizations exposes pharmacy students and pharmacists to a vast network of professionals and experts in various health care fields. These connections can foster mentorship opportunities, expand professional networks, and open doors to collaborations. By joining forces with like-minded individuals, you can tap into a supportive community committed to making a difference in patient care. For example, the National Patient Advocate Foundation offers a range of networking opportunities for health care professionals, including pharmacists. Through their programs and events, pharmacists can connect with other professionals, engage in knowledge sharing, and collaborate on initiatives aimed at improving patient care and access to medications.5
- Empowers patients: Patient advocacy organizations empower individuals to take charge of their health and navigate the complexities of health care systems. As pharmacy professionals, you can play a crucial role in equipping patients with the knowledge and resources they need to advocate for themselves. By collaborating with patient advocacy organizations, you can contribute to educational initiatives and support activities and community outreach programs, empowering patients to make informed decisions about their health. For example, collaborating with organizations such as Tigerlily Foundation, a breast cancer foundation seeking to equip patients with tools and knowledge before, during, and after a breast cancer diagnosis, pharmacists can actively engage in educational initiatives by providing comprehensive information about breast cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment options. They can offer medication counseling sessions to ensure patients have a thorough understanding of their prescribed medications, potential AEs, and strategies for adherence. Moreover, through community outreach programs and events, pharmacists can raise awareness about breast cancer risk factors, promote self-examination techniques, and educate the community on the importance of regular screenings.
Collaborating with patient advocacy organizations offers students a unique opportunity to make a meaningful impact in health care. Engaging with these organizations not only enhances outcomes but amplifies your voice, expands your professional network, and empowers you to be an advocate. I encourage pharmacy students to seek opportunities to collaborate with patient advocacy organizations, seize the chance to make a difference,and contribute to creating a more patient-centered and equitable health care system. Together, we can transform health care for the better.
About the Author
Maimah Karmo is the founder and CEO of Tigerlily Foundation and a 17-year survivor of triple-negative breast cancer. Under Karmo’s leadership, Tigerlily Foundation has launched national and global health initiatives and provided breast health, educational, empowerment, wellness, and transformational programs focused on ending disparities for Black women.
- Barrier toolkits. Tigerlily Foundation. 2023. Accessed September 20, 2023. https://www.tigerlilyfoundation.org/barrier-toolkits/
- Young women’s advocate now to grow, empower, and lead (ANGEL) advocacy training. Tigerlily Foundation. 2023. Accessed September 20, 2023. https://www.tigerlilyfoundation.org/programs/angel/
- Boechler L, Despins R, Holmes J, et al. Advocacy in pharmacy: changing “what is” into “"what should be”. Can Pharm J (Ott). 2015;148(3):138-141. doi:10.1177/1715163515577693
- Abramowitz PW. ASHP advocacy priorities support patients and pharmacy profession. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. April 26, 2023. Accessed September 20, 2023. https://www.ashp.org/about-ashp/ceo-blogs/recent-blogs/ashp-advocacy-priorities-support-patients-and-pharmacy-profession?loginreturnUrl=SSOCheckOnly
- About. National Patient Advocate Foundation. 2023. Accessed September 20, 2023.https://www.npaf.org/about/