Pharmacists see expanding role in recent years

When Al Lodwick graduated from pharmacy school in 1965 and got a job as a pharmacist, all he was allowed to do was give people the right medications.

“We weren’t allowed to discuss their medications with them. If they asked us questions, the law required us to tell them to talk to their doctor,” said Lodwick, who runs St. Mary-Corwin Hospital’s anticoagulation clinic in Pueblo, Colo.

Now, pharmacists are often the first to hear questions about minor ailments, chronic conditions and other health concerns.

The trend has led to a growing movement to train pharmacy students in the field.

The School of Pharmacy at the University of Colorado’s Health Sciences Center in Denver is expanding its efforts to get students working as interns in pharmacies across Colorado, and university officials are eyeing possibilities in Colorado Springs.

Students at the School of Pharmacy spend one afternoon a week for three years and the entire last year of the doctor of pharmacy degree by the side of pharmacists who work for hospitals, community health centers, community pharmacies, national pharmacy chains and community organizations.

“We’ve begun to recruit placements for students on a more aggressive basis and are finding communities that want to provide more service to customers or even start new programs,” said Chris Turner, director of experiential programs for the School of Pharmacy.

The school has established internships for students in Limon, Steamboat Springs, Colorado City, Alamosa, Sterling, Denver and Pueblo. More discussions are under way, and Turner said he hopes to establish partnerships for students in their final year of schooling with pharmacies in Colorado Springs.

The work students do is commensurate with their level of schooling. First-year pharmacy students, for example, may go to elementary schools to talk about the principles of a healthy lifestyle and nutrition. Second-year students are trained to give immunizations with pharmacists who run flu-shot clinics.

“By the time they get to their final year, they’ve been places and done things. It’s a world of difference from the old way, when they went out only minimally, and it was a passive mode of standing, watching and learning. Now, they’re expected to be active,” Turner said.

Each year, eight students in their final year of school are sent to each site for six weeks. Some students are able to help launch and staff new programs, such as chronic-disease management, Turner said.

“We don’t set ourselves up to be in competition with anybody – we work with local physicians and other health care practitioners, who refer patients to the pharmacy for self-management education,” he said.

Students can work one-on-one with pewople with diabetes, for example, to help monitor their medication, diet and exercise, Turner said.

The program is unique, he said, adding that he expects it to become a model for other pharmacy schools.

“Our school has taken an aggressive stance and said each student in the program should be given direct patient care acuities,” he said.

Lodwick said the experiential program has benefited his anticoagulation clinic.

“We get students in their last year of pharmacy school – at least their sixth year of college – so they are really good workers,” Lodwick said.

He supervises two students at a time to draw blood and test it in the clinic. Students learn to adjust doses based on the results.

“It allows me to almost be in two places at the same time because they can test one person while I’m looking at the results. It’s a huge win-win situation,” he said.