President’s Message - Our Role in Healthcare: a Personal Reflection

by Tom Westerkamp, ICHP President
April 9, 2013

My older brother, Jack, was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer in November 2011. We know the devastation of this disease, and as cancers go, this is typically an aggressive, relentless disease with a grim prognosis – not a good one to get if you have any choice in these matters. As a pharmacist, my family members came to me for advice on information that they had Googled. They had gleaned information from cyberspace on possible “cures” and promising treatment regimens. All I had were depressing facts, sobering statistics and weak answers.

He had a radical surgical procedure in January 2012, and endured twelve months of chemotherapy, side effects, pain, nausea and vomiting. The family arranged multiple visits out to see him where he lived in rural Iowa. He was treated at a large teaching hospital in Omaha and was referred to a regional cancer specialty hospital in Illinois. While in the Chicago area for chemo, we had more frequent opportunities to get together and had simple meals together on days when his GI tract cooperated and his nausea and vomiting were under control.

I do not have a lot of clinical experience in oncology; most of my training was in critical care. During this past year, I relied on the input of a couple of oncology pharmacy specialist friends that I know who were very helpful in providing information to me. George (in Evanston) and Tom (in Omaha) provided input on the various chemo regimens that they have experience with and always had helpful hints on treating the side effects my brother experienced. Their expertise with various treatment modalities they have used with success was helpful, and I eagerly shared their suggestions with my brother and his immediate family.

An important message to all of us that practice in pharmacy: no matter what our role is, no matter what our title is, no matter where we practice, never forget how important providing solid drug information can be to the patients and families and friends with which we interact. Never forget that there are many people looking for drug information, and that many people rely on our input and suggestions. Never forget how important it is to speak to patients and their families with a smile and caring attitude. Our knowledge is essential for many patients (and their families) to get through what frequently are extremely difficult times. In our busy day-to-day activities, when we get so caught up with phones ringing and dozens of orders to review and process, IVs and chemotherapy orders to prepare, and meetings to attend, it’s easy to lose sight of what we are each called to do. It’s easy to forget how important our role is with all that is going on in our busy lives.

All it takes is a family member or friend with a serious illness or severe side effects to jolt us out of our day-to-day routine with questions about their drug therapy to stop us in our tracks, and remind us how important our role in healthcare is.

I was reminded of this many times this past year while my brother was being treated. After Jack died in January, the absence of drug therapy questions from the family, and the void it created, served as a reminder to me of the role my oncology pharmacy specialist friends played in easing his burden, especially at the end.

So as we look forward to the arrival of Spring, and plow through another day at work or at school, with all the hectic activities that get jammed into it, I would ask you to once in a while take a deep breath and remind yourself why you went into pharmacy and what an important role you play on the healthcare team. We are important. We do touch the lives of our patients. We may not see it frequently, but our contributions do have an impact on the lives of our patients and their families. Whether our primary responsibilities are in drug purchasing, drug distribution, clinical, administrative, teaching or full-time learning, remember how important our professional role is, and that we are all trying to help patients.

Thanks for caring.

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