Advocacy is a moral and ethical obligation for pharmacists, and student pharmacists have a unique role to play in supporting the future of the profession. Those were the main takeaways of the Student Advocacy Workshop, held Dec. 3 at the Midyear Clinical Meeting & Exhibition in Anaheim.
This annual session, developed by the ASHP Advocacy and PAC Advisory Committee in coordination with the Pharmacy Student Forum, aims to increase student pharmacists’ knowledge and comfort level around advocacy — so they can become the advocacy leaders of the future.
The 2023 workshop opened with an introduction to the concept of advocacy as it relates to the profession and practice of pharmacy. Aretha Hankinson, ASHP director of media relations, underscored that advocacy is a core part of being a pharmacist.
“When you take the oath of the pharmacist at graduation, you commit to advocating for changes that improve patient care as well as justice in how services are distributed,” she told the audience.
Hankinson emphasized that advocacy is not a one-time activity but rather an ongoing commitment. That journey can begin with involvement in a Student Society of Health-System Pharmacists (SSHP) and evolve into engaging with state affiliates, with ASHP at the national level, and at practice sites throughout one’s pharmacy career.
Hankinson also provided an overview of ASHP’s advocacy priorities, including protecting funding for pharmacy residency programs and safeguarding the 340B Drug Discount Program. She spoke on two bills currently in Congress that could expand pharmacists’ provider status nationwide: The Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act and the Equitable Community Access to Pharmacist Services Act.
A “silver lining” of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hankinson pointed out, is that pharmacists’ contributions are more visible than ever to policymakers. She encouraged workshop attendees to capitalize on that momentum to gain traction in other spheres of public health such as prescribing medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), preventing HIV with PEP and PrEP, and furnishing antivirals for patients with influenza.
Once you identify the issues that matter to you, Hankinson said, you can use your voice to educate lawmakers on the pharmacist’s perspective and the potential impact of certain bills on their constituents. “Your legislators are there to represent you, and they can’t represent you if they don’t know what is important to you,” she said.
Melinda J. Burnworth, professor of pharmacy practice at Midwestern University, and Tyler A. Vest, associate chief pharmacy officer for Duke University Health System, took the stage to share their personal advocacy journeys — first as student pharmacists and now as practitioners, educators, and mentors.
Burnworth and Vest then facilitated a series of interactive breakout discussions. In small groups, student pharmacists from across the United States exchanged examples of advocacy in action in their own schools and communities.
One attendee shared the experience of getting to know policymakers in his state capital of Phoenix, Arizona, and observing the legislative process firsthand. Another from Michigan described the satisfaction of making tangible progress toward women’s health issues. A third attendee from California has hosted awareness events on her campus addressing topics such as opioid use disorder and preventing burnout.
The presenters acknowledged that it can be challenging to make time for advocacy amid the commitments of school, work, and family. Burnworth reminded students that any level of volunteerism is an investment in the future of the pharmacy profession.
She likened advocacy to putting away money in a savings account, in which the value grows over time. “Small steps in advocacy can make a world of difference,” she said.
The workshop presenters pointed to ASHP’s publications, action alerts, student advocacy toolkit, and templated resources to help student pharmacists immerse themselves in the issues and take action.
Formal advocacy training is seldom incorporated into the required pharmacy curriculum. The annual one-hour Student Advocacy Workshop aims to impart practical skills and tools for students to take back to their SSHPs — and carry with them throughout their decades-long careers.