The Art of Pharmacy

Published on 05 July 2018

At the age of 6, Alexis (Bylina) Kasniunas, Pharm.D. ’14, BCCCP, discovered her love of pharmacy when her
Great-Aunt Yaya moved in with her family. Eventually, Yaya passed away, but her memory remains an influence and inspiration for Kasniunas.

“I saw how medications maintained Yaya’s quality of life,” Kasniunas said. “My curiosity was sparked to learn how all the medications worked in the body and why she was required to take so many.”

Kasniunas carried this memory with her, and when it came time to look ahead to college, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in health care. The Chicago native set her sights on St. Louis College of Pharmacy and, carrying her memories of Yaya with her, took a step forward.

“What sealed my decision was visiting campus,” she said. “I remember feeling the close-knit College community. I also knew that if I wanted an interdisciplinary education, the College’s location within a biomedical complex would help foster connections.”

To help balance the demands of her classes, Kasniunas took an active role in theater productions at the College. She relieved stress by memorizing lines and entertaining others while participating in plays such as “The Mousetrap,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,” “Blithe Spirit” and “Noises Off.”

“There is a magical energy about the finality of a live theater production,” she said. “Although you perform a show you have practiced countless times, you are only equipped with your own ability to create an entertaining story for the audience.”

Today, Kasniunas uses her theater skills in a different way — helping critically ill patients. As a board-certified critical care pharmacist in the intensive care unit at HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois, she depends on her creative skill set to help treat patients and save lives.

“My experience in the arts helped prepare me for my career by teaching me how to ‘get into character’ so that I can shift perspectives and see situations through my patient’s eyes,”she said. “It also taught me to think on my feet during high stress situations.”

Her creativity brings balance in the world of evidence-based medicine. Many of her patients have
complex disease states and do not fit the characteristics of controlled trials. The limited research that exists on these types of patients offers a unique opportunity to get creative with treatment plans.

“The skills associated with art come in when you know the research and must find its place in a patient’s course of therapy,” she said. “My role is knowing how medications work, how to navigate the variables and how to make recommendations based on that knowledge.”

With the same level of dedication she brings to patient-care activities, Kasniunas also is helping train the
next generation of pharmacists. As a preceptor of PGY1 and PGY2 pharmacy residents, she often finds opportunities to remind new professionals that critical care pharmacy requires a balance of science and art.

“Science is what we do, and art is how we do it,” she said. “Having a handle on both art and science makes us well-rounded pharmacists. Communication is a tenet of our profession and art allows us to be expressive with more than just words. It deepens our empathy and when faced with the unknown, it gives us the skills necessary to navigate complex situations.”

This story was first published in the spring 2018 issue of Script. Visit stlcop.edu/script to read more and access previous issues.

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