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The Sky's the Limit

Published on 28 August 2019

Laura Challen, Pharm.D., MBA, BCPS, BCACP, associate professor of pharmacy practice at St. Louis College of Pharmacy and ambulatory care clinical pharmacist at Mercy JFK Clinic at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, shares what a typical day looks like helping patients and educating future pharmacy leaders.

Q: Tell us more about balancing your clinical and academic roles.

A: I work in an outpatient clinic and I assist with chronic disease state management. My work is focused on helping the physicians at our clinic manage medications for patients with long-term diseases. I spend my time meeting one-on-one with patients to discuss and adjust their chronic medications in between their routine doctor appointments.

My practice site is at a health care clinic for the uninsured and underinsured. At the clinic, I’m part of a larger health care team that includes internal medicine physicians, dieticians and social workers. We all work in tandem to help achieve successful health outcomes for our patients.

I spend half of my time working at the clinic and the other half educating the next generation of pharmacists as a faculty member at St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

Q: What do you love most about your job?

A: As a health care provider, I love being part of a patient’s journey to improve their health. As a professor, I love watching the aha moment that happens when students put the textbook information they have learned to use and it all clicks for them in a real-world, patient care setting.

Q: What does a typical workday look like for you?

A: My mornings are typically spent in the clinic. Our patient care team starts the day with a 10-minute huddle to get up to speed on what is happening, and then we begin seeing patients. Throughout the day, we will see a variety of patients with numerous long-term and chronic conditions including diabetes, asthma, hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In some cases, we see patients as a team, while in other cases, members of the team will meet with patients one-on-one. We also make phone calls to patients.

When I’m at the clinic, I also have the pleasure of working with students on rotations. Each year, I have 14 students who each spend five weeks at my site getting fully immersed in the clinic setting. Many of these students go on to complete residencies after graduating from pharmacy school. My clinic welcomes first- and second-year residents, so I get to work with them as well.

In the afternoons, I spend a lot of time at the College. On any given day, I can be found conducting or writing lectures and handling various aspects of course coordination including creating and editing test questions and grading exams. I’m also involved in a few research projects, so a portion of my time on campus is spent collecting and/or analyzing data and writing manuscripts for publication.

Q: What do you believe is the biggest misconception about the field of pharmacy?

A: I think the general community sometimes thinks we only count pills. Many times, my friends and my own patients have difficulty understanding that I’m a member of a larger patient care team, and that my role is more than simply filling medications prescribed by a doctor. I often have to explain that I’m a pharmacist who works with the doctor, and that I’m responsible for making recommendations on what medications the doctor should prescribe, double-checking for drug interactions and ensuring that medications are dosed appropriately. I think we’re making some headway in helping the public to understand our role, but there are still a lot of misconceptions out there that we need to overcome.

Q: What advice would you give to a student entering pharmacy school?

A: I can’t stress enough the importance of working or shadowing in various pharmacy settings while in pharmacy school. When I was a student, I worked as a technician in a community pharmacy. I liked the work I was doing, but I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do for my whole life. These experiences offer the chance for students to explore different paths in pharmacy and figure out which path is right for them. I encourage students to work whatever connections they have to get their foot in the door while still in school.

There are long-term care pharmacists that go to nursing homes. There’s oncology, pediatrics, inpatient/outpatient care, nuclear pharmacy, insurance, and so much more. The sky’s the limit within the pharmacy industry, but pharmacists aren’t always informed about that until later on in our careers.

St. Louis College of Pharmacy offers a variety of undergraduate and professional degrees that can prepare students for exciting careers in pharmacy and health professions. Visit stlcop.edu/academics to learn more.

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