Pharmacists must remain active

March 26, 2013

KINGSVILLE, Texas — State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a practicing pharmacist for more than 30 years and current president pro tempore of the Texas Senate, encouraged student and campus leaders at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy on March 22 to direct future change in the state and nation.

Students will play a critical role in the future of pharmacy, especially with the rapid changes in the health care industry, she said.

“As I look at the opportunity you have, it is limitless in the wellness field,” said Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. “We cannot play a clear role if we are not involved in our profession.”

View photos from her visit.

Van de Putte, R.Ph., asked students to be involved in professional organizations while in school and after leaving so they can be part of the decision-making process to control the practice of pharmacy.

“Our meeting with the senator was very enlightening and a pertinent reminder that staying involved post pharmacy school is essential in ensuring that our profession continues to have a voice in the legislature,” said Purvi Patel, chapter president of Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA).

The TAMHSC-Rangel College of Pharmacy is the first pharmacy school for the senator to visit in her goal of rallying pharmacy students to lead in health care policy.

“We were delighted to host Senator Van de Putte,” said Indra Reddy, Ph.D., professor and founding dean of the TAMHSC-Rangel College of Pharmacy. “Her service as an independent pharmacist and a leader is truly inspirational. The senator has created a legacy of commitment to education and to the advancement of the pharmacy profession. Our students will greatly benefit from her words of encouragement and advice to be more actively engaged in professional organizations.”

A national policy Van de Putte supported was the Affordable Care Act. When the Supreme Court upheld the act in a 5-to-4 decision in 2012, the senator was pleased it would continue to bring care to Texans who otherwise would not have health insurance.

“Today, 32 million people have the promise of health care, including 9 million Latinos and 6 million Texans,” she said. “As a pharmacist, I swear an oath that reads, ‘I will consider the welfare of humanity and relief of human suffering my primary concerns.’ I am so proud that President Obama and the federal government will do so as well.”

The Affordable Care Act could lead to more hands-on decisions by pharmacists who can utilize their clinical training in the practice setting. Pharmacists would be instrumental in coaching patients as they transition from the hospital to the home setting to ensure they stay on their medication regiments.

“I am kind of a health coach,” Van de Putte said. “I listen to patients and try to improve their lives. It’s the same thing I do in the legislature. I listen to my colleagues.”

The senator was fundamental in developing legislation allowing pharmacists to give vaccinations. She said she knew when her colleagues were going to vote “No,” but she needed to know why.

After serving in the legislature for 22 years, Van de Putte understands the dynamics of policymaking, having been involved with hundreds of bills.

“A loud unified voice captures and commands and directs public policy,” she said. “While we all have different competing practice settings, that’s great, but the fragmentation of our profession and not having that unified voice really does not serve us well.”

During her pharmacy visit, Van de Putte pleaded with students to not abdicate their role in leading the profession.

“I have to tell you how sad I am that I have seen the diminishment of engagement and activity in the different pharmacy profession groups,” she said. “I say that with a plea and an admonishment. If we abdicate that, then someone else will fill that space.”

The senator asked students if they wanted other people deciding what they can do in their pharmacy practice settings “because you are too lazy to check an email about an alert that a decision may be happening.”

“Make a phone call; form that relationship,” she said. “If you want other folks to decide your destiny, then don’t be involved. Step it up. Don’t be lame. Control your own future and your destiny by being the leaders.”

Van de Putte believes students from the TAMHSC-Rangel College of Pharmacy will be the next set of great pharmacy leaders in the state and nationwide, as they already are demonstrating leadership qualities.

“Hearing her words of encouragement reminded me that my involvement can make a difference, even if its extent is just inspiring others to get involved,” said Patel, third-year doctoral pharmacy student. “If we don’t care enough about our profession to stay informed and voice our opinions, then someone else will start making decisions for us.”

TAMHSC-Rangel College of Pharmacy is ranked 48 among the best schools of pharmacy, according to U.S. News & World Report. It is the only program less than 10 years old listed among the top 50, with the average age of the other schools being more than 40 years old. The school was created in 2006 and graduated its first class in 2010 to help improve the shortage of pharmacists in the Texas border region.

“Having Senator Leticia Van de Putte in our school was a great honor,” said Stephanie Staudt, chapter president of National Community Pharmacists Association. “I was thankful for the opportunity to converse with her about key issues in pharmacy today.  She was very helpful and insightful with these issues, and I am privileged to have met her.

“Her passion for pharmacy is remarkable and she has definitely inspired me to become a more proficient pharmacist with her words of encouragement,” said Staudt, who is a third-year doctoral pharmacy student from New Braunfels, Texas.

For Van de Putte, the late State Rep. Irma Lerma Rangel was her mentor as a legislator, and Rangel’s sister, Minnie, her mentor as a pharmacist. She said her heart was in Kingsville, Texas, at the TAMHSC-Rangel College of Pharmacy because of the time she spent with her mentors.

Irma Lerma Rangel was first elected to the House of Representatives in November 1976. She was the first Mexican-American female attorney in Kingsville, first Mexican-American female assistant district attorney in Nueces County, first Hispanic female elected to the Texas Legislature, and first female elected to serve as chair of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus. She served her South Texas district for 26 years.

In authoring House Bill 1601 in 2001 to establish South Texas’ first professional school, Rangel united her aims of increasing educational opportunities for the underprivileged and revitalizing her home region. She passed on March 18, 2003, following a battle with cancer, and the Texas A&M University System named the college after her.

— Cheri Shipman

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