When she started pharmacy college, Sasha Cruz had no idea how involved pharmacists could be with patient care.

That all changed in her first year when Cruz of San Antonio took advantage of a service-learning opportunity at CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi – Memorial in Corpus Christi, Texas.

During her second year at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, Cruz participated in a medication discharge counseling program. The program was developed in 2009 by CHRISTUS Spohn. Texas A&M student interns, residents and pharmacists along with the college’s chapter of the Student Society of Health-System Pharmacy (SSHP) expanded the program with CHRISTUS Spohn pharmacists in 2012 to include weekend coverage.

Brady McNulty, Pharm.D., Class of 2014, was the 2012 SSHP chapter president when he was an intern at CHRISTUS Spohn where he was instrumental in developing a weekend rotation schedule for pharmacy students to volunteer.

“I pursued creating the program to give pharmacy students invaluable experience inside an actual hospital pharmacy setting,” McNulty said. “Most volunteer programs in pharmacy school prior to that involved community pharmacies or large public events. This event allowed students a chance to see hospital practice firsthand and decide for themselves if it was something they would consider for post-graduation employment.”

McNulty, who is from Corpus Christi, is in his first-year residency at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Roseburg, Ore. The expansion gave professional student pharmacists the opportunity to develop communication and counseling skills while developing clinical skills through experiential education.

Students from the college’s SSHP chapter extended the program in a valuable way by providing weekend coverage at the Level II Trauma Center at CHRISTUS Spohn. Students helped teach patients the appropriate administration of Lovenox, which is used to prevent blood clots, proper use of nebulizers to help with breathing problems, and optimizing medication reconciliation.

“The pharmacy students have been invaluable in administering this program,” said Christopher W. Miller, Pharm.D., BCPP, CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Corpus Christi- Memorial’s director of primary care and pharmacy services.

The program gives students opportunities to engage in patient counseling, perform medication reconciliation, provide medication therapy management (MTM), and prescription verification. The program has become one of the most popular service-learning opportunities available to students at the college.

“We would counsel on the floor and on the phone as follow-up for missed patients,” said Katie Kidd, fourth-year professional student pharmacist who served on the SSHP Medication Safety Committee. “We conducted a risk assessment built by a CHRISTUS Spohn intern and categorize patients into high, medium and low. We focused on high-risk patients,” Kidd said.

Students expressed that learning these skills in the first year has changed the trajectory of their study.

“I credit this service-learning opportunity as one of the catalysts in motivating me to pursue a career in clinical pharmacy,” Cruz said. “What I enjoyed most was being able to interact on a more personal level with patients during rounds with the residents and pharmacy staff. I would really encourage all pharmacy students to participate and see all the great ways pharmacists can be involved in patient care.”

Justin Shanks, a third-year professional student pharmacist and president of the SSHP chapter, said discharge counseling was a premier service-learning opportunity.

“I’m often surprised in discussion with pharmacists from across Texas and the nation that many other hospitals and health systems are just getting a program like this off the ground,” Shanks said. “I have found that it is a great conversation piece to discuss during informal and formal interview sessions that I can draw upon to illustrate my clinical experiences and involvement in current initiatives of health-systems pharmacy.”

Students interested in hospital pharmacy appreciated the focus on clinical application. However, Kidd never dreamed it would garner national recognition.

In December 2014, the project received the Outstanding Professional Development Project Award at the Midyear Clinical Meeting of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP).

“Being recognized nationally for this professional development service project reinforces what Texas Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists has said and serves as added recognition for our chapter’s hard work and dedication,” Shanks said.

— Cheri Shipman

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