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Called upon during COVID, pharmacists are ready to play a bigger role in healthcare

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Posted at 5:30 AM, May 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-10 18:47:25-04

ROOTSTOWN, Ohio — Millions of COVID vaccine doses have been given out over the past few months, many of them delivered by pharmacists. That was especially true in the first few weeks of Ohio’s vaccination effort, when pharmacists were vaccinating residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

It led companies like CVS to ramp up hiring efforts just to keep up.

CVS testing
CVS testing drive-thru.

Eight years of training to become a pharmacist ended for Steven Fosnight with a global pandemic. It was an unexpected and real-life final exam.

“It seemed like everything was a symptom of COVID,” Fosnight said. “Even as an intern, we were fielding a ton of questions about what was the truth behind the vaccine, because there was so much misinformation that came out.”

Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) students like Fosnight and more established pharmacists helped deliver some of the first vaccines, despite the fact that it’s a profession many people might not have thought much about before the pandemic.

“You know, it was a pharmacist who identified that there were six doses of vaccine in every vial that was dispensed,” said NEOMED Senior Associate Dean of Program Quality and Student Success Seth Brownlee, PharmD. “So immediately, it increased our ability to vaccinate by almost 20%.”

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Pharmacists were tasked with delivering some of the first vaccines to America's most-vulnerable populations.

That extra attention and responsibility was something pharmacists have been fighting for for years. The industry has been lobbying state and federal lawmakers to expand what pharmacists are allowed to do, gradually making them a bigger part of patient care.

The pandemic showed the public why those steps are worth it, says NEOMED Assistant Dean of Student Success and Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice Dr. Jaclyn Boyle, PharmD.

“Patients are seeing us more outside the counter,” Boyle said. “We are providing these services in a way that we have never been able to do before and now we have new and more convenient capabilities.”

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After the vaccination effort is over, pharmacists hope the general public keeps coming back to to them to help address their regular healthcare needs.

Like other medical professionals, she says pharmacists have been using Telehealth technology much more during the pandemic to guide patients through their medication and answer questions about COVID. But one day, pharmacists want to have the right to prescribe medication themselves, meaning that they could start seeing patients and getting paid for those visits in the same way specialists do.

The Ohio Pharmacists Association points out a handful of legislative priorities, successes, and efforts that it’s working on.

“We’re training that next generation of healthcare professionals in a way that helps them practice for the future of Pharmacy and not just how Pharmacy is being practiced right now,” Boyle said.

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Pharmacists hope to eventually see patients like a specialist would. Industry associations have been lobbying lawmakers for changes to state and federal law to allow that kind of patient interaction.

Anecdotally, more young people are showing they’re interested in being trained to become a pharmacist, says University of Toledo Department of Pharmacy Practice Chair Martin Ohlinger, PharmD.

“Students that are visiting our campus as high school students, they’ve seen that increased visibility of the pharmacist and pharmacy students and techs out there in the field doing this,” Ohlinger said.

If you want more information about training to become a pharmacist, you can find it at the Northeast Ohio Medical University or the University of Toledo College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

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