Student Pharmacist Opportunities on the Hill

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Student Pharmacist Opportunities on the Hill 

Integration of Student Pharmacists into the Office of a U.S. Senator, Touro College-New York

Student pharmacists can participate in the offices of local, state and government officials to work with the voter to answer health care questions, to work with the health care aide of the official to do research, and to do community outreach on health education and public health awareness activities and programming. Partnerships between pharmacy faculty and public officials provides faculty the opportunity to provide input into policy, whether it be city, state or national. Laws affecting patients, health-care and pharmacists specifically can be impacted by the faculty and student involvement. In addition, the public official, and the constituents come to view the pharmacist as one who can implement changes, be involved in health-care policy, and who is aware of the patient issues and education.

This specific case study describes the development of a relationship with a State Senator. The initial contact with the local office in New York came through a relationship developed with the legislative assistant in the Senator’s Washington DC office. The faculty from the school reached out to discuss whether there were interns from law firms, or other educational programs in the Senators office to determine whether there was already a sense of what students could do. When the faculty from the school first spoke with the legislative assistant they immediately felt that a student might be able to do some of the health research, and answering calls from constituents in the office. There was also an understanding that the faculty member would be able to help with policy, especially since this specific Senator had a large role in health-care reform. The relationship is in its early phases, but the Senator has taken more than one student with him to health programs in the City.

The legislative assistant in New York and in Washington DC are both approved as preceptors for the public health components of the College of Pharmacy curriculum. Introductory and Advanced Practice course syllabi have been approved in the offices and students have been scheduled for both introductory and advanced practice courses. The Directors for Practice Experience are the primary contacts with the Preceptor in the Senators office. The development of the course is in its third year for the introductory practice experience and in the first year for the advanced practice experience. As with any partnership, it takes time to develop trust, and communication.

The Touro College of Pharmacy implemented this partnership with the Senators office because of an already established relationship and "in" with the legislative assistant in the Washington, DC office. Other officials have been contacted. A city representative has indicated a desire to have student pharmacists in his offices. This opportunity developed from an immunization clinic that the faculty members helped to coordinate in the city for city leaders and workers. The faculty members have been great advocates for increasing immunization rates in Harlem and the Bronx. Several partnerships with non-profit organizations that work to reduce health disparities have been formed because of the immunization outreach. This may provide the opportunity to invite state and national elected officials to review what pharmacists are doing for their constituents and may lead to the development of a partnership between Touro and the offices of these officials.

Visits to Capitol Hill by pharmacy faculty and leaders support the development of relationships with members of Congress. The AACP advocacy web pages include information on how to contact the offices of the Senators and Congressional representatives. Additionally, the AACP Vice President for Policy and Advocacy can provide names and introductions in many cases to assist colleges and schools of pharmacy interested in developing similar programs with their members of Congress.

There is sufficient evidence to advance the role of the pharmacist into legislative policy or other public policy settings. Similar to the goal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) science and technology policy fellowships, academic pharmacy should seek to enhance the development of public policy through the “infusion” of pharmacist knowledge [29].

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