By Dr. Linda Dumas
If the past year has taught me anything, it is the ability to make career pivots quickly and without overthinking. 2020 started out as most New Year’s do in the pharmacy; changes in insurance cards, new drug formularies, and those deductibles kicking in again. As a seasoned pharmacist, these changes are to be expected and manageable.
I distinctly remember the first time I was asked a question about the coronavirus. It was in early 2020, and by one of my regular patients who happened to have family living outside of Wuhan, China. The question was in regards to building up your immunity, something along the lines of “What can I tell my family to take to prevent them from catching this virus?”
At the time I was aware of a virus there, but there hadn’t been much publicity about it yet. I could see he was distraught so I tried to offer him some reassurance, reminding him that usually viruses come and go. I gave him my usual list of products that help increase immunity; vitamin c, zinc lozenges, elderberry syrup.
Except that this virus didn’t go, and in fact a couple weeks after I answered that question I saw on the news that the U.S. had the first case of the novel coronavirus. From that point on I don’t think a day has passed where I am not thinking or speaking about COVID-19. The questions rolled in on a daily basis and it seemed like overnight my shelves were empty of commonly used over-the-counter products.
“What do you recommend?” I still hear this question in my sleep.
On a usual day, during normal “non-COVID” times, I would be asked questions occasionally. As the pandemic picked up speed, and stay-at-home orders were slowly being implemented, I recognized the need for a trusted resource. This prompted me to establish Apothea, my pharmacy consulting business. If my everyday patients were having these questions, I can only imagine that people everywhere were asking the same thing. I launched my business three months into the pandemic, and focused on spreading reputable and clear information about the pandemic from a pharmacy standpoint.
My biggest career pivot was the release of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. My pharmacy was the first in the area to receive the vaccine, and as you can imagine everyone wanted it.
Back in the pharmacy, the volume continued to increase. Patients were looking to stock up on their maintenance medication in three-month supplies. Understandably they were concerned about a complete shutdown, and they didn’t want to risk exposing themselves to the virus by making monthly trips to the pharmacy.
This introduced the next phase of the pandemic: the drug shortage period. There were national limitations on medications shown in early studies to reduce the mortality rate of patients diagnosed with COVID-19. As these medications became difficult to acquire, this changed our practice as we now had to have documentation of COVID-19 before dispensing specific medication. It was a difficult time; often these medications also treated other conditions, such as Hydroxychloroquine for rheumatoid arthritis.
My biggest career pivot was the release of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. My pharmacy was the first in the area to receive the vaccine, and as you can imagine everyone wanted it. The calls came in fast and furious as the news released information about pharmacies carrying the vaccine. Following the company policy, we strictly followed the executive orders from the governor in regards to who got the first doses of the vaccine. Again, a difficult time, as our workload increased and the emotional toll it took on everyone.
The pandemic marks a shift in my career as I’ve had to learn to:
- Lead a Team during unprecedented times. Like everyone else I wasn’t sure what the next phase of the pandemic looked like. I provided my team support and reassurance that we were doing everything we could given the information we had at that time.
- Be Flexible. There were quite a lot of micro and macro changes during the pandemic. I’ve learned how to ebb and flow with these changes as needed.
- Become a Resource. When the doctor’s offices shut down, the pharmacies continued to stay open. I was answering a lot of questions and helping patients transition to telehealth.
- Delegate. As we move into the next phase of the vaccination program, pharmacy technicians will be able to help administer the vaccine. This will greatly reduce the pressure on the pharmacists, and will scale the vaccination program to the next level.
- Grow a Team. I quickly recognized a need to add more technicians to my team. During the pandemic I interviewed a lot of candidates but was persistent in looking for the right people.
When the pandemic is over (hopefully sooner than later), I will forever remember these experiences, I have been truly changed personally and professionally. One day I will tell my children (and grandchildren) the stories I’ve heard and the impact I was able to make.