The Unsung Member of Our Care Team

When we think of our Cardiac Care Team, pharmacist doesn’t immediately come to mind. But the truth is they play a very important role in our care. This week’s blog comes to us from Dr. Ashley Schenk, Cardiac Pharmacist and adult with CHD. She shares just how much more than filling prescriptions there is to her job.

Patients and family members who require routine medical care often think of seeing a doctor, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner in a clinic. This team may expand further when illness requires hospitalization – nurses, respiratory therapists, physical and occupational therapists, dieticians, medical trainees…the list goes on! However, there is one health care profession that you likely see more often than any of these – a pharmacist!

On average, patients see their community pharmacists 1.5 to 10 times more frequently than they see their primary care providers (Wow!).  These pharmacists (with support from pharmacy technicians) fill prescriptions, assess for drug interactions, consult with doctors, counsel patients, give vaccinations, and tackle challenging insurance issues. Some pharmacies are even able to do testing for COVID-19, influenza, or strep throat and provide treatment for positive tests (if available). They can recommend a number of over-the-counter (OTC) products to treat common ailments that would be safe for any medical condition you may have or any medications you may take.

While community pharmacists who work in Walgreens, CVS, various grocery store chains, and local independent pharmacies are the most common pharmacists you might encounter, pharmacists can work in many other settings. Many pharmacists work in hospital pharmacies helping check doses and mix medications that are given intravenously – like antibiotics for serious infections or chemotherapy. Patients who require blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin®) for mechanical heart valves or other heart defect repairs, may see a pharmacist in an anticoagulation clinic (also called a Coumadin® Clinic) to check how thin or thick their blood is. These pharmacists are experts in evaluating any diet changes or medication interactions to help determine the best dose for each individual patient.

Even further, countless pharmacists have undergone extra years of training in residency programs to gain extra knowledge to best care for patients with the health care teams they work with. For example, after graduating with my Doctor of Pharmacy degree, I completed one year of hospital pharmacy residency training and one additional year in cardiology pharmacy. This has helped me to become a medication expert for the patients I help care for on the cardiology teams at a large academic medical center, especially in times when patients are very ill. Just like I specialized in cardiology, you may encounter pharmacists with extra training working in the emergency department, pediatrics, ICUs, surgical teams, infectious diseases, oncology, and transplant settings.

Medications and medical conditions are certainly complicated. Pharmacists have spent many years of training and experience learning as much as they can about available medications and concepts to help them best understand new medications that may get developed in the years to come. Pharmacists consider important factors like allergies, kidney function, liver function, possible side effects, and available dosage forms (tablet, capsule, liquid, etc.). Whatever the need is, a pharmacist can help come up with the best medication plan possible to keep you healthy or help you feel better!

Dr. Ashley Schenk, originally from Prague, Nebraska, received her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in May 2015. She completed a PGY1 Pharmacy Residency at Saint Joseph East in Lexington, KY, and went on to complete a PGY2 Cardiology Pharmacy Residency at UK HealthCare in Lexington, KY. Since completion of residency, she has practiced as a Cardiology Clinical Pharmacist at UK HealthCare. As an Assistant Adjunct Professor at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy, Dr. Schenk helps teach pharmacy students and residents about cardiovascular diseases. She is board certified in pharmacotherapy and cardiology. Her practice areas of interest include acute coronary syndromes, heart failure, anticoagulation, and congenital heart defects. Dr. Schenk’s interest in cardiology stemmed from her own congenital heart defects – coarctation of the aorta and bicuspid aortic valve – and she uses her background to help connect with the patients she cares for.

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