The Changing Role of the Pharmacist

February 25, 2020by Todd Eury

The Changing Role of the Pharmacist, by Nabila Ismail, PharmD

Today’s interview is with Geoff Brown who I went to Pharmacy School with. We were on the Hempling Fund together where we worked on community outreach, sharing the successes of students, and creating educational materials for the public. We also used to hang out with a similar crowd because we both liked electronic dance music but also have an entrepreneurial spirit.

I chose to interview Geoff because even back in Pharmacy School, he was always doing some super cool things! Always competing in competitions, scholarships, and pursuing things outside of Pharmacy as well and that’s why we really clicked! After graduation, he didn’t go down the typical pharmacist route and that’s what I wanted to bring to my blog today!

Hi Geoff! How are you doing these days? You graduated about 2 years ago from the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy. Tell us what you’re doing with your PharmD!

I’m fine and dandy. I’m working at a medical marijuana dispensary in Buffalo at the moment and am also working on some other projects on the side.

What is Antidote and how did you hear about it? What opportunities are there for current students or grads?

Antidote (Antidote.me) is a digital health company that matches patients to clinical trials. I found out about them through a friend I met on LinkedIn, Erin Albert. Antidote hires pharmacy students, pharmacists, and others with medical backgrounds to do contract work.

I’m familiar with two different roles there. One is with their “Annotation Army” that was my first job with them. Basically, Antidote’s idea is to fix the fact that all the eligibility criteria for clinical trials are listed on a website called, clinicaltrials.gov, in plain text format. Antidote takes that information and makes it machine-readable, so it’s easier for patients to search for clinical trials, using their match tool which is on the homepage of their website. There is a lot more to it than that, but that’s a basic overview. The other position I’m familiar with is called, patient liaison manager.

This role definitely taught me a lot about technology and recruitment for clinical trials. Antidote also contracts with pharmaceutical companies to help them meet their recruitment goals for studies. In the patient liaison role, I’d call patients on the phone (off of my computer) and have a conversation with them about their medical history and oftentimes their medication history as well.  

The nice thing about it was that all the people I called, already completed an online questionnaire indicating they’re interested in participating in a study and that they were likely to qualify for the trial we had available. It was rewarding to talk to people that we’d match to studies because they had often exhausted all other forms of treatment and this was their last resort. I learned a ton in this role and got to see a lot of different things from working on 6 or 7 different clinical trials and with a handful of pharmaceutical companies like Biogen, Novartis, and GSK.

When you were in Pharmacy School, what were you hoping to do versus what you’re doing now? I’m curious to see if you changed your mind throughout pharmacy school because I know I have and it’s a common struggle for other students!

I originally had wanted to do residency and then fellowship or vice versa. I don’t know why I just thought that’s kind of what you had to do to be successful. I didn’t match for residency and I’m glad it worked out this way because I’m finding it put a lot of pressure on me to think outside the box and find other stuff I really enjoy doing. I did have some exposure to medical marijuana while in pharmacy school through a research project, so that helped me get to where I am now.

Like I mentioned in your intro, you were always super involved with school and other side hustles as you will. You’re super resourceful and well-connected and I feel like we have that in common! Can you share what else you did and how you find these opportunities?

I talk to and stay in touch with a lot of people. It’s insane how many people I stay in touch with. I think maybe that’s what good networking is? I don’t know. I’ve done a lot of networking events and conferences and meeting someone at an event and then saving their contact info until you need a favor or have a question is not effective in my opinion. I think the best way to find out about opportunities is to be resourceful (The internet is an amazing tool. Use it.), talk to people, take a genuine interest in them and what they do, ask them thoughtful questions, and stay in touch with them.

You and I are a perfect example. We talked in school every month at those meetings and now we’ve graduated and we stay in touch. Not all the time, but we touch base everyone once in a while. I think that’s what you should do with everyone that interests you. I find out about a lot of opportunities now because I’ve had experience in different industries like health tech startups and now the cannabis industry. As you gain exposure, your knowledge and your interest grow, so I think that’s how it has sort of worked for me.

I’d love to hear more about what you currently do at your most recent job!

Currently, I’m a fulltime pharmacist at a medical marijuana dispensary in Williamsville, New York. It’s a retail job, so it has some similarities to a retail pharmacy, but it also has a lot of differences. I do a lot of inventory management, reporting, counseling patients, and just trying to help people get the most out of their treatment with medical marijuana. A lot of prescribers defer medical marijuana dosing and treatment decisions to the pharmacist, so I tend to have more of an active role in patient’s treatment. Medical marijuana in New York is dealt with like a controlled substance so there is a lot of reporting that I do to with the Department of Health. We have to keep accurate inventory records and track shipments and returns and everything involving the product is done very carefully and well documented. We’re also required to check the prescription monitoring program (PMP) before we dispense, and we upload a dataset with what we dispensed to the PMP every night. That covers most of what I do. I’m still involved with medical marijuana research, so I’m working on a manuscript right now and I’m also trying to get involved with medical marijuana education (CME).

How do you feel about Pharmacists in the cannabis space? Is there a need for us? Is there room for growth?

I think there is a huge need for pharmacists in this space. There are so many unanswered questions about medical marijuana. What are the ideal routes of administration? Are there any drug-drug interactions? What are the side effects? Are there any monitoring parameters we should be looking at? What is the dose-response of THC and CBD? Pharmacists are experts at answering all these questions for virtually every other drug product. Just because medical marijuana has come to market differently or the way it’s reaching people is a little different than what we’re used to…doesn’t mean we still can’t dominate this area. People are willing to pay for answers to these questions too. I know pharmacists that work out of doctor’s offices and do medical marijuana consultations and patients pay happily for that service.

Medical marijuana is a growth industry.

I feel like a lot of Pharmacists are afraid to get into that space because there are so many unanswered questions and not enough information, but also may be a stigma? What are your thoughts? Have you come across Pharmacists who feel this way?

There are unanswered questions like I mentioned above, but I think that’s what makes the pharmacist role so crucial. We can look at research on what’s out there and make an educated decision or use our professional judgement to try and answer a difficult question. Budtenders aren’t equipped to do that.

There is definitely a stigma on the patient end. Older patients, in particular, are very apprehensive about using the products. People don’t want to feel judged because they’re doing something that society has a negative perception of. I’ll be honest, I don’t really feel a stigma from the provider/pharmacist side. I’ve never felt like people have judged me for working at a dispensary (except maybe my parents). In fact, it has been the opposite. It’s an exciting industry, so a ton of other pharmacists and people in healthcare have reached out to me because they’re curious how they can get involved or just want to know what it’s like to work in the industry.

As we both know, Pharmacy is constantly changing but especially, now. It seems like jobs are saturated but I also believe there’s PharmD’s in roles that we’ve never even heard of before! What are some non-traditional career paths within Pharmacy you’ve considered or have heard more about?

There are so many opportunities out there. I think there’s a lot of untapped opportunity for pharmacists in cosmetics. The global market for cosmetics is expected to grow to like $500 Billion (or some crazy high #) in the next 10 years. There’s all this money in cosmetics and you have people like Kylie Jenner that are dominating the industry. People are willing to pay for cosmetics even though they’re not proven to work or grounded in science in any tangible way. I think a pharmacist-founded cosmetics company would be cool to see.

Natural medicine is another big one.  I think 64% of Americans use dietary or herbal supplements and like 0% optimize the way they take them. Pharmacists can help people approach their supplement regimens from an educated standpoint. I did this when I was at Mayo Clinic for APPE and it was really eye opening. There’s a lot of therapeutic duplications, drug interactions, drug-lab interactions, and under dosing. People just tend not to think about this stuff. There is a lot of opportunity and since patients are willing to pay out of pocket for supplements, they’re probably willing to pay for consultations to optimize their supplement regimens too. Pharmacists should do this.

The other thing I’m super interested in right now is telemedicine. I thought this was a fad at first, but now I’ve been looking at companies like Roman, First Opinion, and Capsule. They all give their customers the ability to chat one on one with a pharmacist or other healthcare provider. I know someone from UB that did something similar with a website called PharmacistAnswers.com and was super successful. I think there are a lot of ways that technology, the internet, and tools like telemedicine can enable better communication or help eliminate inefficiencies in healthcare. Pharmacists should help lead the way in solving these problems.

Any advice to current students on how to navigate different paths or what they can do to help out their future self? Or advice for PharmD’s looking to pivot from their current job?

Talk to people. Take a genuine interest in them and stay in touch with them. If you’re looking to pivot I’d probably try to get in touch with some people that are in a field that interests me and see where it goes. I don’t think there is a set formula you just kind of have to figure it out as you go and be persistent.