Student pharmacists invited a U.S. Congressman to the University of Florida College of Pharmacy on Feb. 7, for an exchange on pharmacy education and national policymaking. As leaders in the American Pharmacists Association’s Academy of Student Pharmacists, Amy Kiskaddon, past president, and Amy Shook, current president, invited Rep. Gus Bilirakis of the 12th Congressional District to address their UF classmates. The students welcomed an opportunity to learn more about the legislative process and to share the broad scope of pharmacy practice today with the congressman, who serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Health and other subcommittees.
The students are encouraged by their professors and by the APhA to be advocates for the pharmacy profession, but Kiskaddon, whose family is from District 12, received early training at home.
“When I was in middle school, my mom taught us the importance of writing letters to our representatives,” said Kiskaddon. “I wrote letters for several years to Rep. Bilirakis’ father, Michael Bilirakis, who was in office then.”
It was her early letter-writing experiences that led Kiskaddon to invite her present congressman, the junior Bilirakis – a UF alumnus – to meet her classmates and professors.
Dean Julie A. Johnson, Pharm.D., welcomed Rep Bilirakis, joined by three student leaders and several clinical pharmacy faculty, including Thomas Munyer, R.Ph., the students’ adviser. During a brief lunch roundtable, the educators described an array of roles in today’s pharmacy practice. Rep. Bilirakis, asked questions, and relayed his experiences growing up and spending time in his uncle’s community pharmacy.
Following the discussions, the congressman met with Heather Hardin, Pharm.D., to learn about the college’s patient-centered Medication Therapy Management Communication and Care Center. The center assists Medicare prescription drug plan members nationwide who suffer multiple diseases and take seven or more prescription medicines with a total medication cost of more than $3,000 each year. These patients benefit from a pharmacist’s oversight in managing proper medication use to avoid unnecessary health risks.
Finally, the congressman visited UF Health Shands Pharmacy Services to see how the college’s clinical faculty interacts with the hospital pharmacy operations. Thomas Johns, Pharm.D., a clinical associate professor in the UF College of Pharmacy, serves as interim director of pharmacy services at UF Health Shands Hospital. Johns explained the pharmacy operations and its advanced efforts to ensure patient medication safety.
Rep. Bilirakis closed the afternoon visit with a 45-minute presentation to more than 150 student pharmacists on the importance of advocacy, advising students to voice their support of a bill early in the process. He talked about his belief in bi-partisan relationships in government and need to build consensus and to compromise. He took questions and ended his speech by encouraging the student pharmacists to consider a growing need for health care professionals to serve in government.
“You have credibility, and just like the physicians, you too, can advocate on behalf of patients,” Bilirakis said.