When Dr. Sunny Linnebur was still a student, she never dreamed the rest of her career would focus on geriatric care.
“It was kind of a surprise to me,” said Linnebur, a professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy at the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “And it was because I really lacked exposure to the older adult patient population.”
Now, with a well-established career in the field, she has a 6,000-member platform to use to help spread awareness about geriatrics — and help healthcare professionals of several disciplines find a professional home within the field.
Linnebur was recently named the president of the American Geriatrics Society, an international organization focused on improving the health, independence and quality of life of older people. She is the first female pharmacist and only the fourth non-physician to hold the position in 75 years. She officially took over as president during the society’s Annual Scientific Meeting hosted at the beginning of May in Portland, Oregon.
There, Linnebur completed her first task as president: leading the annual meeting and giving a total of eight speeches and introductions. CU Pharmacy faculty Dr. Scott Pearson and CU students Anushka Tandon, Hailee Griffin and Amanda Mueller also traveled to Portland to present at the event.
As part of her other duties with the AGS, Linnebur will represent the society at events, serve on the organization’s program committee and review the work of the organization, from committee activities to publications. The AGS, for instance, is responsible for publishing the AGS Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults.
At the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, Linnebur teaches courses in geriatrics and works as a clinical pharmacy specialist in the University of Colorado Hospital Seniors Clinic, a primary care site for patients older than 75.
“I really can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “I love my job.”
When she was still training as a pharmacist, Linnebur said she became interested in geriatrics during her first-year residency at the Denver VA Hospital.
“That’s when I realized I really liked working with older adults. I found that their medical illnesses were so complex and that they needed a lot of help with their medications. Working with older veterans was very rewarding,” she said. “And then I completed a second year of residency in ambulatory care where I really tried to focus on the care of older adults as much as I could.”
Now that she teaches courses in geriatrics, Linnebur said she’s found that exposing students to the career path earlier makes them more likely to consider pursing it in the future. It’s important work: The field is currently experiencing a shortage of practitioners as more Baby Boomers start turning 65. In addition, research shows more than 40% of older Americans, a 300% increase over two decades, take 5 or more medications—putting them at significant increased risk for an adverse drug event.
“I think pharmacy students are more open to a career path in geriatrics because they are able to see that there’s such a great need to take care of older adults, and it’s a good place for pharmacists to be involved,” she said. “Geriatrics has embraced team-based approaches to care. And that’s evident when you look at the teams that are in practice today. Because of medication-related concerns, they almost always include a pharmacist.”
That same team-based approach to geriatrics is one of the factors that make interprofessional organizations like AGS so strong, Linnebur said.
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Congratulations to #CUPharmacy faculty, Dr. Sunny Linnebur, for becoming the first female pharmacist elected president of the American Geriatrics Society. That’s right. She did that.🤸🏽♂️👏 pic.twitter.com/Kfo6XdsLZX
— CU Pharmacy (@CUPharmacy) May 3, 2019
“When you look at an organization being an interprofessional organization, outreaching to the whole team, it’s going to be a stronger organization,” she said. “The educational activities are going to be stronger, the networking activities are going to be stronger, and the advocacy efforts will be stronger.”
As she begins her role as president of the AGS, Linnebur said one of her goals is to also increase the membership numbers for health care professionals in other disciplines.
“Within some disciplines, like social work and physical therapy, practitioners that primarily work with older adults may not have a professional home,” Linnebur said. “I want to engage these other practitioners or professionals to view AGS as their professional home.”
Linnebur also expressed appreciation for her CU Pharmacy colleagues.
“Because I’ll be president for the next year and then chair of the board, that means that my clinic partners (Danielle Fixen and Scott Pearson) will need to help cover clinic a little bit more when I’m traveling and going to meetings,” Linnebur said. “And Connie Valdez, who is my teaching partner, has to cover class while I’m gone. I just really want to thank all of my colleagues for their support.”
The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus had strong representation at the American Geriatrics Society’s Annual Scientific Meeting in May.