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Office of Experiential Programs announces 2020 preceptor award winners

Preceptors a crucial part of pharmacy school experience

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Written by Sara Knuth on July 3, 2020

Inspiring. Brilliant. A credit to the pharmacy profession. Those are just some of the words the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Office of Experiential Programs uses to describe recipients of the school’s 2020 Preceptor Awards.

The school honored four pharmacists and a University of Colorado Hospital team for their commitment to guiding students through one of the most crucial parts of their pharmacy education.

As a result of social distancing guidelines put in place during the coronavirus pandemic, the office was unable to host its annual in-person awards ceremony. But the school’s appreciation of the preceptors remains as strong as ever, especially as students learn from these essential healthcare professionals.

Outstanding Preceptor of the Year

Ben Chavez

Ben Chavez, PharmD, is a clinical pharmacist and director of Behavioral Health Pharmacy Services at Salud Family Health Centers. As part of his role there, he sees patients one-on-one to manage diabetes and behavioral health conditions, helps primary care providers with consults and provides education to students, as well as doctors, about medications and managing disease states.

Born in Peru and raised in Florida, Dr. Chavez attended Florida Atlantic University for his undergraduate education and earned his PharmD at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He went on to complete a specialty residency in psychiatric pharmacy. Throughout his career, Dr. Chavez has worked on the faculties of Rutgers University, the University of Hawaii at Hilo, Pacific University Oregon and CU Pharmacy.

“I always enjoy when students come into Salud who haven’t had an ambulatory care experience before, or just haven’t been in that type of setting before,” he said. “I’ve had students say it was very eye-opening to see how much of an impact pharmacists can have. It’s always nice to be able to expose students to that kind of setting and give them motivation to perhaps do that themselves later on.”

His advice to other preceptors is this: “Be flexible. Every student is going to be different. Every student has different needs. Every student has different goals they may want to get out of a rotation.”

He added it’s important to provide feedback along the way.

By nominating Dr. Chavez for the award, students have provided positive feedback of their own.

“It’s really an honor,” he said. “I’m honored that students think well enough of me and my work at Salud to nominate me for this award. I am glad to be able to make a difference for students.”

Director of Experiential Programs Megan Thompson, PharmD, said Dr. Chavez inspires students to be their best selves, no matter what their career goals are. “He challenges students to think creatively and critically, and teaches students how to advocate for their patients,” she said. “Students leave his rotation with a deep understanding of the positive influences they can have on patients in their communities.”

Excellence in Precepting for Health-System Pharmacy

Jennifer Friend

Preceptor Award Winner Jennifer Friend

Jennifer Friend, PharmD, is the director of Division Pharmacy at the Colorado Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons. Her team provides all long-term care pharmacy services for the State of Colorado's veterans homes. Dr. Friend works not only as the director, overseeing staffing, billing, and budgeting, but also works in clinical and dispensing roles.

Dr. Friend was born and raised in Aurora, and lives and works in her hometown today. She attended Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for her Bachelor of Arts degree in Behavioral Neuroscience with a minor in English, but soon returned to her home state to earn her PharmD at the
CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy. After graduating in 2003, Dr. Friend continued employment at two places she worked while in pharmacy school: Micromedex as a Senior Pharmacology Writer and as a staff pharmacist at Centura Porter Hospital.

Dr. Friend said she enjoys staying involved with her alma mater through precepting.

“I am very passionate about my role to help shape the future of pharmacy and precepting is the best way to make a difference in that area,” she said. “Having students at my site keeps me current on new drugs and guidelines and pushes me to be the best evidence-based practitioner I can be. Watching how much students learn and develop over the course of their experiences at my site is very rewarding as well.”

Dr. Friend said the award is an honor – “not only to myself, but to my team of pharmacists and technicians who work tirelessly for our patients and with our students to make their experiences at
our site the best it can be!”

Assistant Director of the Office of Experiential Programs Eric Gilliam, PharmD, said Dr. Friend is one of the school’s most dependable and versatile preceptors.

“While she has been a dependable preceptor for CU, she is also depended upon by her staff, patients, and care teams,” he said. “Working in long term care, her expertise
crosses all aspects of pharmacy practice and she demonstrates to students the critical skill of multitasking to make sure her patients are receiving the best care possible.”

Excellence in Precepting for Community Pharmacy

Ryan Ray

Ryan Ray, PharmD, is a clinical pharmacist and certified diabetes care and education specialist at the Mental Health Center of Denver. In his role there, Dr. Ray splits his time between community pharmacy and primary care as a clinical pharmacist providing diabetes education, monitoring
and support.

Dr. Ray was born and raised in Littleton, Colorado. He left his home state to attend Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa to complete a double major in biology and psychology. He attended pharmacy school at Midwestern University Chicago College of Pharmacy. After that, he worked in a compounding pharmacy role for Walgreens on the south side of Chicago.

When it comes to precepting, Dr. Ray said:  “I enjoy learning as much as I do teaching. The students do a great job of keeping our staff updated on the latest guidelines and newest therapies. I enjoy having a new student every six weeks. Each has a different goal and brings a different perspective. I find the students are full of new practitioner energy. It is great to feed off this energy as a reminder of why I entered this profession.”

Dr. Ray said the award was unexpected, but added, “it feels great to be recognized.” 

“I never realized how much extra work would be required to not only have a student, but to have a student that enjoys the environment you created for them,” he said. “Making sure the students are constantly engaged while monitoring their practice habits can be challenging in addition to the normal duties expected of my position.  It’s nice to know that all the hard work put in has been received well.”

Assistant Director of Experiential Programs Wesley Nuffer, PharmD, said Dr. Ray is a tremendous asset to the Mental Health Center of Denver.

“He has been instrumental in implementing diabetes education for the population served there, and has worked to evolve the education to fit the needs of this
specific population,” he said. “Ryan takes time to help students understand that how you talk to your patients in a psychiatric setting is every bit
as important as what is said. He helps students understand how routine counseling can lead to non-adherence or cause hesitation or fears about
therapy, and above all, demonstrates compassion and care for this vulnerable population. Ryan is a credit to the pharmacy profession and a really nice
guy. He absolutely deserves this award.”

Excellence in Precepting for Ambulatory Care Pharmacy

Allison Blackmer

Allison Blackmer, PharmD, is an associate professor of pharmacy at the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and a clinical pharmacy specialist at the Special Care Clinic at Children’s Hospital Colorado. She teaches across all four years of the PharmD curriculum, engages in research and scholarship associated with medication safety and pharmacotherapy, and in her clinical role, helps optimize pharmacotherapy in children with medical complexity.

Dr. Blackmer was born in Phoenix and grew up in Chicago. For her undergraduate education, she attended the New York University Tisch School of the Arts and received a BFA in dance with a minor in
psychology. She then danced professionally in Chicago for a contemporary ballet company before deciding to go back to NYU to complete a 2-year post-baccalaureate program in the pre-health sciences.

For pharmacy school, she went to University of Illinois at Chicago and earned her PharmD. Then, she completed two years of residency training at the University of North Carolina.

Dr. Blackmer said one of the best parts of her current position is the opportunity to precept and mentor students.

“It is fun to share my passion (and a bit of my craziness) with trainees and to watch them grow from
point A to point B,” she said. “I love the ‘aha’ moments, seeing the wheels turn, and watching them put the pieces together, growing into independent practitioners that contribute so greatly to our profession. On the flip side, the trainees also teach me so much every year– seeing things through their
eyes, learning from their questions, gaining different perspectives keeps me fresh, on my toes, and always learning something new.  I always say to them, ‘what would I do without you? I’d be lost’ or something along those lines, and I truly mean that.”

Dr. Blackmer said she is surprised and flattered to receive the award.

“There are so many wonderful preceptors in our program that I can learn so much from,” she said. “To be chosen for this award and recognized by the students and the OEP is so touching and incredibly meaningful. I do what I do because I love what I do, not necessarily to get recognition. I love seeing them succeed in their careers and hearing from or
running into past trainees. To know that I played a small role in that is enough. I value the opportunity to work with trainees. But … to know that they
value it as well? Well, that feels, in a word: amazing!”

Dr. Megan Thompson said Dr. Blackmer is truly vested in student success.

“She is a thoughtful, brilliant pharmacist who has the ability to teach any student how to solve a problem even when little to no evidence for treatment exists,” she said. “She
is a caring individual who exudes professionalism in her work, and is an incredible role model and mentor for students.”

Office of Experiential Service Award

Pharmacy Admissions Specialist Team at University of Colorado Hospital

The Pharmacy Admissions Specialist (PAS) Team at University of Colorado Hospital received this year’s Office of Experiential Service Award for Excellence in Precepting pharmacy students.

As part of their work, the team, led by Natalie Palacioz, CPhT, obtains an accurate medication history for admitted patients, then completes a full medication reconciliation. This takes a tremendous amount of effort since patients who are admitted are often very ill and information may not be
readily available.  The PAS team follows up with patients, families, doctors, pharmacies, and other health providers to obtain and accurate medication list from the transfer to hospital.

Students who are assigned to UCH to complete their Health-System IPPE are trained by the PAS Team to conduct these medication consults, and have ample opportunities to work interprofessionally with
patients’ medical teams.  Although students are taught these skills in the classroom, the PAS Team provides opportunities for them to apply the skills in a real acute care setting.  

“I’ve had students who have said, ‘We do this in the class setting, but when you see it, and you’re actually working with patients, it’s kind of like a lightbulb goes off,” said PAS team member Robyn Gold. “They say, ‘OK, this is why we’re doing what we’re doing and why we’re asking what we need
to ask.’”

PAS team member Jared Bignell added: “I think a lot of students don’t realize what type of stories they will get from patients when they talk to them. They see more of a personal side, rather than just figuring
out what their medications are. They get to see the emotion and what’s going on in the patient’s life while they are doing an interview.”

According to the experiential office, this award is reserved for a very special organization and community partner in experiential education. 

“Typically, we only give special recognitions to outstanding preceptors who have gone above and beyond the call of duty for precepting, mentorship and involvement with the school but this year, we are also honoring a team of preceptors, comprised of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, who
have provided a variety of incredible learning opportunities for our students,” Dr. Thompson said.

Palacioz said she appreciates the recognition of the team.

“I think the acknowledgement of a job well done and the hard work that the PAS team does taking on students is nice,” she said. “All of the preceptors who take on students are taking the time out of their work, taking a step back from the work they do on a day-to-day basis to be on the same level as the introductory pharmacy practice experience (IPPE) student, so I think it is nice recognition for us preceptors taking on students.”

Dr. Eric Gilliam said the PAS team provides key skills to students as they start their pharmacy education.

“While most IPPE preceptors spend time with only one or two students each year, the Pharmacy Admission Specialist (PAS) team works with roughly half of the P2
class each year providing hands on experience communicating with patients and documenting medication histories,” he said. “While OEP is grateful to this team
for working closely with so many students, UCH Preceptors recognize this training as a key skill for students who later complete P4 APPE rotations at
the hospital. We are especially grateful for the efforts of Natalie Palacioz, CPhT, who organizes the students and her team to ensure every student has a
wonderful experience.”