Pharmacists are playing a critical role in the response to the coronavirus pandemic. From the halls of hospitals to the counters of community pharmacies, they are caring for patients at every level of the pandemic. Faculty members at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences are no exception.
Assistant Professor Sarah Scoular, PharmD, is a clinical specialist in internal medicine at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. In addition to her work there, she recently transitioned her CU Pharmacy courses to online learning platforms. She provided her perspective on the ongoing response.
Question: How has your daily work changed since the coronavirus pandemic started?
Answer: My workload has increased from time at the hospital to Zoom meetings and moving to an online curriculum. I am so impressed at how flexible our students have been with all of these changes. As far as clinical work, my original background is in Critical Care, and at the start of the pandemic when we were expecting large ICU patient numbers, I was asked if I would be willing to go back to the ICU practice. I was a bit nervous but excited for the opportunity. Thankfully, our critically ill patient numbers did not get to that point but I have to give a huge shout our to our critical care pharmacy specialists. With severe shortages in sedation and paralytic medications needed to ventilate patients, they have been critical in providing education and recommendations for safe alternatives. Practicing in internal medicine, we have seen an increase in alcoholic hepatitis and drug use, likely due to job loss, insurance lost and mental health effects of isolation.
Question: Can you tell us how care teams are working together during this time? Tell us about the role of pharmacists in a care team setting during the pandemic.
Answer: I have noticed an even tighter bond between all healthcare workers. We are all very supportive of one another. Our role is the same as pharmacists in that we are there to educated and make appropriate assessments and therapeutic recommendations. I feel our role in evaluating data has been greatly increased. With the massive amount of data from small studies coming out daily regarding the treatment of patient's with COVID-19, pharmacists have been crucial in appropriate interpretation of this data and how it should or should not be used in patient care.
Question: How has this impacted you personally?
Answer: As you all likely know, I am definitely an extrovert. Sheltering at home is not great for my mental health. Exercise and routine has been hugely helpful and I always feel better after being at the hospital seeing colleagues and meeting new providers and feeling helpful. I also feel incredibly grateful that my family is healthy and that we have everything we need, which is so much more than I can say for my patients and their families.
Question: Do you feel that you have enough personal protective equipment (PPE)? What's been done by your employer to address PPE needs or what have you needed to safeguard your protection?
Answer: Toward the beginning of the outbreak, in order to preserve PPE, pharmacists were not wearing masks at the hospital. Though we were not going into rooms, we were still having discussions with the nurses and physicians that were interacting with the patients and it put us at risk. That luckily changed so that everyone was wearing masks. Pharmacists in the retail environment did not have appropriate PPE for far too long. This was extremely frustrating as their number of interactions with sick patients are likely more than most healthcare providers.
Question: What are some misconceptions about pharmacists you've encountered during the pandemic?
Answer: I really feel as though pharmacists have been underappreciated and not always seen as essential healthcare workers. This is not true! Pharmacists are hugely essential!
Question: How can people support pharmacists during this time?
Answer: Protect your retail pharmacists! If you are going to pick up a prescription whether you are symptomatic or not, keep a distance of 6 feet, wear a mask, use the drive through and wash your hands. Also have patience. They are overworked and dealing with huge drug shortages as well as patients that have lost insurance due to unemployment. They deserve all the support we can give them.