CU Pharmacy Career Services Manager Laurie Sein chatted with Przemek Lott, PharmD ’19, recently about his journey to becoming a business intelligence pharmacy practitioner.
Talk about your current position and your progression to where you are today.
I am an Epic Business Intelligence Developer. I work for a staffing company known as Medix, but I’m contracted with Children's Hospital of Colorado. I do reporting and data analytics for the Analytics Department of Children's, a lot of which involves getting report requests from lab managers, doctors, nurses, and others in the hospital. I fulfill those requests, whether it's just putting a report into Epic for their use or establishing something like a Tableau dashboard so they can constantly reference on their team.
If you were to describe your typical work day to a student who's getting ready to graduate, what would that look like from the time you step into your office each day?
Przemek Lott, PharmD '19
I start my day pretty early. I'm usually on by 6:00 a.m. The first thing I do is check for emails from managers and other members of the team. I also check Teams because we communicate through that platform. We have team meetings twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Other meetings, for the most part, are with report requesters to discuss and iron out certain details. You're also checking Dash requests, which is the system we use to monitor all the reports. You can go in there to track and make notes. The end user can see it as well. Then you're just basically working on projects.
A lot of it is time management and prioritizing things. How much time I'm going to allocate to a certain project on Monday versus Tuesday, etc. It's pretty much how you organize it. If you can organize your day efficiently around your meetings, then you're on your own pulling data and putting together reports and dashboards for the most part. There's no order by XY and Z. I get on, check my communications, then I get to work on the most current report that I'm trying to trying to finish up.
You mentioned team meetings. Who are some of the team members that you working alongside, and are there other pharmacists that you're working with?
In my current role, I was hired on with a friend from my graduating class, so there is another pharmacist. However, I found a majority of the people either came from a computer science programming background and have stepped into this role. There are also a lot of nurses who were converted some time ago. I don't know if they were approached originally by the hospital and they worked for the hospital and were asked to transition into this analytics role, but there is a fair number of nurses that have converted, which is interesting. I didn't know that was possible. When I initially got recruited, a majority of the other people that were in our recruiting group were also nurses that were converted.
What kind of skills from your pharmacy background have really been helpful for you?
Most of it has been having that background knowledge in terms of clinical and medical terminology, and understanding lab values. A lot of the reports in an area that I've worked in is known as the Beaker Data model, which is specifically lab data specimens. I've done reports on COVID, flu, and RSV. So, having that clinical background as a base helped a lot in terms of transitioning into that role and understanding what they're trying to convey to you in terms of the lab values and other related observances.
What's your favorite work aspect in this area of practice?
My favorite I would say overarchingly is the lack of interaction. I'm an introvert and I worked retail for three years as an intern. It was just exhausting because of all the interaction. So, the lack of interaction is what I actually enjoy. I can just zone in and really get deep into a report without much interruption. I like the independence definitely. You're doing a significant amount of work on your own trying to problem solve to complete reports.
In terms of your training for this, what were you not prepared for going into this?
Pretty much all of it was new. I did a rotation and a fair amount of volunteer work at UCH (University of Colorado Hospital), so I was familiar with Epic from an end-user perspective, specifically in Willow because that's the interface pharmacists use. Learning Epic on the back end was a huge learning curve. I had to learn SQL (Structured Query Language) programming language in order to pull the data for the reports. That was somewhat overwhelming, but it just took practice. I became certified in four Epic data models as well, which took a significant amount of studying and learning all the functionality of Epic on the back end and the different reporting tools that you can use.
So, it was a huge learning curve, but I enjoyed it at the time. It was also interesting to see the different perspectives of Epic. I got experience on the service level using it as a pharmacist intern and then I got to see what goes into the back end once I stepped into this role.
I know that people go to school for years to learn SQL. How long did it take you to learn SQL?
It's definitely a constant learning and refining process. To become Epic certified, you have to pass two of their assessments. They present two PDFs for you to study on your own before taking the assessments. Then you’re asked 45-60 questions on each assessment.
For me to become relatively comfortable using SQL, it took three or four months. Most of that initial three months was traveling to Wisconsin to take the classes and using downtime in between to study before we had to go back. It took at least three to four months to even start remembering certain functions in SQL and getting comfortable typing the language. Even now, I look back on old reports I generated and I question why did I write it this way?
On my own time, I'm going back and taking courses just to learn better practices for SQL and more advanced things you can do within the language. I have managers that I've been doing this for 15 years that still learn new things. That's one of the things I like. It's really hard to become an expert at SQL. There's always something you can work on.
What's one of the biggest takeaways from your experience in studying this new path for yourself?
There are a couple things. I know when I initially got out of school, it was pretty hard to find a job and that was pretty common among a lot of my peers. even going down the residency route. One of the biggest things was a newfound confidence that I can step into a new role and learn new things. Even though I spent four years in graduate school learning pharmacy, I don't necessarily need to be unidimensional and go down the standard route, whether it's retail or clinical.
While you have to find a niche if you want to step outside of the classic roles, there are definitely positions out there that are unique and looking for that pharmacist position with the background that we have. You don't have to be limited.
After graduation, it felt like I was in a bind and there was only one thing I can do. I would say, especially to the students that are graduating, reach out and be courageous and bold. If it somewhat fits your skill set of what you think you know and what you can do, take the extra leap and learn something new. It only takes one person, just like my opportunity, to take a chance on you. Then you can get the ball rolling from there.
Was it hard for you, as a self-proclaimed introvert, to step outside of that and reach out to individuals and new opportunities?
When you have to flip the switch and get things done, you have to turn it on. When I'm relaxing and not in public, I'm an introvert. When it's time to go, you have to put your game face on and get things done. So, it wasn't too hard for me.
What other advice would you pass on to current and prospective students and our upcoming graduates before they enter into the workforce?
The first thing is, if they're really headstrong about the clinical route and the retail route, I would harp on the grades as much as you can. Get in good with a professor or somebody who has a lab on campus--someone who can really vouch and attest to your skills and your work ethic. Then do your research. The information is out there, but I think that's one of the things that I took for granted early on. I had this idea of what I was going to do and how it was going to shake out and I didn't do too much research on top of that. Explore your options, get the grades squared away, and identify someone to vouch for your work ethic.
Once you graduate, it really is who you know. So many of my peers that I'm still in the contact with have said they found a job because they knew someone and got an interview. They told us early on that pharmacy is a small world. Until you get out, you don't realize how small it is and how much people know each other.
Do the absolute best you can if you're doing anything pharmacy related. If you want to go more into the IT side of things, learn some type of program coding language. Python is super versatile. A ton of companies look for Python experience or SQL for relational databases. A friend of mine did a Residency at the VA Hospital across the street from the Anschutz Medical Campus, and they specifically have an IT pharmacist that strictly does SQL reporting. I even saw a similar role with SCL Health (Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health). They were looking specifically for a pharmacist to step into that role too. If you can get some IT experience under your belt before you graduate, or as you're graduating, that's also going to set you apart. Make yourself unique and valuable.
Based on your experience, why is there the need for more IT pharmacists and healthcare professionals in general doing this type of analytics and relational database work?
I think the way we're taught, it's a unique middle ground between providers and even non-providers to bridge the gap in terms of what providers are trying to communicate. Especially when it comes to reporting on medications, it gives you a unique perspective and allows you to ask different questions that people wouldn't traditionally think about. For example, I was talking about someone with U.S. Pharmacopeia and they were looking for a pharmacist that has an IT background because they're trying to build a new system. They needed a pharmacist to make sure indications are in line, drugs are appropriately labeled, and the nomenclature is appropriate. It's a unique position where you have a certain skill set that helps bridge the gap between different areas.
View the entire interview with Dr. Lott and check out other resources available through CU Pharmacy Career Services by accessing Handshake, the university's portal for career guidance. Learn more about activities offered through Career Services by logging in or creating your Handshake account today.