A lesson in the politics of pharmacy
|Temple pharmacy student Hsiao-fen Weng (left) and Loretta Brickman (center), who teaches “Practical Politics and Pharmacy,” meet with Basil L. Merenda, commissioner of the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs in Harrisburg, to discuss issues currently confronting the pharmacy profession.
Most students considering a job in pharmacy don’t expect to be politically active once they enter the working world, according to Loretta Brickman, who teaches an elective course titled “Practical Politics in Pharmacy” at the School of Pharmacy. Yet throughout a pharmacist’s career, politics will affect both their patientsa and their professions.
Brickman, a ’63 School of Pharmacy alumna, and co-teacher Harold Bobrow, both longtime political activists and former presidents of the New Jersey Association of Pharmacists, urge their students to be politically active and show them exactly how to go about it.
“We found that students weren’t as actively involved as we thought they should be, and we asked them why,” Brickman said.
“Most were unsure about what to do and how to do it. They told us that no one teaches politics in pharmacy school.”
The two decided to develop a course that would spur political interest early in a pharmacist’s career. The School of Pharmacy was the first to offer such a course, which is now in its third year.
Political issues facing pharmacists are diverse and include:
• government definition of healthcare providers,
• Medicare prescription plans for senior citizens,
• drug importation from other countries,
• Pharmacy Benefit Managers,
• medication errors and drug safety,
• mail-order prescription plans.
Brickman and Bobrow teach students how to become better advocates, the key to which is contact with government officials and participation in the political process. The secret to gaining access to legislators is befriending their staffs, such as assistants and office managers.
Last semester, the highlight of the class was a trip to visit legislators in Harrisburg. This semester’s class will be visiting Washington, D.C., and students will be able to intern with health aides in legislative offices. And this spring, thanks to the efforts of Brickman and Bobrow, the Pennsylvania State Board of Pharmacy will hold one of its monthly meetings at the School of Pharmacy, the board’s first meeting outside of Harrisburg. Students and faculty from Temple and nearby pharmacy schools will have the opportunity to attend this meeting and see the legislative process firsthand.
“Although 99.9 percent of the legislators want to do the right thing, they are often not pharmacists, so their educational base is not as comprehensive as ours is. We, as pharmacists, can fill in the gaps,” Bobrow said.
Pharmacy student Theresa Anderson agrees. “A lot of people making these laws don’t understand all of the ramifications,” she said. “We learned how to call our legislators and make appointments with them. I was surprised at how easy it was. This experience will change me — I’ll be more aware and more involved.”
Brickman and Bobrow hope that the lessons students learn in their course will follow students through all aspects of their lives.
“Most pharmacy courses are A+B=C. This course is more of an art. We’re essentially teaching social intercourse,” Bobrow said.
- By Eryn Jelesiewicz