When most people think of a pharmacist, they picture the person who works behind the counter at a local drugstore and fills prescriptions. However, pharmacists provide a variety of services in a number of health care facilities, including hospitals and specialized clinics.
As a clinical pharmacist for the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center, I provide services for patients with cancer. Here are questions I am frequently asked.
What does a clinical pharmacist do?
Clinical pharmacists care for patients in all health care settings, and our duties are a little different than those of a pharmacist who works in your local drugstore. Clinical pharmacists practice independently and also in consultation or collaboration with other health care professionals. A clinical pharmacist does not verify prescriptions, dispense medications, or administer vaccines.
Within the health care system, clinical pharmacists are experts in the therapeutic use of medications, providing recommendations regarding the safe, appropriate and cost-effective use of medications. We routinely provide medication therapy evaluations and recommendations to both patients and providers.
What services do you provide for patients?
I work in the Multidisciplinary Oncology Clinic at Markey and I meet with patients when they come into clinic for their doctor's appointment. I answer any medication-related questions that patients may have and I often counsel patients on their chemotherapy. I work with the physicians to determine the most appropriate medications for a patient, including chemotherapy and anti-nausea and pain medications.
Many chemotherapy drugs are now given orally (as tablets or capsules) and I counsel patients on these prescriptions before they take their first dose. When these patients come back to clinic for follow-up visits, I will again meet with them to discuss any problems or concerns they have about their treatment.
Do you provide clinical pharmacy services to all patients at Markey?
In many institutions, including Markey, solid tumors and blood cancers are treated by different physicians. Here at UK, we have separate clinics for blood cancers and solid tumors (and also breast cancer and gynecologic cancers).
I specialize in helping patients with solid tumors, and I work alongside another clinical pharmacist who specializes in helping patients with blood cancers (such as leukemias and lymphomas). Blood cancers and solid tumors are treated in very different ways and pharmacists in each area are experts at treating their respective tumor types.
Are there specific questions that cancer patients should ask their pharmacist?
Patients receiving treatment for cancer are encouraged to ask their pharmacist about any drug-related issues or concerns — that's why we're here. I am frequently asked questions about drug interactions or adverse effects. Many times these questions have simple explanations or solutions that can make a huge impact in a patient's quality of life.
Katie Long is a clinical pharmacist at the UK Markey Cancer Center.