Editors Note: In honor of American Pharmacists Month, STFM Member Scott Bragg, PharmD, former STFM Member at Large, pens an essay outlining his journey as a pharmacist in family medicine education.
by Scott Bragg, PharmD, Medical University of South Carolina
My journey to teaching family physicians started in 2009 as a second-year pharmacy student at West Virginia University. The previous year, I developed late-onset type 1 diabetes, which led me to volunteer at a diabetes camp called Camp Kno Koma in West Virginia. My first night at camp, one of the nurses asked me to check blood glucose values for the campers in our cabin and treat kids for any lows they experienced. Being relatively inexperienced with making treatment decisions with patients, I was anxious but made it through the night without incident. The whole week was a crash course in following trends, learning on my feet, and trusting others on our care team. My experiences at camp and subsequent learning in pharmacy school led me to pursue pharmacy residency training, because I loved working with a diverse care team and developing autonomy as a clinician.
In pharmacy, exposure to family medicine as a discipline is uncommon, as it is not a recognized specialty for residency programs. Also, there are very few opportunities for holistic training in interprofessional education. Many pharmacist educators in family medicine stumble upon this career path after residency training when they start their first clinical job and find they have a chance to start teaching. Like my experience at diabetes camp, it can be a challenging, learn-as-you-go opportunity. I was very fortunate to complete two years of residency training at UPMC St. Margaret in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they welcome pharmacy residents into their faculty development fellowship. This is where my love for teaching and family medicine grew. I was surrounded by passionate teachers who viewed their careers as a calling to better the lives of learners and their patients. The faculty development fellowship provided opportunities to partner with family physicians to develop curricula, research collaborations, and patient care initiatives. As a family medicine pharmacist, I hope to encourage more pharmacists to pursue positions within family medicine and contribute to the next generation of family medicine educators.
Family medicine is a uniquely interprofessional discipline, and that’s something I learned when working as a family medicine educator with the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, South Carolina. I knew early on that I had found a home when, during my first week on inpatient, one of our attendings insisted I round on their team. I observed early on as a faculty member that pharmacists often possess skills (eg, eye for detail, focus on transitions of care, attention to patient costs) useful to family medicine teams. Many of the pharmacy students I precept are surprised at how easy it is to collaborate with our family medicine team. More than other disciplines, family medicine educators and trainees create an environment that truly values an interprofessional approach.
The nuances of providing patient care in family medicine make it consistently challenging and rewarding. Family medicine teams proactively apply evidence-based medicine, navigate an evolving health care system, practice population health management, and consider social determinants of health. Family medicine providers are often described with the phrase “jack of all trades, but a master of none.” I disagree. I like to say that family medicine teams are a jack of all trades and a master of many. Our holistic team approach helps us deliver on patient-oriented outcomes that matter, despite many of the complex issues we encounter.
So how do we continue to push for innovation and optimize patient care outcomes? One way is by including pharmacists and other interprofessional team members, such as nurses, behavioral health providers, and social workers on family medicine care teams. With the transition in focus to value-based care, building bridges to multiple interprofessional groups will only strengthen the family medicine discipline. STFM and other organizations that make up the family of family medicine continue to serve as catalysts for innovation in our practice model and inclusion of interprofessional educators.
STFM has provided me and many other pharmacists with valuable professional development opportunities. I have worked as a fellow in the Emerging Leaders Fellowship, a member at large on the board of directors, and the program assessment chair for STFM. These leadership experiences have helped me understand the complexities of medical education and advocacy for family medicine as a discipline. I also belong to STFM’s Pharmacist Faculty Collaborative where I’ve grown in my understanding of the ways pharmacists contribute to family medicine education and networked with pharmacists across the country. Despite the name, the Pharmacist Faculty Collaborative is open to all STFM members; please check us out on STFM Connect.
Family medicine emphasized interprofessional education long before it became the (valuable) trend it currently is in medical education. Thanks to Scott for pointing it out.