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Media contact

Press inquiries or questions about communications and media:
Greg Weatherford
Director of communications, VCU School of Pharmacy
(804) 828-6470 (office) | (804) 937-4722 (mobile)
goweatherfor@vcu.edu

Dr. Rx: Steps you can take to avoid hospital-related infections

Dr. Rx: How to avoid hospital infections

Dr. Rx: How can I avoid getting an infection while I am in the hospital?

Posted by VCU School of Pharmacy on Tuesday, October 16, 2018

By Christian Ruiz
Pharm.D. Candidate 2020

Q: I’m getting a procedure done at the hospital soon, and I’m afraid of getting an infection while I’m there. Is there anything I can do?

A: Infections you can develop while inside hospitals or other medical settings — including doctors’ offices, rehab facilities or nursing homes — are called healthcare-associated infections, or HAIs. They could come from germs that enter your body at a surgical site or germs that travel on medical equipment such as a catheter or an IV line.

Common HAIs include:

  • Infections caused by the bacteria C. diff (Clostridium difficile or C. difficile) or MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)
  • Infections at the site where you’ve had surgery or where a catheter or an IV line has been placed into your body
  • Pneumonia or other respiratory infections from using a ventilator

There are many ways you can prevent HAIs. People using ventilators or recovering from surgeries have to take special precautions and should follow doctor’s orders. But below are some general recommendations to prevent HAIs while you are in the hospital.

  • Sanitize your own hands often with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom.
  • When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue and throw away the tissue as soon as possible. Then wash your hands.
  • Ensure that your doctors and nurses sanitize their hands before and after they leave your room. Also be sure they are wearing any necessary personal protective equipment such as gloves, gowns and/or masks while in your room. This is to protect you and them from HAIs. Don’t be afraid to speak up!
  • Ensure that visitors sanitize their hands before and after they leave your room. Also, ensure they follow any special instructions from doctors and nurses while they visit you, which may include wearing gloves, gowns or masks.
  • If you do need a catheter, ask your doctors and nurses why it is needed and when it will be removed. Your risk of getting a HAI increases with the number and duration of catheters placed into your body.

You might have a HAI if you have recently been in the hospital and experience:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Unexpected pain, tenderness, redness, or swelling at the site where you’ve had surgery or where a catheter or an IV line has been placed into your body

If you think you have any of these symptoms, tell your doctors or nurses immediately. Having any of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have a HAI, but if you do have a health-care-related infection you want to be treated for it as soon as possible in order to prevent further complications.

If your doctor does determine that you have a HAI, he/she will likely prescribe you an antibiotic. However, be sure to take the antibiotic exactly as prescribed in order to prevent another HAI or an even worse one.

Christian Ruiz is a third-year Pharm.D. student at VCU School of Pharmacy. He majored in chemistry and minored in music and biology at Virginia Commonwealth University. Upon graduation he currently hopes to pursue a career in emergency medicine, critical care or internal medicine.

Dr. Rx is a monthly community-health column provided as a public service by VCU School of Pharmacy. It can be read in Fifty Plus magazine as well as online. 

Pharmacy students take part in community care

A pharmacy student in a V C U shirt sits at a table with a woman.
Katie Jones, a second-year pharmacy student, prepares to take a fair attendee’s blood glucose.

By Michael Ong
Auxiliary Label Staff

I arrived for my afternoon shift at the Charles City County Fair around 1 p.m. With the forecast of rain later on in the day, I hadn’t expected many people to attend. But the large parking lot was full.

As I was getting out of my car, a mother pushing a stroller waved at me. She was walking away from a row of tents toward their own car parked just spaces from mine.

I had driven to Charles City County, about 40 miles from Richmond, to participate in a health booth. The prevalence of health disparity in the access and availability of care is a rapidly growing problem. Urban centers such as Richmond boast a nationally renowned medical center, yet pockets of disparity can be found across the city. Into the surrounding counties and municipalities, health access further diminishes.

Rural areas like Charles City County have some of the highest rates of rural poverty and lack of available healthcare. Through partnerships and opportunities such as the Charles City County Fair, VCU, through its educators and student volunteerism, is addressing this vast community need.

As I walked to the fair, I saw a row of tents pitched on the practice field, filled with food and homemade jewelry, soaps, and other sundries. Under a large white tent, families sat entertained by a performer juggling on top of a unicycle. Nearby was another tent selling boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts and raffles to be drawn at end of the day.

The VCU booth at the Charles City County Fair is a long tradition and work of dedication anchored by Patricia Slattum, Pharm.D., herself a Charles City County resident. The health outreach and preventative services are great resources for a smaller county with limited health-awareness opportunities for its residents.

The fair-goers proved the perfect target population for the group organizing the event, the VCU chapter of the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA). Its motto for serving the underserved is well lived in the variety of events at which its students volunteer. From rural fairs like the Charles City County Fair to back-to-school immunization events with Crossover Clinic in downtown Richmond to advocating for safe HIV testing at the annual VA PrideFest on Richmond’s Brown’s Island, SNPhA engages its student members to be invested in its greater Richmond community.

A pharmacy student sits with a woman. The woman has a blood-pressure cuff on her arm.
Jiro Morales, a second-year pharmacy student, checks a patient’s blood pressure using a mechanical cuff.

Partnering with Slattum, SNPhA is able to provide blood-pressure readings and blood-glucose checks for fair attendees. Alongside these point-of-care services, we had another full table littered with a library of education pamphlets available for anyone to pick up.

While I was at the health booth we had a variety of people visit our tables. Some, like an older lady, chose not to get a reading but chatted with several of our volunteers about her recent hospital stay. She even had a small photo album with her pictures of the during the stay.

Others, like a tribal dancer from the local Chickahominy tribe, asked for everything we could provide. All were open to casual conversations about their lives, their health and were open ears to the information we provided.

As a student, volunteer experiences like these form a fundamental aspect of the overall education VCU School of Pharmacy offers. Being able to take traditional lecture learning into a more clinical setting multiplies student learning. In first year we learn how to take vitals such as blood pressure. In our second year we are trained on how to read glucose meters. All for just this situation — providing front-line care to our neighbors.

Late in the afternoon, a father and son stopped by the tables. The father had wanted to get his blood pressure checked and the son, a high school student, sat down with him. After some cajoling from his father, the son let one of our student volunteers take his blood pressure.

The father’s reading was elevated, which after talking with him we were expecting. However, the son’s was slightly above the normal range for his age. This was a wonderful teaching moment for the VCU student to reinforce what she learned in her cardiology module and suggest some lifestyle choices for the pair.

After handing them some informational pamphlets on hypertension, it was endearing to hear them bicker about exercise; the dad telling his son they were going running in the morning from now on and the son rebutting with how he gets enough exercise with the football team.

Near the end of the day, after having seeing and helping several dozen people, I took the time to do one last run outside to indulge in a warm plateful of funnel cake. The line was long and the wind had picked up significantly while I was inside the gym. But it wasn’t a fair until I enjoyed the fried dough and powdered sugar.

And in between bites, while putting away our excess brochures and other supplies, I smiled and waved back at a lady we had helped earlier in the afternoon.

Auxiliary Label is a student-created blog examining pharmacy life, education and research at the VCU School of Pharmacy from a student perspective. It is overseen by Greg Weatherford, the school’s director of communications. Contact him here.

“Failure shouldn’t stop you”: an interview with healthcare innovator Hilton Bennett

How to Be an Entrepreneur, Lesson One: Time Commitment

By Nicole Carter
Auxiliary Label Staff

Hilton Bennett is a young man to admire. While studying at VCU, he has been a husband and a father of three. Now 38, he is pursuing a master’s in product innovation.

VCU has filed for four patents in the past year for technology on which he has been the primary mechanical engineer. One of these patents is for a device that can digitally tell an anesthesiologist the pressure difference in the spinal column. This allows for more precise epidurals with fewer side effects.

Hilton Bennett
Bennett

An avid rock climber, as a freshman in the VCU Engineering program Bennett wanted a safe way to practice traditional climbing indoors. He started building a device to solve his problem. Two years ago, Bennett started Native Heights Climbing Solutions, a company with the goal of simulating traditional rock climbing for indoor climbing gyms. VCU’s Cary Street Gym will be his first client; he says it will be the first indoor climbing gym in the world to have a device that allows practicing and training for traditional climbing indoors.

I had the opportunity to chat with Bennett over pizza after he spoke at the Entrepreneurship in Healthcare Series at VCU School of Pharmacy, coordinated by faculty member Dayanjan Wijesinghe, Ph.D.

Auxiliary Label: What do you think is unique or challenging about innovating in the healthcare industry?

Hilton Bennett: [Laughs] Challenging first: It’s the time. The time commitment is longer for medical devices. If you only consider the FDA process, minimum it’s going to be two to five years, averages can be longer depending on what class the device falls in, what it’s being used for, and who’s going to use it. It’s kind of daunting to think about.

There’s an argument that technology is growing at a speed that we can’t keep up with. We could design a device but then the technology advances beyond it before it even comes to market.

I assume it takes a lot of money to run trials. Do you raise money or partner with a bigger institution?

For our epidural device, we partnered with VCU Health’s Anesthesiology Department, as the problem for ideation originated from their ranks. Three former anesthesiology residents, now all anesthesiologists, and current instructor Michael Kammerman taught us the epidural procedure and we practiced the procedure with the regular epidural needle and syringe. Once we had a prototype, we were able to use their simulation models for testing. It was an invaluable resource to test in their lab. I mean, normally, to get to that level of testing, you’d have to spend several thousand dollars. For us, it was free, and I think the experience is what we really hope for as engineering students.

What have you done when you’ve been faced with an obstacle?

After I get feedback … I decide if it’s meant to be overcome. Then it’s time to make the next iteration to the design. I usually take time throughout the week to focus on higher priority projects and just everything else. Then I’ll start back — not to square one, but to a specific point, and think back though how it’s designed and how someone would use it. We’ll make very small changes. We look at the shape and the size, how it fits in your hand, the screw placement, and how the electronics fit inside. Most obstacles were; in my opinion, meant to be overcome, but also to create a check and balance in what shouldn’t be an easy process.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Know that it will take time. Every device is not going to work, and failure shouldn’t stop you; it should encourage you to continue working. And make sure that you’re passionate about it in a way that drives you to work at it in your spare time, but not in a way that prevents you from being open to changes or to scrapping everything and starting over.

Auxiliary Label is a student-created blog examining pharmacy life, education and research at the VCU School of Pharmacy from a student perspective. It is overseen by Greg Weatherford, the school’s director of communications. Contact him here.

VCU agrees to automatically accept eligible Randolph-Macon College students into pharmacy school

V C U and Randolph-Macon College school logos

VCU and Randolph-Macon College have signed an agreement to automatically grant admission into VCU’s Pharm.D. program to eligible Randolph-Macon students.

Randolph-Macon sophomores who meet VCU’s requirement for health-care shadowing and who successfully complete an on-site interview will be given provisional acceptance into the doctor of pharmacy program under the articulation agreement. If they maintain their grades and score well on the PCAT pharmacy entrance exam they will be automatically accepted into VCU’s pharmacy school upon completing their undergraduate programs.

Students who do not qualify for provisional or guaranteed acceptance can apply through the standard application process.

Criteria for guaranteed admission under the articulation agreement include:

  • PCAT composite scores in the 70th percentile or greater for students with GPAs of 3.25 and in the 60th percentile or greater for students with GPAs of 3.4
  • Completion of VCU’s required prerequisite courses and credits with grades of C or better
  • A completed PharmCAS application submitted by Oct. 1
  • Two favorable letters of recommendation from Randolph-Macon faculty
  • One letter of recommendation from a health-care provider
  • Meeting all graduation requirements from Randolph-Macon

VCU is a major urban research institution in Richmond. Randolph-Macon is a private liberal-arts college with more than 1,400 students in the town of Ashland, about 20 miles from Richmond.

For more information, see the School of Pharmacy’s Pharm.D. admissions page.

Contact VCU School of Pharmacy Director of Communications Greg Weatherford at goweatherfor@vcu.edu.

Working to build better opioids

Molecular model of hydrocodone.
A molecular model of hydrocodone. (Credit)

By Christian Ruiz

Opioids are a class of highly addictive pain-relieving drugs derived from the opium in poppy plants. These drugs are at the center of today’s opioid-overdose crisis, in which at least 115 people per day in the United States die after opioid overdoses.

If you have ever had your wisdom teeth removed, you might be familiar with opioid drugs that are not available over the counter but are prescribed by your doctor or dentist: Percocet (oxycodone/acetaminophen), Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen) or Tylenol No. 3 (codeine with acetaminophen). The widespread availability of these and similar drugs have caused many people to become addicted to opioids. 

At least 33,000 people in this country died in 2015 alone from overdosing on opioids. Overall, misuse of opioid drugs has cost the United States $78.5 billion per year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment and legal system involvement.

However, the major FDA-approved treatments for opioid abuse and addiction — methadone (Dolophine, Methadose), buprenorphine (Belbuca, Buprenex), naloxone (Narcan) and naltrexone (Vivitrol) — are not fully effective in treating opioid abuse and addiction. They have many of the side effects that the opioids themselves have, such as mood disorders.

For several years, Yan Zhang, Ph.D., and his laboratory in VCU School of Pharmacy’s Medicinal Chemistry Department have been working on modifying the chemical structures of drugs used to treat opioid abuse and addiction. In doing so, they hope to reduce the opioids’ addictive potential and their other harmful side effects such as sedation, decreased ability to breathe and constipation.

To do this, they use organic chemistry to synthesize these potential new drugs and then use biochemical techniques to examine how these drugs interact with different, specific proteins in cells.

Proteins: More Than Just for Bodybuilding

To understand how Zhang and his team are working to build better, safer opioids, we need to take a step back and talk about proteins.

Proteins are large molecules that are responsible for many survival functions in the human body. For example, they protect the body against viruses and bacteria, speed up chemical reactions within cells, and provide structure and support for cells. An important function that proteins play, particularly in terms of many drugs and their actions, is to relay biological messages throughout the body.

In essence, the way most drugs work is by binding to these receptor proteins (proteins that “receive” these drugs), which causes these proteins to send biochemical or electrical signals throughout the cells in the body. These signals in turn tell the body to reduce inflammation, relieve a headache or even decrease heart rate, for example.

G protein-coupled receptors are a superfamily of these receptors; opioids bind to a specific group within this superfamily of receptors, called opioid receptors.

The three major types of opioid receptors are named for the Greek letters mu, kappa and delta. For simplicity, these opioid receptors often are abbreviated MOR, KOR and DOR.  

The mu opioid receptor, or MOR, is primarily responsible for relaying signals causing pain relief. The KOR is primarily responsible for relaying signals causing depression and anxiety. The DOR is primarily responsible for relaying signals causing mood-related disorders.

Notably, several studies have shown that the MOR is responsible for relaying other signals, particularly the addictive potential and other harmful side effects of opioids mentioned previously.

These effects on mood are due to opioids’ interactions with the KOR and/or the DOR rather than just the MOR.

Hence, selectively blocking only the MOR should be able to block the signals for addiction, sedation, constipation and the other side effects without relaying the signals for mood disorders caused by interacting with the KOR and/or the DOR. This could mean new treatments for opioid addiction could be developed that avoid these unpleasant side effects. 

With this hypothesis in mind, Zhang’s laboratory group is working on producing new chemical compounds that selectively target the MOR without targeting the KOR and the DOR. After synthesizing these potential, new drugs, the group uses a series of biochemical tests to examine these drugs’ abilities to bind to and to relay biological messages through the MOR, the KOR and the DOR.

Through their hard work, we might one day have a drug to more effectively help those in need during this opioid-overdose crisis.

Auxiliary Label is a student-created blog examining pharmacy life, education and research at the VCU School of Pharmacy from a student perspective. It is overseen by Greg Weatherford, the school’s director of communications. Contact him here.

Confronting a crisis, VCU School of Pharmacy shifts curriculum on opioids

A pill bottle is surrounded by pills and a syringe.
Future pharmacists are learning how to better manage issues around opioid addiction and overdose.
By Karolina Blaziak
Communications Associate, VCU School of Pharmacy

With thousands of Virginians affected by the opioid crisis, the VCU School of Pharmacy has added to its curriculum material about how pharmacists can respond.

An article about these curriculum changes has been accepted by the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. The article, “Preparing pharmacy students to manage the opioid crisis,” also discusses the background of opioid prescriptions and pain management, and the rise of opioid misuse to an epidemic in the United States.

Opioid overdoses have killed more Virginians each year than car crashes or guns, with more than 4,000 deaths between 2012 and 2017, according to the Virginia Department of Health. That has made overdoses the No. 1 cause of unnatural death in the state.

In 2016, Virginia’s health commissioner declared opioid addiction a public-health emergency. The commissioner issued a standing order authorizing pharmacists via a statewide standing order to dispense naloxone to any person requesting the drug.

To prepare pharmacy students for this responsibility, a number of activities were added to the pharmacy curriculum. In the fall 2017 semester the VCU School of Pharmacy offered a new laboratory activity in opioid-overdose management to its third-year pharmacy students.

With the statewide reach of the problem there has been “a new change in culture and awareness about opioid overdoses,” said Krista Donohoe, Pharm.D., an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science at the VCU School of Pharmacy.

The laboratory course taught 130 VCU pharmacy students what to do in the event of a patient overdose, along with a discussion of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and how to do opioid calculations. The instructors — Donohoe and fellow VCU School of Pharmacy Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science faculty members Laura Morgan, Pharm.D., and Kacie Powers, Pharm.D. — wanted to prepare the pharmacy students to counsel patients and their families on opioid overdoses using naloxone.

Pharmacists can play a critical role in combating the opioid crisis. They have regular contact with patients and track their prescriptions through a database called the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program that lists medications prescribed and how frequently they are being dispensed.

The pharmacy students practiced with different prescription-monitoring database scenarios to learn how to identify red flags for opioid misuse.

For example, if a patient’s records show multiple visits to doctors or pharmacies, the pharmacist should recognize this as a possible red flag, and contact the prescriber to warn about potential opioid misuse, said Morgan, an associate professor in the VCU School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmacotherapy & Outcomes Science who served on a statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse for then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Students also practiced calculations needed to safely switch patients from one opioid to another such as from oral administration to intravenous.

In a survey conducted at the end of the course, students gave the curriculum changes high marks and said the class gave them the knowledge and confidence needed to care for their patients in the community.

“We’re going to continue it. Definitely,” Donohoe said.

Additional listed authors for the journal article are Thuy T. Tran, Pharm.D.; Ph.D. candidate Fawaz M. Alotaibi, Pharm.D.; and Archana Raghavan, Pharm.D.

For more information: Greg Weatherford, VCU School of Pharmacy director of communications

About Auxiliary Label

Auxiliary Label is a student-created blog examining pharmacy life, education and research at the VCU School of Pharmacy from a student perspective. It is overseen by Greg Weatherford, the school’s director of communications. Contact him here.

MEET THE STAFF

Nicole Carter has a BS in biochemistry with a minor in biology from Old Dominion University. She is currently pursuing her Pharm.D. from VCU. Her interests include ambulatory care, entrepreneurial pharmacy and horror films.

Photo of Nicole Carter

Torey Hammond is a third-year pharmacy student who studied at VCU before attending pharmacy school. Her interests include public health, geriatrics and cats.

Michael Ong, a third-year pharmacy student, is a graduate of Bucknell University and Virginia Commonwealth University with degrees in psychology and chemistry. His interests in pharmacy include public health and global health.

Christian Ruiz  is a third-year Pharm.D. student who majored in chemistry and minored in music and biology at VCU. His interests include emergency medicine, critical care and fishing.

 

Healthcare policy fellow to work in office of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown

Photo of the U S Capitol
VCU School of Pharmacy alumna Tina Chhabra will spend a year working in Congress. (Photo credit)
By Greg Weatherford
Director of Communications, VCU School of Pharmacy

ACCP-ASHP-VCU Healthcare Policy Fellow Tina Chhabra has begun her congressional placement within the office of Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

In her work with the office, which will run through August 2019, Chhabra (VCU Pharm.D. ‘16)  will support Senator Brown’s health team in all healthcare-related matters such as Medicare, Medicaid, drug development, mental health, the opioid crisis, the Affordable Care Act, and more.

Pharmacists selected as American College of Clinical Pharmacy-American Society of Health-System Pharmacists-Virginia Commonwealth University Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellows have the opportunity to gain real-world insight into health care policy analysis and development via immersion in the congressional environment. Fellows are actively mentored in legislative evaluation, policy development, research and writing while integrating practical experience with theory.

“There is no typical day,” Chhabra said of her role in Congress so far. Her work includes writing policy memos, participating in health-care briefings and meeting with constituents. “Constituents are the best educators,” Chhabra added. “I really enjoy meeting with the people of Ohio and learning from their experiences and expertise.”

Prior to her placement with Senator Brown’s office, and as part of the fellowship, Chhabra spent one week at the Brookings Institution and three weeks each with ACCP’s and ASHP’s government affairs offices.

The fellowship program, now directed by VCU School of Pharmacy associate professor Kristin Zimmerman, Pharm.D., was founded in 2007 under the leadership of professor Gary R. Matzke, Pharm.D.

For more about the ACCP-ASHP-VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program, click here or contact director Kristin Zimmerman at kzimmerman@vcu.edu.

VCU School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 graduate programs in pharmacy in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.

VCU Pharmacy’s CPPI announces partnership with journal Pharmacy Practice

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Greg Weatherford
goweatherfor@vcu.edu | (804) 828-6470 (o) (804) 937-4722 (m)

The VCU School of Pharmacy’s Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation is proud to announce an editorial partnership with Pharmacy Practicea quarterly full-text peer-reviewed online journal.

Pharmacy Practice was founded as an independent journal by a group of prominent pharmacy-practice researchers from around the world about 10 years ago. Pharmacy Practice is free to access, complying with the NIH’s policy on public access, and does not charge for submissions or publication. It is indexed and abstracted on PubMed, PubMed Central, Embase, Scopus, Ebsco EJS and the Directory of Open Access Journals, among others.

As part of the agreement, faculty members of the VCU Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation will have a designated section to publish non-peer-reviewed articles expressing viewpoints on a wide range of pharmacy-practice topics. VCU School of Pharmacy faculty members Teresa Salgado, M.Pharm., Ph.D. and David Holdford, Ph.D. were named associate editors of Pharmacy Practice; faculty members John Bucheit, Pharm.D.Lauren Pamulapati, Pharm.D., and Julie Patterson, Pharm.D., Ph.D. were named advisory board members.

Notably, the agreement between the journal and the center stipulates that the arrangement remains valid only as long as Pharmacy Practice does not charge authors to publish. No financial support was given or received by the VCU center to execute or maintain the agreement.

“One of our driving motivations for this partnership is to support the open-science philosophy, particularly in an area like pharmacy practice research in which many open access journals charge fees,” explained Salgado, assistant director of the VCU Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation. “We are honored to join the prestigious group of international colleagues who are part of Pharmacy Practice’s editorial and advisory boards.”

Pharmacy Practice is ranked among the best journals in pharmacy and is among the top journals in the field as determined by the Scopus CiteScore. In fact, Pharmacy Practice is the first open-access journal in this rank.

“We are excited to have an editorial partner as esteemed as the VCU School of Pharmacy’s Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation,” said Fernando Fernandez-Llimos, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of Pharmacy Practice. “We share the goal of supporting true open-access research of the highest caliber. We look forward to a rewarding partnership.”

For more information contact Greg Weatherford, VCU School of Pharmacy director of communications, at goweatherfor@vcu.edu.

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