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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

How to Be an Entrepreneur, Lesson 3: Go Where You are Needed

Woman stands in an empty office. She is framed in a window.
Pharmacist Shantelle Brown stands in the space where her in-construction pharmacy will soon open.

By Nicole Carter
Auxiliary Label Staff

Hope Pharmacy is a new independent pharmacy inside a new independent grocery store, The Market @25th, that is projected to open March 28 in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond.

Shantelle Brown, Pharm.D., is Hope’s owner and operator. The 2003 graduate of Howard University College of Pharmacy believes she will be the first African-American female to open an independent pharmacy in Richmond. Auxiliary Label had the opportunity to speak with her and tour her pharmacy while it was in the final stages of construction.

Auxiliary Label: How did you decide on the name Hope Pharmacy?

Shantelle Brown: Well, I didn’t want to do last name. I think hope is so pivotal. It’s something that we all have or hope to have. I think it’s just encouragement. [The pharmacy’s logo shows the word with a second P superimposed over the first.] This stands for “helping others physically prosper every day.”

The Hope Pharmacy counter under construction.
The Hope Pharmacy entrance under construction.

What’s your pharmacy’s mission?

I would definitely say education. I think that’s what’s missing with the disparities that happen with the East End. And my prayer is that I’ll be able to bridge the gap between the residents that have been here for years and the new residents that are now coming into Church Hill. I had the chance to go to a town hall meeting and the longstanding residents expressed their concern that they were being pushed out, that maybe all the change is not for them. So, hopefully, with working with the grocery store and their promotion of good, healthy foods with affordable fruits and vegetables, and me being a mouthpiece for African-Americans in this area, I can relay the message to the residents that you’re wanted in this community. We want everyone to come together.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far?

Financing has been my challenge. For me, it was important not only to do this as the first African-American female [pharmacy owner] in Richmond but to be able to do it with just myself and my family. I told my husband that we need to be able to do this on our own. Thankfully, I closed on my loan at the beginning of January with Virginia Community Capital. They saw the vision and they do a lot of work with the community. Right now, for banks to give money to startups is unheard of.

What are you going to use your startup loan for?

I did a term loan for the store buildout and a line of credit for my inventory*. With any pharmacy, you’re going to be responsible to pay that bill from the drug distributor at least once or twice a month. It’s quite often. But you don’t get reimbursed from the insurance company for 45-60 days so you need to have a line of credit in order to bridge that gap.

I have a term loan for my build out and a line of credit for my inventory.

How did you figure out what kind of drug inventory your store needs?

We haven’t pinpointed exactly what we are going to start off with yet, but I’ve spoken with the old district manager for Ukrop’s [Super Markets Inc., a longtime grocery chain in Richmond that closed in 2010] and I spoke to a couple of independent owners. I learned that there are quite a few brands that skyrocket your inventory numbers, but you don’t really need to start with all those brands. Most of the time I end up sending them back. So, of course, there are exceptions. For example, you have to pay brand for your insulins. Most people say the norm for starting inventory is $60,000, but you should be able to almost cut that in half by utilizing more generics.

What advice do you have for future pharmacist entrepreneurs?

Do your research. Get the feedback from the residents. You want to be in an area where you’re needed.

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.

[*This sentence has been updated and clarified.]

P-3 David Doan inaugurates an inspiring new Aux Label series

David Doan stands at a rostrum with the V-C-U logo.
David Doan speaks to alumni of the VCU School of Pharmacy at the Jefferson Hotel during the school’s annual Galen Society banquet.

By Christian Ruiz
Auxiliary Label Staff

From the author: Each person in my class is remarkable in his or her own way, especially to have come this far in pharmacy school. However, a dozen of them have inspired me in one way or another, and I wanted to share their secrets to success because I believe that we all can, and should, grow immensely as people and as pharmacists in this school.

So for each article in this series titled “OTC Advice” I will interview and write about a classmate who has inspired me over the past three years, whether it was inside the classroom, outside the classroom, or both. I consider their advice OTC — “over the counter” — since no prescription is necessary; just open a web browser and spend a few minutes reading.

I learned so much from these classmates over the years. I hope you enjoy what I learned. — Christian Ruiz

David Doan, a third-year pharmacy student at the VCU School of Pharmacy, has amazed me in numerous ways. He has served as class president for his first two years in pharmacy school and is now the student body president, and he has served in other leadership positions in various student organizations. Above all, he consistently embodies professionalism and friendliness, always offering a smile, a laugh, or a refreshing conversation even on our roughest days.

If I could summarize his following advice in a few words, it would be this: We all want to see each other succeed, whether it be through learning through mentors, learning a variety of different skills, or learning how to solve problems.

So say “yes” to each challenge that the faculty, staff and your own classmates offer as learning opportunities. You might be impressed with how much you can grow as a person and as a pharmacist.

Auxiliary Label: Why did you apply to pharmacy school?

David Doan: I chose to apply to pharmacy school because I had great respect for one of my mentors when I was working at the NIH [National Institutes of Health] who happened to be a pharmacist. I saw his job and what he was doing, and I wanted to do that. He had a Pharm.D. and an MBA and he ran a research lab at the NIH, and it’s something that I could see myself doing.

What did you like most about what he did at the lab?

I liked the variety of things that were going on at the lab, whether it be support for clinical trials, his own research in prostate cancer, or learning leadership techniques. It really taught me a lot.

What is your favorite thing about pharmacy school so far?

I just love to learn. Every single day you walk through these doors, you can learn so many different things, connect with so many different people, and build relationships. The school allows you to do that, and you walk out of these doors when you finish as a better person and a great pharmacist.

If you could be any faculty or staff member in the school, who would you be and why?

Dr. Gravatt. I think she’s amazing. She’s so well-rounded, she provides all of her students with the knowledge and skills, and she shares her experiences us and tries to make us better. She challenges us. She’s a great mentor. And she genuinely wants to see all of us succeed.

How do you think you have grown as a student and/or a pharmacist over the last three years?

Outside of the clinical aspects — learning pharmacy itself — it’s really about the ability to interact with people and with patients. It’s more about the soft skills. Being a pharmacist is more than just medications – you’re a professional problem-solver. Whether it be logistics, medication issues, or clinical situations, you’re the go-to for being that problem solver, and I think that’s what I’ve learned most.

If you could give your P1 self the most important advice or lesson you have learned so far in pharmacy school, what would it be and why?

Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges. Be someone that always says yes. The more opportunities that you seek out and go for, the more doors will open. And cherish the time you have here; it’s short, and after this, it’s real life. So, take advantage of it, and take advantage of the opportunities that the School gives you because they provide so many.

And don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Try to grow as much as possible. The more that you grow here, the better pharmacist you’ll be and the better care you’ll be able to provide your future patients.

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.

Auxiliary Label: The ancient, mysterious history of pharmacy show globes

Pharmacy show globes: a tradition, a mysterious history

Show globes — large glass urns or vases filled with colored liquids — are found in many traditional pharmacies. What do they mean? Well, that depends. Victoria Hammond, Pharm.D. Class of 2020, investigates for the School of Pharmacy's Auxiliary Label blog of student life and research.

Posted by VCU School of Pharmacy on Thursday, December 6, 2018

By Victoria Hammond
Auxiliary Label Staff

Unless you have been to an apothecary museum or know someone who is a pharmacist, you probably have not heard of a show globe, but you may have seen one. Show globes are pieces of glassware that are often vase shaped and filled with colorful liquid, often seen in apothecary’s front window displays.

Show globes are ancient and have been symbols of pharmacy for a long time. They still are used today; in fact, in Pennsylvania it is illegal to display a show globe at a place of business that is not a pharmacy.

There are many theories about the purpose of show globes but nothing definite about their purpose is known.

One theory is thought to date from around the 16th century. Apothecaries needed a symbol to grab the attention of a mostly illiterate population. In this time period streets were crowded and needed a symbol that was bright, unique and easily recognizable to draw in business.  

Another theory suggests that show globes date as far back as Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain around 53 B.C.  According to the story, an apothecary was located across from a dock for boats. The apothecary would place lanterns behind multiple show globes which would guide boats carrying troops safely to shore.  When the troops arrived safely, the story goes, Caesar allowed all apothecaries to keep show globes in their front windows.

It has also been hypothesized that show globes were used to relay messages to travelers about the health in the town.  Red liquid in a show globe meant that there was an epidemic and to stay away from the town. Green liquid in a show globe would mean that all is well in the town. Another theory also hypothesizes that show globes were used to send messages but to sick individuals during the Great Plague of London. It is thought that the colored liquid would show where individuals could find medical care.  

The final hypothesis of show globes involves maceration. Maceration is a process that involves softening or breaking up solids through soaking into a liquid. It was thought that directions of maceration involved the process to be done in light in a container that could hold 2 to 3 gallons.  This process would normally be done in an area with the best light: the apothecary’s front window.

Not much is known about the purpose of show globes, but they continue to be a symbol of the profession and are a unique piece of pharmacy history.

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.

In clearest view ever of cell membrane, VCU team finds unexpected structure and new areas for pharmaceutical research

An illustration of a cell membrane.
An illustration of a cell membrane. (Getty)

Greg Weatherford
Director of Communications

Working with a Nobel Prize-winning biophysicist, a team of researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University has used an innovative technique to gain the clearest view yet of a patch of cell membrane and its components, revealing unexpected structures and opening up new possibilities for pharmaceutical research.

Cell membranes are formed largely of a bimolecular sheet, a fraction of the thickness of a soap bubble, in which two layers of lipid molecules are packed with their hydrophobic tails pointing inward and their hydrophilic heads outward, exposed to water.

The internal shape and structure of this lipid bilayer have remained largely mysterious after almost a century of research. This is in large part because most methods to examine membranes use detergents, which strip away the lipids that make up much of the membranes’ structures.

In a newly published paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the team — led by Youzhong Guo, Ph.D., of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy — used a new detergent-free method that allowed them to examine the membrane of an E. coli cell, with lipids still in place.

‘Surprising’ structure
Where earlier models had shown a fluid, almost structureless lipid layer — one often-cited research paper compared it to different weights of olive oil poured together — the VCU-led team was startled to find a distinct hexagonal structure inside the membrane. This has led the researchers to propose that the lipid layer might act as both sensor and energy transducer within a membrane protein transporter.

“The most surprising outcome is the high order with which lipid molecules are arranged, and the idea they might even cooperate in the functional cycle of the export channel,” said Joachim Frank, Ph.D., of Columbia University, a 2017 Nobel laureate in chemistry and coauthor of the paper. “It is counterintuitive since we have learned that lipids are fluid and disordered in the membrane.”

Photo of Youzhou Guo
Guo

The researchers were able to get such a clear view because they used an innovative method to isolate and stabilize the membranes. Employing poly-styrene-maleic-acid to break cell membrane into nanoparticles that were then isolated and captured in a layer of sophisticated polymer, the researchers used the state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscope at New York Structural Biology Center (NYSBC) to get a clear look at the lipid bilayer.

“Being able to pull proteins out of cell membranes without using detergents to break up the lipid bilayers truly is a fantastic advance,” said Wayne Hendrickson, Ph.D., a university professor at Columbia, scientific director of NYSBC and coauthor of the paper.

The technique and its revelations could have significant pharmaceutical value, added VCU’s Guo. He pointed out that about half of medical drugs target the cell membrane, and proposed that improved understanding of their layers of lipids and proteins could lead to new or more-effective therapies.

The authors of the paper, “Structure and Activity of Lipid Bilayer Within a Membrane Protein Transporter,” are Weihua Qiu, Guoyan G. Xu, Yan Zhang and Youzhong Guo, of Virginia Commonwealth University, and Ziao Fu, Robert A. Grassucci, Joachim Frank and Wayne A. Hendrickson of Columbia University.

Kelly Goode on the 1918 pandemic and its lessons for today

Kelly Goode on the 1918 pandemic and its lessons for today

Kelly Goode, Pharm.D., visits a key site in the history of the 1918 flu pandemic that killed 50 million people worldwide. Hear what she has to say about what that tragic epidemic can teach us today.

Posted by VCU School of Pharmacy on Friday, October 5, 2018

VIDEO: Kelly Goode, Pharm.D., visits the site of an emergency hospital during the 1918 influenza pandemic to discuss the flu and the importance of vaccines.

Pharmacists as part of medical team make patients healthier and reduce costs, study says

A hospital bed.
How can doctors keep patients healthier and out of the hospital? By having pharmacists on the medical team, a new study says.

By Christian Ruiz
Auxiliary Label Staff

Pharmacists working in collaboration with other health-care providers can improve the quality and cost of care for patients, according to a recent study.

A recent article in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy makes the case that pharmacists working as part of the primary-care team can be crucial life savers for their patients. In the case of the study, having pharmacists on the team reduced hospitalizations by 23.4 percent and reduced costs by approximately $5 million.

The study — of six hospitals from the Carilion Clinic health system in southwest Virginia in conjunction with 22 patient-centered medical homes associated with Carilion Clinic — was led by VCU School of Pharmacy’s Gary Matzke, Pharm.D.; Leticia Moczygemba, Pharm.D., Ph.D.; Karen Williams, Pharm.D.; Michael Czar, Pharm.D., Ph.D.; and William Lee. The study took place from January 2013 to June 2015. Funding sources for the study included the CMS Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and the Carilion Clinic health system.

A total of 2,480 patients in the study had two or more of these seven chronic health conditions: heart failure, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and depression. In addition, the patients were taking at least four medications and had a primary care physician in the Carilion Clinic health system.

The researchers studied the difference between collaborative care, in which pharmacists were members of the primary care team and worked closely with physicians, and “usual care,” in which pharmacists were not part of the primary care team, on the progress of their patients’ chronic health conditions and on their patients’ use of hospital resources.

The collaborative-care pharmacists called patients within 72 hours after their hospital stay to see if those patients had any medication-related problems or issues. Additionally, these pharmacists met the patients face-to-face or by phone to address patient-specific problems or concerns, which encouraged patients to self-manage their medications and health conditions.

Patients in the usual-care group did not interact with pharmacists in these ways.

Patients in the group working more closely with pharmacists showed better improvement in each of their health conditions compared to the usual-care group in terms of their diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

In addition, the number of patients who were treated with the collaborative-care group experienced a 23.4 percent decrease in hospitalizations, from 1,675 hospitalizations before treatment by the collaborative-care group to 1,283 hospitalizations after treatment by the collaborative-care group.

The usual-care group, in comparison, experienced an 8.7 percent decrease in hospitalizations, from 355 hospitalizations before treatment and 324 hospitalizations after treatment.

Along with the health improvements, pharmacists in the collaborative-care group helped reduce the cost of hospitalizations overall by $5,156,675 — $2,619 less per patient than standard procedures would have been expected to cost. In comparison, the usual-care group recorded a cost reduction of $475,071, or $241 less per patient than standard procedures would have been expected to cost. This means that pharmacists in the collaborative-care group helped save $4,681,604 more than the usual-care group — or $2,378 more per patient than standard procedures would have been expected to cost — over the course of the study.

This study demonstrates that pharmacists can contribute far more to health care in the community than just serving as “pill counters” – a perceived role that immensely underestimates and undervalues the impact they can have on both the health of their patients and the cost of health care. Additionally, when health care providers work together as a team, our jobs as life savers can be worth so much more to our patients.

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.

How to Be an Entrepreneur, Lesson 2: Find a niche

A rooftop sign reads "fountain."
A sign on the roof of Midlothian Apothecary. The restaurant inside the pharmacy acts much like advertising, says pharmacist Janet Darby. Photo by Nicole Carter.

By Nicole Carter
Auxiliary Label Staff

Midlothian Apothecary is an independent pharmacy in Chesterfield County, just outside Richmond, that has survived under the same management since 1990. I met with Janet Darby, a VCU School of Pharmacy alumna, to talk about the business of independent pharmacy today.

Auxiliary Label: What is your biggest revenue source?

Darby: It’s not drugs any more. With generics, I almost have to give them away for free. Brand-name drugs are still profitable. We do vaccinations and they pay well on those. Also, home health-care products such as durable medical equipment, but we don’t bill Medicare for that. Medicare has a designated location for patients to buy DME [durable medical equipment] but a lot of people don’t want to go through the hassle so we just sell it straight to the customer.

What do you think has the biggest growth potential out of all the services you offer?

We’re starting to do point-of-care testing for flu, strep throat, cholesterol and blood glucose. We can charge for that. The problem is, though, in Virginia I can’t write a prescription if I find out somebody is positive for flu. … We are setting up a collaborative practice agreement so that after I get the test result, I can call the doctor and then get the prescription.

How do you bill for the point-of-care testing?

It’s out of pocket. In Virginia we can’t bill insurance unless we are the one who writes the prescription. Last year, with the big flu epidemic, no doctor could see anyone [because they were too busy] — people were having the flu and couldn’t get any medications. The doctors are looking for help too because they can’t see everybody.

How is having the fountain in the pharmacy an asset to the business?

It’s always busy. It’s kind of like paying for advertising: A lot of people come in here [for the fountain] not knowing about the pharmacy, and some people come in not knowing about the fountain. So it brings in people and kind of keeps things hopping all the time. You can’t say it’s a moneymaker because you have to sell a lot of food to make money. But we see the money that goes toward the fountain as money we would have otherwise spent on advertising.

What is the biggest threat to independent pharmacy?

PBMs, the processors for insurance companies, right now they are ruining pharmacy. They mandate how much we get paid. And the insurance company pays them one thing and then they pay us something else. Now for generics they are using the average for the year. So if they think they paid us too much for the first six months of the year then they take money back. But they don’t give us a reason. It’s really crooked.

Competition isn’t a threat because I offer something entirely different. We provide individualized care that other pharmacies just don’t.

What is the biggest opportunity for independent pharmacy?

There is a niche. You got to want to do customer service. You’ve got to want to do a lot more than just fill a prescription. And you’ve got to answer question upon question. There are people out there that want that individual service.

What advice do you have for pharmacy students?

You’ve got to want to work. And you’ve got to want to work hard. If you can’t multitask you can’t be a pharmacist. And you’ve got to want to work long hours. It’s a great profession if you like people. You’ve just got to know what niche you want and what you want to do.

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.

Auxiliary Label: Antibiotic stewardship research in a community outpatient setting

An image of a purple C. dificile bacterium.
An image of C. dificile bacterium, based on photomicrographic data. (Centers for Disease Control).

By Victoria Hammond
Auxiliary Label Staff

Antibiotic resistance — when bacteria are untreatable by current antibiotics — is a growing public health concern.

To reduce antibiotic resistance, prescribers use antibiotics only when necessary. In hospital settings, experts called antibiotic stewards monitor trends in resistance, prescribing, costs and adverse effects. Prescribing trends are compared to current treatment guidelines.

Stewards in an antibiotic stewardship have a goal to “enhance patient health outcomes, reducing resistance to antibiotics, and decreasing unnecessary costs,” according to the Society of Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

In 2015, about  269 million antibiotic prescriptions were dispensed in outpatient settings — at least 30 percent of which were unnecessary, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Unnecessary treatment of antibiotics can increase the risk of side effects or opportunistic infections such as C. difficile.

Settings with high volumes of antibiotics being prescribed would benefit from an antibiotic stewardship program to prevent side effects and opportunistic infection.

To improve patient outcomes in outpatient settings, VCU School of Pharmacy faculty members John Bucheit, Pharm.D.,  Teresa Salgado, M.Pharm., Ph.D., and Amy Pakyz, Pharm.D., Ph.D., have been implementing an antibiotic stewardship program in a free outpatient health clinic in the Richmond area. (They asked that the clinic’s name not be published.)

The faculty members’ first focus targets the prescribing trends of uncomplicated urinary-tract infections, or UTIs. Bucheit, Pakyz and Salgado are developing an antibiogram — a profile of antibiotic susceptibility for a specific practice site — based on prescribing trends from the past two years.

The antibiogram will provide information about which antibiotics are providing beneficial therapy to patients based on the clinic’s antibiotic susceptibility to resistant or nonresistant bacteria. This antibiogram will then be compared with current therapy guidelines to develop clinic specific guidelines for practitioners to use at the clinic. The project was made possible by a grant from the VCU School of Pharmacy’s Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation.

“We are excited about this project to not only improve patient care at our clinic,” Bucheit said, “but also to provide an example for other outpatient offices interested in improving antibiotic prescribing for uncomplicated UTI.”

After the guideline is developed, Bucheit, Pakyz, Salgado and their team will educate the staff and reevaluate in a year.

The goal of this project is to provide prescriber education and improve patient health outcomes in a setting where high volumes of antibiotics are prescribed.

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.

 

Auxiliary Label: Lessons from pharmacy school

A glass mortar and pestle.
A mortar and pestle in the VCU School of Pharmacy collection.

by Victoria Hammond
Auxiliary Label Staff

In my third year of pharmacy school, as I am beginning to think about choices for Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences rotations, I am reflecting on my experience here.

When I started, I remember thinking how thriving in pharmacy school was going to be impossible. When classes began I was overwhelmed by the amount of coursework.

Now in my new shoes as a third-year student, or P3, I look back and realize that while pharmacy school can be stressful, success is possible.

Here is the story of how I learned to succeed in pharmacy school. I hope some readers may find it helpful.

When I began, I saw pharmacy school as a reservoir of knowledge and opportunity. I wanted to take steps to gain a variety of experiences but still perform well academically. More importantly, I wanted to prove that I belonged in my seat. My first year and a half of pharmacy school was a competition between myself. I was my own worst enemy.

I was applying for outreach programs, working 12 hours a week, involved in committees and training for a marathon while studying for all my tests. All in a grand gesture for me to feel confident in my ability to be a pharmacist.

As you can imagine, this schedule put my time management to the test. I quickly felt the pressure from managing my life in pharmacy school and my life at home. I was constantly stressed and did not believe in myself.

In my P2 year of pharmacy school I had better self-confidence but I was in the battle. I was perpetually clouded in self doubt.

It was not until elections for organizations where I finally broke my bad habit. I had nominated myself for the secretary position in my class and had been nominated for an executive position in Phi Delta Chi, one of several active pharmacy fraternities. To my surprise, I was elected to both.

Breaking outside my comfort zone and being chosen for these leadership positions broke my spell. I found that my new confidence improved my academic standing and social savvy. I soon realized I wasn’t the only one who had faced this battle.

The hardest aspect of pharmacy school for me hasn’t been from content taught in the classroom. The hardest aspect is finessing time management skills while maintaining mental health. The amount of coursework can be worrisome but it is manageable. Your involvement in an organization will enhance your knowledge from the classroom. Pharmacy school is a lifestyle and with everything you do you have support from friends and faculty.

To all pharmacy students, I have a few pieces of advice:

  1. Even if it scares you, sign up for that position or go to the volunteer event. It could change your whole outlook.
  2. Focus on the present moment; if you don’t it’s easy for your mind to get cloudy with self doubt.
  3. Don’t forget to have some fun outside of studying whether it be running or playing the banjo (the choice is yours!).
  4. Be confident. You will be a pharmacist.

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.

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. 

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