Yesterday may have seemed like just an ordinary Tuesday, but in reality it was one of the most exciting days for Texas and Tennessee pharmacy! In a random coincidence of happenstance, yesterday was both the Texas and Tennessee Pharmacy Day on the Hill. Our team member Catlina is a pharmacist in both of these states. She has helped coordinate multiple hill visits and has been involved in advocacy her entire pharmacy career. But the real question is why does advocacy even matter?
Congress has historically been one of the least trusted professions. Gallup polls rate members of congress at the absolute bottom of the list even with used car salespeople. Healthcare workers however, are among the most trusted. Nurses, medical doctors, and pharmacists have consistently been the top three highest ranked professions in regards to trust. Yet even though there is such a large gap it is important for the professions to work together. Pharmacy is THE most regulated profession in the entire world. No other profession has the licensing requirements, board oversight, laws, rules, and regulations that dictate how pharmacists practice each and every day.
Picture any activity you do in a pharmacy. Patient counseling? Mandated by OBRA 90. Displaying licenses? Mandated by board of pharmacy rule. Verifying orders? Mandated by the most complex combination of laws and rules imaginable. These lawmakers do not work in pharmacies. While there may be a few pharmacists in the legislature (Tennessee has 3, one of which is the lieutenant governor), these individuals are the exception rather than the norm. They do not understand the typical workflow of a pharmacy, and how we operate.
As an example, here in Tennessee we had a bill proposed that would make it illegal for a pharmacist (or anybody) to eat behind the counter of a pharmacy. A patient had come to the pharmacy counter to pick up her medication, and she saw a pharmacist eating some peanuts behind the counter. While she was not allergic to peanuts, she got very upset by this, and called her local congressman. He then introduced a bill that would make it where no food would be allowed in the pharmacy for fear of contamination. This was a valid concern, as it is estimated that anywhere from 0.6%-1.3% of all people are allergic to peanuts.
However, what was not understood by this individual and the congressman who introduced the bill, was the extensive process we go through in a pharmacy to ensure a safe environment. The workflow of a pharmacy was also not well understood. As it is very common for a pharmacy to have only one pharmacist. This pharmacist is typically working through their lunch due to the need to counsel patients. It is very possible that those few peanuts the pharmacist ate were the only food she was able to eat all day. She then would have been legally required to wash her hands before handling any medication, and would have sanitized any counting trays used before counting any more prescriptions. When viewed in this light, and with the already existing sanitation laws in place, a few peanuts may not seem so harmful.
One person was able to potentially change the practice of pharmacy forever. This individual did not have any special relationship with the congressman. She was simply a concerned citizen who made a phone call. This is exactly why days on the hill are so important. Both Texas and Tennessee pharmacists were able to meet their elected legislators yesterday, and discuss issues that were important to them. When we show up at the capitol building in numbers like we do on these days, it is hard to not notice.
Let me give you another example from Texas. Texas is one of only 5 states that does not currently allow for physician dispensing. This means that all prescriptions have to go through a pharmacy, and meet the strict requirements placed by the board of pharmacy and our state and federal rules, ensuring that safety measures are in place such as washing hands and sanitizing counting trays. There was a bill 3 years ago that would have allowed for limited physician dispensing for certain medications, completely avoiding these safeguards. When this bill was brought up in committee, I organized a group of 33 student pharmacists to go to the capitol. All we did was sit in the back of the room, in our white coats, and register in opposition to the bill. One signature and one seat was all we needed. Because of our presence in that room the bill was voted down in committee, and physician dispensing was not passed.
What Can You Do?
These stories show just how much of a difference you can make on the legislative process. All it took was one phone call about peanuts to get a bill introduced. All it took was a few signatures and showing up to get a bill to fail. My current position has me following 26 bills, and going to committee and subcommittee meetings almost daily during our legislative season. I can tell you from experience the majority of meetings have no members of the public attend. The majority of legislators have not heard from the people they represent. When a member of the public does show up it is noticed, and it has a large affect. That one phone call, that one letter, that one meeting that you show up for, really do make a difference.
So to all the pharmacists who attended these inspiring events yesterday, we here at Poise and Potions congratulate you. The difference you make may not seem like much, but every chance we have to get our voices heard is critical. We have to start advocating for ourselves as a profession. Pharmacists must insist on getting fair lunch breaks, and reasonable drug prices for our patients. We cannot let those who are not pharmacists dictate the practice of pharmacy.
Every profession, no matter if it is dancing, medicine, painting, nursing, architecture, or anything else is regulated in some way. So why not control the way we practice our profession?
Even if it is not through an official event you can still meet with your legislator at any time. Don’t hesitate to make those calls, and stand up for what you need. You would be surprised just how easy advocacy is.
I hope this article is inspiring, and encourages you to reach out. You can also reach out to us at any time, by contacting Poise and Potions. We want to hear how you have interacted with the legislative process and advocated for YOUR profession!