An advocate for change urges pharmacists to speak out

March 10, 2016

APhA award recipient Nicki Hilliard says step up and voice your concerns.

Earlier this month, the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) honored Nicki L. Hilliard, PharmD, MHSA, BCNP, FAPhA, with its Good Government Pharmacist-of-the-Year Award. The award recognizes an individual pharmacist who actively contributes to the community through involvement in the political process.

Hilliard, a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, has recently served as APhA Trustee and APhA-APPM President from 2013-2015. She has previously received the APhA Award of Merit, the APhA Distinguished Achievement in Nuclear Pharmacy Practice, the Arkansas Pharmacists Association’s Bowl of Hygeia Award, and she has been named an APhA Fellow.

Drug Topics recently spoke with Hilliard about the importance of pharmacists advocating for change through the political process.

DT:What prompted you to get involved with the political process?

Nicki HilliardHilliard: You don’t have to be involved in politics to be an advocate for change. My involvement in governmental affairs isn’t about Republicans or Democrats or getting someone elected, but simply about telling my story, sharing my experiences and knowledge of how pharmacists can make a positive impact on patient health and the healthcare system.

I’m a nuclear pharmacist. We often see the impact of pharmacy regulations or legislation that may have an unintended consequence on this specialized area of practice. As a small group, we have learned to speak up to make our concerns known.

My first visit to Capitol Hill in the late 1990s was to explain how proposed FDA compounding regulations would have an impact on our  ability to serve our patients. 

DT:Is it important that pharmacists be involved in governmental affairs? Why?

Hilliard: Absolutely! Don’t assume that lawmakers understand pharmacy issues; they must hear from you on behalf of the profession and on behalf of your patients.

When I call or visit my senators' and representatives' offices, I am often scheduled to talk with their legislative aides, who are tasked with doing the homework on bills. These are intelligent people starting their public service careers, and many have just graduated from college.

I am telling you this because I don’t want pharmacists to ever be intimidated; the pharmacist is the expert in this situation and has far more knowledge and experience about healthcare. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease!

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DT: What do you consider the biggest accomplishment to result from your advocacy work?

Hilliard: I was an APhA trustee when the provider-status legislation was introduced in Congress. It has been easy to take my passion for the profession and provide a compelling case to Capitol Hill, and work to have pharmacists share their own stories.

It has been so gratifying to see the whole profession come together to support this effort. It won’t be my accomplishment, but our shared success, when pharmacist provider status in the Social Security Act becomes a reality.

See also: Specialized training puts pharmacists front and center

DT: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you graduated from pharmacy school?

Hilliard: Never discount yourself. No matter your area of practice, management experience, degree, expertise, etc., we can all have a voice to represent the profession and our patients. Whether it is speaking to a legislator or physician, volunteering for a committee or elected position, or speaking to your manager, just step up and speak on behalf on what is best for the patient and you can’t go wrong.

DT: What would you say to pharmacists who complain that the pharmacy organizations and pharmacy schools are too far removed from everyday pharmacy practice?

Hilliard: It would be the same advice that I give about being an advocate in governmental affairs. Step up and voice your concerns. Get involved. My experience is that a majority of pharmacists are not aware of all the diligent, hardworking people who are working in pharmacy organizations and colleges of pharmacy to advance the profession. I consider it a professional responsibility to support the organizations that are our collective watchdogs and advocates.