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Best of the Best: Sidrah Alam on Her Road to Pharmacy School

Alam joined Drug Topics® to discuss her time as a student pharmacist.

The third annual SingleCare Best of the Best Pharmacy Awards generated thousands of nominations from SingleCare customers across the United States. Drug Topics® sat down with Sidrah Alam, a pharmacy student at Shenandoah Unviersity and winner of the 2021 Best Up-and-Coming Pharmacist award, to discuss the road that took her to pharmacy school.

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Drug Topics®: Hi, everyone. I'm Lauren Biscaldi, managing editor of Drug Topics®. I'm sitting down today with Sidrah Alam, 1 of 25 winners of the third annual SingleCare: Best of the Best Pharmacy Awards. Sidrah is pursuing her Doctor of Pharmacy and Master of Science in pharmacogenomics and is the winner of the 2021 Best Up and Coming Pharmacist Award.

Thank you so much for joining us tonight, Sidrah. Can you introduce yourself to our viewers and tell us a little bit about the journey and family history that led you to pharmacy school?

Sidrah Alam: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate knowing that we always get Drug Topics® in our pharmacy. It's really exciting to be here today.

My name is Sidrah Alam. I am a final year student pharmacist at Shenandoah University, located in Virginia. I attend the Fairfax campus a little bit closer to Washington, DC. I graduate in May 2022 with both my Doctor of Pharmacy, as well as my Master of Science in pharmacogenomics. I am pursuing a dual degree currently at Deloitte University.

So, in terms of my pharmacy journey it's been a little bit interesting. I traditionally did not want to do pharmacy, which is actually a fun story to tell everyone. I had decided when I was younger that I would be a doctor since around the age of 2 or 3.

My parents had bought me the fake stethoscopes and my little doctor bag, and I used to take it around and try to fix everybody. And my mother has been working in pharmacy. She does still work in pharmacy and so for some reason, I knew that pharmacy was never going to be the career for me.

Additionally, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer many years back, and I remember seeing [a pharmacist] on his team (which was new to me) because I always believe that pharmacists only worked in a community, you know, retail setting but you only see pharmacy, its CVS or Walgreens or a pharmacy like that.

But he had pharmacists on his treatment team, and they were helping figure out what treatment was best, how to manage all the different side effects of all the chemotherapy he was on. They were working right alongside with the medical doctors and nurses and everyone else on his treatment team.

So, that was kind of an introduction to how pharmacy wasn't just about community pharmacy and seeing my mom in the field, you know, it was in the back of my head, but I never thought I was going to go into it. I went to Virginia Commonwealth University for undergraduate and I was still premed all throughout college.

I was mostly premed during the last year [of college]. I took a little bit of time off and decided to work at a pharmacy. I started working at Wegmans pharmacy, and Wegmans is a northeast grocery store…mostly in the Northeast. And so, I started working there as a technician. And I realized the impact that community pharmacists have in their communities. And I kind of realized that maybe pharmacy was more for me to have the direct patient care. They're kind of helping every single person—everyone knew their pharmacists names. So, then I decided to pursue pharmacy and looked into different programs and now here I am, a pharmacist.

Drug Topics®: That's such a great story. And I think that that's really impactful. I didn't realize until I started working with pharmacists that they were so involved in different care teams. My association was going to the pharmacy and picking up a prescription when I wasn't feeling well. So, I think that's interesting that that was how you really got started on this journey.

So, you mentioned, you're pursuing a dual degree right now. Do you have any advice for student pharmacist who are looking to specialize in a specific area of pharmacy?

Alam: I'm really fortunate that my school does offer a dual degree program. Many universities have other dual degrees, whether it's in, you know, a Master of Public Health or something along those lines.

So, with my master's, it is in pharmacogenomics, and I think that that's a really growing field and the future of medicine. In general, really, it’s going to be genetics and personalizing everyone's treatment. So, the theory behind my masters and pharmacogenomics in general, is that the best treatment for patients is something that's individualized. What's more personalized than using someone's own genetic DNA to figure out what works best for them?

In terms of pharmacogenomics, specifically, a lot of what we do is really focusing on the different enzymes that people have and their genetic makeup. For example, if someone metabolizes a medication a certain way, that medication may not work best for them. It's really interesting to see how the population metabolizes things and the different genes that are involved in things like that.

And so, this master's program is really focused on you know, individualizing that treatment, and I think that's kind of how we are going to best treat our patients is when we treat every single person, as a person and as an individual.

But in terms of advice for someone specializing, there's so many different fields of pharmacy, which honestly, I've learned more in pharmacy school, how vast the field really is, kind of like a buffet in my opinion, where you have a little bit of everything. You can honestly get whatever you want from the field. So, I personally want to pursue clinical pharmacy, which involves [further] training after I graduate, so that's kind of the field I'm going towards. Even within clinical pharmacy, you can specialize in so many things.

So, whether that's more pharmacogenomic related, oncology, pediatrics, really anything that you're interested in and have a passionate about, like has a place for that. So, I think for me, the biggest thing was staying kind of keeping an open mind. When I first started pharmacy school, I didn't realize about the different programs and the different specializations. But when I saw that my school offered it that was kind of a pulling factor for me to even attend this university.

I think for student pharmacists, the biggest thing is to keep an open mind, be passionate and be involved throughout pharmacy school. I have been super involved in many organizations. I actually serve on the national executive board for the American Pharmacists Association and have been involved at my school in many other student organizations. So being involved kind of helped me realize what I love what I'm passionate about and how I can best serve patients in the future.

I really think that being involved advocating for yourself, your patients, the profession, is what's really going to help people kind of figure out their place in pharmacy. The more you're involved and active you'll learn like where you want to specialize and if you want to specialize.

Some people love community pharmacy and that's the best place for them. Others prefer working in the industry in the hospital in a clinic. So, for me personally being involved and kind of seeing everything out there [helps one] decide what to specialize in.

Drug Topics®: That's such an interesting journey that you took to clinical pharmacy and [finding] what specifically you wanted to study. And I think that was my next question. You know, as an up-and-coming pharmacist, what does it mean to you to win the 2021 Up and Coming Pharmacist Award?

Alam: I just wanted to start off [that] it was such an honor. I honestly was shocked when I heard that I had won. It's really amazing to be recognized for something and realize that everything I'm doing is not going unnoticed.

So, at the end of the day, you know, I'm not doing things for awards or any recognition, but it's still nice to know that people are seeing what you're doing.

And I think this pandemic really has kind of made it more worth it winning the award, because a lot of time pharmacists are considered a little bit on the sidelines. And this pandemic has really shown us that we really are on the frontlines, and we are an integral part of that healthcare team and that we're working with everybody to best serve you know, the best patient care.

This award just kind of shows that we have been working hard and that my impact on patient care hasn't gone unnoticed. Interestingly, at Wegmans our motto is: “Every Day You Get our Best,” so this award kind of exemplifies that, where every day I have been giving my best. I've been at Wegmans for about five years.

You know, pharmacy school is four years long. So, I've been doing that direct patient care, helping people. But that's really just for my profession and for pharmacy. That's what pharmacists really do. So, it's been nice to just have that award and have something that shows that I've been working hard and that my patient care hasn't gone unnoticed. I hope to continue to deliver the best patient care as a pharmacist.

Drug Topics®: That's great. I've just been saying to all the other pharmacists I've spoken to through this interview series that the stories that I've heard have been so impactful and so powerful. And you guys really are an integral part of the healthcare community. I don't think that patients could receive the care that they receive without the pharmacy teams. So, with that said, Would you be able to share a story of a customer or patient that had a really profound impact on, during your time at Wegmans or prior?

Alam: I actually have 2 stories, I think, that really kind of define like what being a student pharmacist and having that patient care has meant to me. The first was at work so at Wegmans and it was more actually directly with cost. So, everyone's as everyone knows, medications are super expensive. I actually, I think the other day had one that costs $10,000. You have to pay out of pocket.

So, this I remember: a mom came in getting some medications for two of her children. They were pretty expensive with inhalers and different specialized medications. And for me because I've worked in retail for so long, I'm used to all the different coupons and the different companies and what savings I could look for.

For me, it was just another day where I was just trying to save another patient, you know, a couple of dollars. I looked for different coupons. I tried to see which would be cheapest for this person, because their insurance wasn't covering as much.

I ended up saving this mom, I think it was close to eight to $900 on their total medication bill, which that was no big deal for anybody but what I didn't know was when she came to pick up her medication, crying, she literally started crying, and it was just so sweet. Then she told me how her mother had just passed away, and her husband had just lost his job. So, trying to afford these medications was really difficult for their family. But they were lifesaving medications for her children so, she didn't really have a choice.

So, just hearing that was so powerful and impactful. I was honestly just another day for me, and I was just doing my job and trying to like help somebody there. But it was just really powerful to see her cry, and it just made me so emotional. That was just from work and that helped me realize the impact that pharmacists can have in the retail setting which we've seen with people giving vaccinations and everyone's going through their booster shots.

The other story was actually from a rotation. So, with hospital and inpatient care, pharmacists actually are rounding with the medical team. People don't realize that we are making those medication recommendations or helping with dosing—everything that is related.

We actually had a child, a baby, who was born, but delivered early, and so the child was probably not ready to make it. He ended up on life support and it was just up to the parents to decide when to take the baby off of life support, which is a difficult decision for anybody. They finally decided on a date. When that day came in the morning, the parents unfortunately were not there. Just because they couldn't emotionally take it.

And so, they took the baby off of the ventilator. And the way that that works is after a few hours, the heart was slowly just decline on its own. The team that I was on was called because we were kind of working with end-of-life care and things like that. We were called to make sure that the pain medications were correctly dosed and enough to make sure that the baby was comfortable throughout that process.

We made sure that the medication was enough to make sure that the baby was comfortable, and we weren't necessarily hastening that process either. And the nurses were holding the baby since the parents weren't there.

And everybody was taking turns to make sure that the baby you know, felt comfortable regardless of whether we thought that the baby could feel heard or not. I held the baby. And after about 15 to 20 minutes, his heart started to stop beating as much and baby literally passed away in my arms.

And my first instinct was put [the child] on the table and give it to HR because we need to revive its heart. But unfortunately, it's not what we were supposed to be doing. We just held this baby, but it was just realizing that the impact that we had, and it was coming up and dosing those medications to make sure that that baby wasn't in pain when he did pass. And it was just amazing to see how we have that impact no matter what setting we're in.

Drug Topics®: A lot of people don't realize that all of health care is important that we're all part of this team to make sure again, that all of our patients are comfortable and getting their best health care. Both of those stories very different and very different impacts but they really kind of defined my pharmacy journey so far and what I hope for it to be that I have chills right now. And I don't say that to sound trite or anything, but that those are powerful stories, and I really appreciate you taking the time to share those.

I hope that any student pharmacists who are watching this or anyone who's considering going into the profession, you know, realizes the impact that you guys have and the potential there. So, thank you. And it sounds like you know, this is a very well-deserved award. So, with that, are there any final thoughts or words of wisdom? That you'd like to leave our viewers with?

Alam: I guess [my] advice is keep an open mind. Never really know where your pharmacy journey will end up and just stay involved and be active and kind of follow your heart because you will find what you're passionate about. Regardless of if you think that's the best pathway or not. If you're passionate about it, you'll find a way.

So just stay involved, be active, and continue to advocate for the profession. And again, we've seen in the pandemic that we have been helping so many people. And that's why I feel so proud about being a up and coming pharmacist. It's an exciting time for pharmacy and I just hope everyone realizes that.

Drug Topics®: Awesome. Great, thank you so much for joining us tonight. I appreciate it.

Alam: Thank you so much for having me today.

Click here to learn more about the SingleCare 2021 Best of the Best Pharmacy Awards.


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