Pharmacists must recognize the importance of continued learning in the profession.
I’ve been writing for Drug Topics® for over 6 years now, but May 2014 wasn’t the first time my work was published in the magazine. Back in 1982, one year after graduation, I engaged with the then president of Rite Aid in a debate about the need for continuing education (CE) in pharmacy. He contended that he didn’t see the difference between pharmacists in states that required CE versus those in states that did not. Can you believe that in 1982 we even debated the need for CE? After my first year of practice, I began to realize that keeping up with the latest clinical information wasn’t optional, but mandatory.
I recall reading that a pharmacy school dean once told the students that 50% of what they learned would be obsolete in 5 years. I share that statistic with my physician assistant students at the end of the year and they cringe. When I show my 6th year student pharmacists around the pharmacy and point out which drugs I learned about in school, they are amazed that accounts for only about 10% of what is on the shelf. One of my astute students asked, “So what did they teach you in pharmacy school?” I retorted, “They taught us how to learn!”
When I graduated in 1981 there were no angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), and AIDS was part of the trade name for a wound dressing, not a disease state. Now I give pharmacy students a “laundry list” of drugs that are on our “fast mover” shelves, such as atenolol, metformin, duloxetine, fluoxetine, alendronate, atorvastatin, and simvastatin.
My son-in-law Mark lives on a mountain top in West Virginia, where cutting grass with a push mower is nearly impossible. Mark hired a landscaper named Jerry to take over grass-cutting duties. Jerry’s Facebook page has beautiful pictures of his handiwork, but what is most impressive is how Jerry posts pictures of himself sharpening his blades and maintaining his equipment for the next day’s work. When Jerry isn’t planting, seeding, cutting grass, or mulching, he spends a lot of time making himself better at his noble profession. Jerry isn’t mandated to sharpen his blades every day, but his desire to do a great job helps retain his customers. Similarly, keeping up with CE allows pharmacists to sharpen their own tools.
Mandatory CE is part of everyone’s licensing requirements; however, I do believe that in some circumstances, certain CE disciplines may not be necessary depending on one’s practice. Boards of pharmacy mandate certain CE disciplines such as opioids and HIV. In Pennsylvania, all health care professionals (and even funeral directors) are required to complete 2 hours of mandatory child abuse reporting.
Some states require suicide recognition and human trafficking courses to renew licensure. Not that I don’t see a purpose in such courses, but they certainly should not be mandated for all subspecialties of this profession. I have a mandatory 2-credit requirement for immunization because I’m an immunizing pharmacist. That makes sense.
One of my many frustrations with most free CE venues is that they seem to be drug company sponsored. You can find free programs if you want to focus on glucagon-like peptide-1 agonists, proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 inhibitors, the newest insulins, or monoclonal antibodies. Trying to find a CE program featuring ACE inhibitors, ARBs, beta blockers, or OTC therapies at no cost is virtually impossible.
At age 62, I’m a lifelong learner. I feel no different than I did as a 23-year-old “punk” who debated in Drug Topics® with the president of Rite Aid. I have a lot less years of practice ahead of me than I did then. However, I feel more passionately than ever about the unmet educational needs of us community pharmacists. We need to learn a lesson from Jerry the landscaper; we need to sharpen our tools every single day.