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New Practitioner Award Recipient

Megan Brafford May, PharmD BCOP
Clinical Oncology Pharmacy Specialist
Baptist Health Lexington
Lexington, KY

Brandi Anders, PharmD BCOP
Hematology/Oncology Clinical Pharmacy Specialist
Wake Forest Baptist Health
Winston-Salem, NC

Each year HOPA acknowledges members of the organization in their contributions to patient care and the practice of oncology pharmacy. The HOPA New Practitioner Award is given to a practitioner who is early in their career and has made a significant contribution to developing or supporting clinical hematology/oncology pharmacy services. To be eligible for the award, the practitioner must have been practicing for 7 or fewer years after the completion of training. The 2016 New Practitioner Award was presented to Kristin Wheatley, PharmD BCOP. Dr. Wheatley is a clinical pharmacy specialist in pediatric oncology and infectious diseases at Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, PA, where she also serves as the PGY1pharmacy residency program director. Dr. Wheatley shared more about her role as a clinical pharmacist and her vision for the future of oncology pharmacy.

In which type of practice setting do you currently work? Do you specialize in a specific tumor type? Briefly tell us about the type and number of patients that you currently see in your practice?

I specialize in pediatric oncology and practice in a children’s hospital within a large community hospital. The oncology practice diagnoses approximately 30 new pediatric cancers per year, largely acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I rotate between inpatient and outpatient settings, though I spend the majority of my time in the inpatient setting, involved in patient care during acute admissions for cancer- or chemotherapy-related complications.

What is your role as a clinical pharmacist?

My current role is shared between pediatric oncology and pediatric infectious diseases. I participate in clinical rounds and am directly involved in treatment decisions, most commonly related to optimizing supportive care or antimicrobial therapy. I also perform therapeutic drug monitoring, act as a drug resource for medical, nursing and pharmacy staff, and educate patients and families. My additional responsibilities include protocol development and reviewing and updating policies and procedures related to pediatric oncology patients.

Oncology pharmacists are becoming more prevalent and their practice is expanding. More oncology pharmacists are now running their own clinics in pain management, bone health, or other specialties. With these advancements, what is your perception of the future of oncology pharmacy? How will this relate to your practice, and what changes will this bring?

This is an exciting time for clinical pharmacy, as our expertise is integral in the management of complex patient populations. With the continued expansion of drug therapy for oncology patients, pharmacists are well informed of the consequences of these new drug targets and are equipped to manage the complications. I think pharmacists will continually be relied upon for complication management, and the opportunities will continue to expand. I do not currently work under a collaborative practice agreement, although I anticipate this will come as my institution is working toward this in other areas of the network.

Are patients accepting of role of the oncology pharmacist? How do you explain your role to them?

Many of the patients and families I encounter still associate a pharmacist with the person standing behind the counter dispensing medications, though the profession has made progress. I have the opportunity to directly interact with patients and families to evaluate symptoms, present therapy alternatives or provide rationale for a change in therapy. I start with introducing myself and explaining that I work alongside the medical team. Though they may be confused by my role at first, they are always appreciative of the time I spend and my ability to relay the information in easily-understood language. It is not uncommon for them to come directly to me for additional questions they have regarding medications during subsequent visits.

What was the impetus for your career choice? What are the most satisfying parts of your role? How do you see your role changing in the future to meet the expanding needs of the oncology patient?

Interestingly, I’ve only held pharmacy jobs! My family owned an independent pharmacy, and I began working there as a cashier when I was 15 years old. When I was filling prescriptions, I asked the pharmacist about the combinations of medications the patient was prescribed, and that curiosity led me to pursue pharmacy. Once in pharmacy school, I was required to take an oncology course. I credit the teacher of that course, Dr. Rowena Schwartz, with fostering my love of oncology. As she taught the course, she shared her personal experiences and spoke about the pharmacist’s role in improving the care of oncology patients. I pursued residency training to allow me to be directly involved in the clinical management of patients.

In my current and previous roles, I’ve always found the greatest satisfaction in the connections I build with the patients and their families. As therapies evolve, supportive care of oncology patients will be of utmost importance, and I foresee pharmacists helping to manage cancer- and chemotherapy-related complications.

Tell us more about your membership in HOPA. What are the strengths of membership, and where would you like the society to take hematology/oncology pharmacists in the future?

I joined HOPA as a PGY1 resident since I knew I would be continuing a career in oncology. I initially joined to network with other oncology practitioners. I’ve become more involved in the organization and have served on various committees over the past 5 years. The listserves and daily sharing of knowledge and ideas set this organization apart. HOPA is always striving for improvement and is supported by members who are passionate and motivated to work together for better patient outcomes. I would like the organization to continue to advocate for incorporating pharmacists in all aspects of oncology care and pushing them to the top of their practice.

What does winning the New Practitioner Award mean to you, personally?

This award was validation of the dedication I have had to pediatric oncology pharmacy for the past 7 years. I was honored to be nominated by two women I admire and respect within the field of oncology and humbled to be chosen by the committee. I plan to continue practicing with the same level of dedication to help propel the profession forward.

What advice would you offer to other oncology pharmacists either just beginning their career or expanding their role in patient care?

Get involved and volunteer! I joined HOPA early in my career and submitted my interest to volunteer for committees. This was a great way for me to learn more about the organization, network with other oncology professionals in various practice settings, and share and strengthen my oncology knowledge. I also volunteered for other opportunities as they presented themselves. Through these opportunities, I’ve been involved in prospective research and published in peer-reviewed journals, presented at national meetings, became involved in training programs, and reviewed materials as an expert stakeholder. These experiences required a significant amount of time and effort outside of the requirements of my position. However, as I expanded my own experiences, I was directly involved in improving the education of others. I truly feel that these opportunities have facilitated my passion and confidence and allowed me to gain respect as a clinician from the medical team and my patients.