Robert Mancini, PharmD BCOP
Bone Marrow Transplant Pharmacy Program Coordinator
PGY-2 Oncology Residency Program Director
St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute
Clinical Adjunct Faculty–Oncology
Idaho State University, College of Pharmacy
Boise/Meridian, ID

Niesha Griffith, RPh MS FASHP, was the winner of the 2016 HOPA Award of Excellence. This award, first given in 2005, recognizes a member who has made a significant and sustained contribution to improving or supporting hematology/oncology pharmacy or has given excellent leadership in that area. The award winners receive a lifetime membership in HOPA and are recognized at an awards ceremony at HOPA’s annual conference and given a platform presentation regarding their contributions. Niesha serves as an oncology services consultant for health care and industry and as an advising partner and consultant for McGivney Global Advisors. She has previously served as vice-president of cancer services for West Virginia University Medicine, administrator for oncology pharmacy and infusion services at the James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University (OSU), and director of the health-system pharmacy administration residency program at the OSU Medical Center.

In a June 2018 interview, she spoke about her career and what receiving this award has meant to her.

What first drew you to HOPA, and how long have you been a member?
I have been a member of HOPA since the very beginning of the organization. I remember first hearing about this new organization and was excited to learn that it was dedicated solely to advancing oncology pharmacy practice. HOPA began around the time that I was in the process of building our clinical practice model at the James Cancer Hospital at OSU. I had recently visited MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and was impressed with the clinical specialist model and clinical services there. I knew that the pharmacy program at our hospital would need to become similar to meet the needs of the growing cancer program at Ohio State. With HOPA beginning about the same time that our own practice model design was under way, I felt that it would be good for the pharmacists to become members and take advantage of HOPA’s educational and networking opportunities. I sought approval from our CEO to pay for the memberships for all the pharmacists in that inaugural year.

How have you been involved in HOPA over the years?
I started my involvement in HOPA with membership on the legislative/health policy committee. Tim Tyler and Phil Johnson were both on the committee then, and I was fortunate to have their mentorship. Tim surprised me one day by letting me know that I would be vice chair and then, the following year, the chair.

In 2010, I became a member-at-large on the HOPA Board of Directors. In 2012, while on the board, I worked with Julie Ichiba, HOPA’s director of professional relations, to create the Industry Relations Task Force (now the Industry Relations Committee). Together we have worked to nurture and expand this committee into what it is today, providing HOPA the opportunity to work with and learn from members of the pharmaceutical industry. These relationships have brought great value and insight to our organization.

In 2012, I was elected HOPA president-elect and then served as president in 2013–2014. One of my primary goals was to create and launch a meeting focused solely on the unique oncology pharmacy practice management issues that face oncology leaders. With all the challenges that oncology pharmacy leaders face, our profession was lacking a meeting to help prepare future leaders and provide networking and information-sharing opportunities for those already in leadership positons. The meeting was successfully launched in the fall of 2013 and is now an annual offering that continues to grow in attendance and relevance. This year, the HOPA board honored my contribution by establishing the Niesha L. Griffith Keynote Lecture, to be given by an invited guest each year at the introduction of each Oncology Pharmacy Practice Management program.

What have you done to improve oncology pharmacy care at your places of employment that may have contributed to your winning this award?
I believe there are two key accomplishments that my colleagues felt qualified me as a candidate for this award—one being practice directed and one being patient care directed. First, I was involved in launching the disease-specific oncology clinical specialist model for both inpatients and outpatients at the James Cancer Hospital, one of just a handful of similar models in the country that put clinical specialists in the outpatient setting. Second, I started our medication assistance program to assist patients who could not otherwise afford their infused or oral chemotherapy and supportive care medications. We were one of the few organizations at the time to launch a robust program, first at James and then across the entire OSU system, that offered copay assistance or free medication for oral medications, copay assistance or free (replacement) medications for infused meds, and off-label support.

What did winning this award mean to you?
First and foremost, it was very humbling. Considering those who are past and current recipients, I count it an honor to become part of this group of outstanding individuals. I am extremely appreciative of the time and effort of Susannah Koontz, Sarah Hudson-DiSalle, and my co-workers and colleagues who provided the information needed for the award nomination. What meant the most to me in receiving this award was knowing that these individuals believed I was worthy and provided letters of support. As all of us in the pharmacy profession can attest, we put our patients and our profession first. I have worked hard my entire career to make a difference in the lives of my patients, co-workers, staff, and colleagues.

How has receiving this award influenced your career development or career path?
I think the biggest impact has been the way it helps me in my work today as a consultant. If someone had told me at the beginning of my career that in 25 years I would become a consultant, I never would have believed them. But with the growth of the cancer patient population, the expansion and mergers and affiliations of cancer programs across the country, the innovation and personalization of cancer care, and, frankly, the cost of cancer care, many organizations are seeking the help of outside experts. I am excited about the opportunity to assist individuals and programs in meeting their goals and providing a safe, high-quality, exemplary patient experience. This award highlights and recognizes the work I have done throughout my career to do just that, which certainly is a benefit.

What career or personal advice do you have for new or established oncology pharmacists?
I would say, “Do what makes you happy.” You can’t do something well if you don’t love what you do and are not passionate about it. If you wake up and dread going to work, it’s time to make a change. There are plenty of opportunities to diversify in our profession and go outside the traditional patient care and leadership roles—in the areas of research, teaching, industry, advocacy, and consulting, to name a few.

For most of my career I have told my residents, “Do what I say, not what I do” because I felt as though I did not have a good work-life balance. A wise friend once told me, “Your job will never love you as much as you love it.” Oh, how right she was! Organizations change as leaders change, and despite how much you have accomplished or how hard you have worked, your personal sacrifices are not as important to them as they are to you. Learn to balance the needs of your patients and organizations without sacrificing your own health and quality time with others. If you can’t find that balance, then it’s time to step back and consider what’s really important to you. There is a reason that so many HOPA members are making significant career changes today and leaving traditional healthcare roles. Though I applaud their decisions, I see this trend as a sad commentary on the state of health care today. Make work-life balance a priority in your life. You will never look back on your life and wish you had spent more time at work.

If you could describe oncology pharmacists in one sentence, what would you say?
Oncology pharmacists are dedicated, compassionate individuals who have committed their lives to working to improve the safety and quality of patients’ experience on their cancer care treatment journey.