Updated November 14, 2021. The article was updated to correct minor technical details.
Dr. Gretchen Garofoli earned her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Pittsburgh and completed a Community-based pharmacy residency at Virginia Commonwealth University and Buford Road Pharmacy. Dr. Garofoli is an Associate Professor at the West Virginia University School of Pharmacy (WVU SoP) in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy where she serves as the coordinator of the Community Pharmacy Practice course and for an Ambulatory Care Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) rotation. In addition to her responsibilities at WVU, Dr. Garofoli is also a pharmacy continuing education presenter at freeCE.com, where she is developing an innovative program to train pharmacy technicians to provide immunizations in a community pharmacy setting. She is the Lead Network Facilitator for the Community Pharmacy Services Network (CPESN) in West Virginia, a Board-Certified Ambulatory Care Pharmacist (BCACP), a Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist, and a passionate advocate for pharmacist-provided care and the pharmacy profession. Her clinical practice site is Waterfront Family Pharmacy in Morgantown, West Virginia, where she focuses on diabetes care, immunizations, and medication therapy management (MTM).
What led you to the field of pharmacy?
Both of my parents are community pharmacists, so I grew up around the pharmacy profession. I started working in the pharmacy that my Dad managed when I was a teenager by cleaning the shelves and mopping the floors. I then moved into the role of a cashier, followed by a pharmacy technician, and then a pharmacy intern once I started pharmacy school. I was always interested in health-related professions and explored many options before coming back to pharmacy. I saw the relationships and trust that my parents built with their patients and I wanted that in my career.
What has your educational and career journey been like?
As soon as I decided that I wanted to pursue pharmacy my parents scheduled an appointment with the admissions office at their alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy. I’d attended a branch campus of the University of Pittsburgh prior to attending the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy in Pittsburgh, PA. I loved my time in pharmacy school learning from amazing faculty, many of whom my parents also learned from. I became active in pharmacy organizations and held leadership positions within the School of Pharmacy, which opened my eyes to many opportunities available in the profession of pharmacy. I have always been drawn to community pharmacy practice and was fortunate that my first Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) rotation was at a site that hosted a community-based resident. It was that rotation with my mentor, Dr. Melissa McGivney, that confirmed that I wanted to pursue a community-based residency upon graduation from pharmacy school. I wanted to pursue residency training outside of Pennsylvania to expand my horizons and had a residency experience that was second to none being mentored by Dr. Kelly Goode, Dr. Kelly Oliver, and Mr. Ron Davis. The scope of pharmacy practice was broader than I had experienced previously, and I spent time learning how to develop, implement, and deliver clinical services. During my residency, I also completed an elective rotation at the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) headquarters, which propelled me toward seeking leadership roles within the Association. Upon the completion of my residency, there were multiple opportunities available, but I ultimately elected to pursue a career in academia as I enjoy seeing patients and then taking those experiences into the classroom. I have been afforded many opportunities throughout my career, much of which I credit to networking within and outside the profession.
Tell us about your role at Waterfront Pharmacy and the WVU SoP. How do you divide your time and balance the competing demands of both settings?
At the community pharmacy where I practice, I provide medication therapy management services, immunizations (on-site and through off-site clinics), diabetes education, comprehensive medication synchronization as well as other clinical services through our involvement with CPESN and the Flip the Pharmacy initiative. I also serve as the site coordinator for the community-based resident at the pharmacy. In addition to providing patient care services, I take students on APPE rotations and conduct research at the pharmacy. I typically spend 1.5 days per week related to outreach at the pharmacy, but that increases dramatically during influenza vaccination season when I organize and run multiple immunization clinics in the community. There is a lot of overlap in my position as some of my teaching responsibilities lie within the residency and precepting APPE students, which is done at the pharmacy. I do have other teaching responsibilities at the school where I lecture in person or facilitate small group sessions. It takes a lot to balance all the responsibilities as I have multiple people that I report to regarding the various aspects of my faculty position.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
Every day is different for me. Some days I have a lot of patient care activities scheduled, and other days I am in the classroom all day, and there are days that are a mix. I also have many meetings that I need to attend for the various initiatives that I am involved with on a local and national level.
Talk to us about community pharmacy. What do you like best about it and what are some of its challenges?
I love the relationships that all of us in community pharmacy can build with our patients. We can also make a large impact on the health and wellbeing of our patients by making medication-related recommendations and interventions. One of the biggest challenges is reimbursement issues for patient care services.
You completed a community pharmacy residency. How did that prepare you for the work you are doing today?
During my residency, I completed many learning experiences related to what I am now doing in my career. I learned a lot about the development, implementation, delivery, and sustainability of patient care services during my residency and I’ve used these skills when working with my residents to develop new patient care services for Waterfront Family Pharmacy. I’ve also learned a lot about being an effective educator and conducting practice-based research during my residency, which I also do in my current position.
You’ve been a strong advocate for pharmacist-provided immunizations. Tell us about how you are becoming involved in technician-administered immunizations now that technicians are gaining that ability in more and more states.
My passion for immunizations started during my residency as we provided a wide range of immunizations at the pharmacy where I completed my training in Virginia. Pharmacy technicians are extremely qualified to complete many tasks within the pharmacy, and through completing a training program to administer immunizations will be another aspect that they can be involved with. Pharmacy technician-administered immunizations have been very successful in the first states to provide the opportunity, so I am excited to see the impact that can be made when more pharmacy technicians are given the authority to administer immunizations. I am excited to be involved with developing the Pharmacy Technician Enhanced Training: Immunization Specialty Certification program through freeCE for pharmacy technicians who are interested in administering immunizations. The program is expected to launch this February, which should hopefully empower many technicians to contribute to the national immunization efforts.
You have training in tobacco treatment. Can you tell us more about that training and how it impacts your patients?
I completed an intensive interprofessional training program through West Virginia University. Because of this training, I have a better understanding of the nicotine content in tobacco products and how to assess and make recommendations for treatment based on what a patient is using. West Virginia has recently passed legislation allowing pharmacists to prescribe medications for tobacco treatment, so once all the regulations are in place this is something that I plan to offer to the patients I serve.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your practice?
Do you have any tips for other community practitioners who find themselves affected by the pandemic? The pharmacy has pivoted and now offers curbside pickup for medications and delivery of immunizations to decrease density in the building and to protect our patients who do not feel comfortable coming into the building. For the patient care that I deliver, we have moved most of our services to telephonic/virtual visits. With regards to the delivery of immunizations, we held some of our influenza immunization clinics outside. We also take all the extra precautions with wiping down chairs and the immunization area regularly, we wear our masks and have patients wear theirs, and we wear face shields as an added layer of protection. I would recommend that other community practitioners look for models in the community setting that are working for others and emulate their practices.
Do you have any advice for students who are interested in careers in community pharmacy?
Pursue a career in community pharmacy with a passion for helping others. There are many seasoned professionals out there who are more than happy to share their experiences and lessons learned with you, so build your network and learn from the best.
What additional training or certifications are important for students or pharmacists desiring to work in community pharmacy?
I would highly recommend that those working in the community setting obtain training/certification to administer immunizations as most practices offer immunizations. There are other certifications available that can only help, never hurt your career. Pharmacists are lifelong learners, so the more training you can get the more knowledge and skills you will have to best take care of your patients. freeCE has many certificate programs including the Self Care Specialty Certification and the Pain Management Specialist Program, which would be beneficial for those in the community setting to complete.
How do you recommend that student pharmacists or pharmacists build their leadership skills, both inside and outside of pharmacy?
I recommend that student pharmacists and pharmacists look for opportunities to get involved with a pharmacy organization or another community organization. It is also important to find a mentor to help you get where you would like to be in the profession. The same obviously goes for pharmacy technicians.
Is finding a mentor critical to success in pharmacy? How would you recommend students or new practitioners go about finding a mentor?
Yes, I would recommend identifying someone whether it is a faculty member or practicing pharmacist who has interests or career goals like yours, and ask them to be your mentor. You can’t be afraid to reach out to someone and ask them for advice or mentorship. The worst they can say is no, but you will never know unless you try.
How important is networking in pharmacy?
EXTREMELY! It really is everything. I met my husband while networking at a pharmacy conference!
In your perspective, what is the biggest problem in pharmacy currently?
We need to have a united front when addressing issues that face pharmacy. Oftentimes there are divides in the profession depending on the area you practice in, which should not be the case. Although we all work in various settings, we all have the goal of ensuring the patient is taken care of and receives the best medication regimen that will work for them.
What do you enjoy most about your profession?
I enjoy working with amazing student pharmacists and taking care of patients. Training student pharmacists to provide patient care and then seeing them take what they’ve learned in the classroom and put it into practice is truly rewarding.
What is your vision for the profession of pharmacy?
My vision for the pharmacy profession is for us to work as valued members of the healthcare team, in all practice settings, and to provide the best care possible for patients, and be reimbursed appropriately for the services that we provide.
What advice would you give students who want to pursue a career in pharmacy?
I would tell them that it is an amazing profession, and you need to figure out how to set yourself apart and never give up the pursuit of your dreams.
What advice do you have for balancing work and personal life?
It is important to have a support system, personally and professionally, to ensure your success. I am fortunate to work with many wonderful individuals who look out for each other and do what we can to ensure that no one takes on more work than they can handle. We also spend time together outside of work (during non-pandemic times) which helps to build our relationships. To maintain balance, you must constantly evaluate what is important to you and be willing to say “no” if it is not something that you are passionate about or able to dedicate the time to.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or about pharmacy?
I love what I do and owe my personal and professional successes to the profession of pharmacy!