School of Pharmacy students win recognition for Operation Heart and Operation Immunization outreach, innovative conference event
By Katie Ginder-Vogel
The Oath of the Pharmacist includes pledges to consider the welfare of humanity and promote equity. And that’s exactly what the Operations of the American Pharmacists Association’s Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) are designed to do.
“The WSPS Operations provide events to student pharmacists that allow students to practice and refine their skills as future pharmacists,” says fourth-year PharmD student Julia Branger.
Branger is the co-chair of Operation Heart, one of several outreach and education initiatives organized by the Wisconsin Society of Pharmacy Students (WSPS), the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy’s APhA-ASP chapter.
And WSPS excels in the mission to improve the health and well-being of their communities: For the 2021–22 academic year, WSPS earned Region 4 awards for Operation Heart and Operation Immunization, and an additional Innovative Programming Award for their annual Conference on Conferences event. They were honored at the APhA-ASP Region 4 Midyear Regional Meeting (MRM).
“I think each and every one of us joined this profession with a goal of ensuring we make the lives and outlooks of our patients better, and that’s what drives us,” says third-year student and WSPS President Michael Nnamdi Nome. “To earn these awards at a regional scale, out of so many amazing students from 24 pharmacy schools, reinforces our drive and commitment to ensure that our community is safer and healthier. We feel honored that the award committee recognized us.”
“The School’s students bring great tenacity and relentless passion for patient advocacy and professional advocacy.”
The School’s WSPS is no stranger to this recognition, continually producing top-quality outreach programs. Operation Heart and Operation Immunization also won Region 4 awards in 2020–21, Operation Diabetes and Generation Rx earned the recognition in 2019–20, and Generation Rx won again in 2016–17. On a national level, the group earned three awards in 2022: the Outstanding Professional Development Project award from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) and the First Runner-Up for the Best National Chapter (Division A) and Second Runner-Up for Operation Substance Use Disorder from APhA-ASP.
“The School’s students bring great tenacity and relentless passion for patient advocacy and professional advocacy, and I personally appreciate that,” says Nome. “From an organizational standpoint, we have a structure that has been reinforced over the past couple of years, with a systematic process of transition from one president to another and guidance from our advisors — Associate Professor Andrea Porter, Professor Mary Hayney, Professor Eva Vivian, Associate Professor Denise Walbrandt Pigarelli, Professor Beth Martin, Associate Professor John Dopp, Assistant Professor Amanda Margolis, and Associate Professor Casey Gallimore.”
An eye on heart health
Operation Heart, co-chaired by Branger and third-year PharmD student Katherine Hemesath, won its second Region 4 award in two years.
“I feel proud and honored to have been part of the leadership team that helped our chapter achieve these awards,” says Branger. “Our outstanding members, who continuously volunteer their time to advance our initiatives, is truly what makes the difference.”
During the 2021–22 academic year, Operation Heart, with faculty advisor Associate Professor Andrea Porter, of the School’s Pharmacy Practice and Translational Research Division, continued the American Heart Month virtual cooking series the group began in early 2021 and nearly doubled student pharmacist involvement to include seven volunteers.
Through the series, the PharmD student volunteers hosted virtual cooking videos with heart-healthy recipes selected from the American Heart Association’s website, posted weekly on WSPS’ Facebook page throughout February. This year, the series was viewed more than 2,000 times.
“The series allowed us to again reach populations beyond those in the local Madison community through the use of a virtual and innovative platform,” Branger says. “I believe that the passion WSPS members bring to serving members of the community during our Operation events is highly reflective of the passion we all have for caring for patients as future pharmacists.”
While many events remained virtual this year, Operation Heart participated in two in-person health fairs during the 2022 spring semester. At those events, volunteer student pharmacists discussed aspects of heart health with 225 members of the community of all ages, including diet, exercise, blood pressure and cholesterol medications, heart disease, and home blood pressure monitoring. Operation Heart PharmD student volunteers handed out pamphlets about women’s heart health.
“I decided to get involved in Operation Heart to have the opportunity to share knowledge with others as I progressed throughout my pharmacy school education,” says Branger. “I felt highly motivated by the passion and dedication that our student pharmacist volunteers continually had for our Operation Heart initiatives.”
Protecting the community
Fourth-year PharmD student Emily LaMonte says she was first motivated to apply to be co-chair for Operation Immunization after losing a loved one to COVID-19.
“I was motivated to vaccinate as many community members as possible to help decrease the hospitalization and mortality rates during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she says. “For me, it is the patients and the opportunity for student pharmacists to gain experience immunizing and developing the patient-pharmacist relationship that also motivates my work.”
With the availability of adult vaccines for COVID-19 in late 2020, Operation Immunization leapt into action and organized 20 vaccine clinics that led to 18,530 doses administered — efforts that helped them earn the Region 4 Award in 2020–21. This year, they drew similar motivation from the expansion of vaccine eligibility to include younger patients.
Chaired by LaMonte and third-year PharmD student Clara Nickel, this year, Operation Immunization began the year focusing on influenza vaccination clinics and administered about 790 influenza vaccines.
“However, midway through the semester, we received an unprecedented number of requests from school districts and community pharmacies in our area for assistance with vaccinating children ages 5 to 11 against COVID-19,” says Nickel. “Our student pharmacists stepped up to the plate, especially newly certified first-year students, to provide vaccinations to a distinct and potentially more difficult to administer patient population, providing more than 1,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, mainly to children.”
“Operation Immunization really took advantage of opportunities to administer COVID-19 vaccines to school-aged children,” says Mary Hayney, professor in the School’s Pharmacy Practice and Translational Research Division, the Operation Immunization advisor.
“The students used their communication skills to educate and reassure children and their parents. I am so impressed by the students’ willingness to take on the challenges presented during the pandemic to protect the public and to hone their skills as future pharmacists,” says Hayney.
“I am so impressed by the students’ willingness to take on the challenges presented during the pandemic to protect the public and to hone their skills as future pharmacists.”
Nickel says the Operation Immunization students feel gratified to have been able to pitch in to help children in the state.
“Without the help of our chapter member volunteers, many of the rural community pharmacies around Wisconsin did not have the assistance or infrastructure to provide vaccines, especially on top of their already busy schedules with dispensing medications and assisting patients and customers,” she explains.
LaMonte echoes her gratitude for the volunteers, as well as the pharmacies reaching out for help.
“We would not have been able to accomplish all that we did without all of the amazing student pharmacist volunteers at the UW–Madison School of Pharmacy, as well as all the pharmacists within the community who gave students the opportunity to vaccinate,” she says.
Professional conferences help pharmacists — and a range of other professionals — stay at the top of their field through networking with colleagues for new opportunities and collaborations, viewing presentations about the latest and greatest developments, and more.
To help future pharmacists get the most out of the conference experience, WSPS created the Conference on Conferences in 2018, open to all student pharmacists in Wisconsin. The programming features faculty, alumni, and students presenting on various aspects of conference attendance.
“I want to acknowledge the hard work of my team, board, professors, and advisors,” says Nome. “We’re also grateful to our alumni because we reach out to them to attend these conferences, and they provide the funds we use through the Pharmacy Student Success and Support Fund.”
In its first year, the conference earned the national Outstanding Professional Development Project Award at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists’ Midyear Clinical Meeting. And now, it’s earned a Region 4 APhA-ASP Innovative Programming Award.
“The Conference on Conferences is unique, and that’s why we chose to submit this particular event for the Innovative Programming Award,” says Nome. “Now, a few more schools plan to do one this spring. I gave them all info they’d need, including tips on getting grants and school buy-in.”
The 2022 Conference on Conferences brought in 120 attendees from around the state and featured Laurie Plewinski, a student in the School and UW Health’s combined master’s degree and residency program in health system pharmacy administration, who talked about elevator pitches.
“I went straight home and tweaked my elevator pitch to mirror what she said,” Nome says. “Students also learned the etiquette of attending conferences, like not putting your phone on the table in front of you, to avoid distractions.”
A group of the School’s PharmD students who organized the 2022 event — including Nome, fourth-year PharmD students Rachel Hawley, Nikki Batterman, Taylor Shufelt, Sarah Fierek, and third-year PharmD students Natalie McCourt and Hope Schier — presented a poster at the MRM meeting, alongside student pharmacists from 24 other pharmacy schools in Region 4. A vote by chapter delegates chose the Conference on Conferences, which will now move on to the national award phase. The eight regional winning chapters will present their posters and give a formal presentation on their innovative topics at the APhA Annual Meeting and Exposition in March 2023.
“I’m going to gather more data for the presentation, like a before and after participant survey, and add that data to show our outcomes,” Nome says. “The curriculum and experience I’ve had here at the School have made me a more well-rounded student, with critical thinking, public presentation, and poster presentation skills, and I am excited to present on a national stage. I think the School has prepared me to be ready for it.”