There are many specialties within the profession of pharmacy. If the different types of HIV medications interests you, HIV is a specialty for you to consider. Learn from a HIV pharmacist here.
Authored By: Elizabeth Sherman, Pharm.D., AAHIVP
While in pharmacy school, my favorite section of Therapeutics was HIV. What an amazing virus this was – attacking the only thing that could conceivably attack it (the immune system). Back in those times, we didn’t have integrase inhibitors or entry inhibitors to treat HIV. But we did have nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, and protease inhibitors. By combining those medication classes in the right way, and with optimal medication adherence, HIV could be treated and kept at bay and an infected person could live a normal life. In those earlier days of medication therapies, there were also a slew of toxic side effects requiring additional pharmacotherapy to be managed. Enter the role of the pharmacist.
With this in mind, after graduating from pharmacy school I completed a PGY-1 pharmacy practice residency and went on to complete a PGY-2 specialty residency in HIV. After graduating from residency, I accepted a position as an academician at a pharmacy school where I currently get to combine my clinical practice with teaching, service, and scholarship.
I truly love every day of my career and have never once regretted my decision to become an HIV pharmacist. Here are some of the expectations I had at the time I decided to enter this field and the realities of those expectations:
1. I expected I would love patient care
I was dedicated to the idea of helping patients since day one of pharmacy school. As an HIV pharmacist, one of my many responsibilities is to meet with patients one-on-one and discuss their medications with them. Providing patient education is my favorite part of my job because I get to help people with significant need on a daily basis. Our multidisciplinary HIV clinic provides a welcoming and supportive atmosphere and is like a second family to our patients. I always knew I would love patient care and my career as an HIV pharmacist affirms this expectation.
2. I never expected I would become an academician
The thought of becoming a Professor was something that only crossed my mind as a PGY-2 HIV resident at an academic medical center. My residency director was a Professor at the adjacent pharmacy school and I admired her accomplishments. If you’ve ever met someone and thought “I want to be just like them when I grow up” then you will understand what I’m talking about. As the residency year progressed, I thought more and more about joining academia. Today I am an Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice and am so thankful for my residency director encouraging me to pursue this career path and serving as an excellent mentor. I get to teach students in the classroom based off of my clinical experiences and I also get to show students first-hand in the clinic the impact clinical pharmacists make in the care of HIV-infected patients.
3. I never expected to master all those medications!
I remember learning HIV medications in pharmacy school and thinking to myself “it’s 20 drugs and they all end in -vir!” At the time I never thought I would learn all those drug classes, drug names (both brand and generic), dosing, side effects, etc. And now we luckily have even more medications to treat HIV than back then! But really it was so easy to do. With practice, you can master anything. And that was such a valuable lesson. By taking HIV rotations in pharmacy school and in my PGY-1 residency, and by completing a PGY-2 residency focused on HIV care, I was able to immerse myself in this field and learn everything a pharmacist should know about HIV treatment. These days, when I precept pharmacy students on clerkships, I make sure they practice their medication therapy skills by making topic discussions a regular part of the rotation. Practice makes perfect!
4. I never expected I would use so much knowledge from other specialties
One of my concerns with becoming an HIV pharmacist was that I was going to lose my knowledge of other disease states, such as internal medicine or ambulatory care. But this was not the case. Patients with HIV infection can have other medical problems, as well. I commonly use my knowledge of treatments for other common diseases such as asthma, diabetes, or pancreatitis when working in the HIV clinic. So keeping the pace with clinical practice is important.
5.)I expected HIV would be cured and I would subsequently become unemployed
Before committing myself to this sub-specialty within infectious diseases, I thought a cure for HIV was imminent. With a cure for HIV, I figured I would be unemployable. While a cure is certainly something every HIV clinician dreams about, it is still a long way off. With moderate success in a few vaccine clinical trials, a cure is still not ready for prime time. I await the day we will have a cure for HIV, but in the meantime I am proud to serve patients with HIV infection.
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