Pharmacy students’ law a game changer for patient care

Pharmacy students administer COVID-19 vaccines.
On Dec. 4, 2020, WSU pharmacy students administered COVID-19 vaccines in Pullman while being precepted by faculty from the College of Nursing and Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

Throughout the COVID‑19 pandemic, Washington State University pharmacy students were on the frontline, helping to test for the virus thanks in part to legislation they helped pass in 2019. 

A new study in the Journal of Interprofessional Education & Practice describes the impact of the legislation, which enables students studying to become pharmacists, nurses, and physicians to be precepted by professionals across these disciplines.

“Before we even had a vaccine for COVID‑19 or understood anything about the novel coronavirus, our students were on the frontline at mass testing sites, helping to administer nasopharyngeal swabs. This was partly possible because a licensed nursing, medicine, or pharmacy faculty member could help to oversee our students,” said Associate Dean of External Relations Julie Akers, who helped to push the legislation through. “At the time, I don’t think we realized the impact this legislation would have on the profession.”

Brandy Seignemartin (’20) had just completed her third year of pharmacy school when the bill she worked on with fellow WSU Health Sciences students and faculty was officially signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee. It was May 7, 2019, and the perfect exclamation point to end the school year. Less than one year later the world would go into lock down as COVID‑19 quickly spread from country to country and the law that she helped to set in motion would have a significant impact on the health of Washingtonians across the state and COVID‑19 testing and vaccinations for years to come.

“It is awesome that this law change had such a beneficial impact during the pandemic. When we were considering the many opportunities that allowing interdisciplinary precepting would foster, we considered opportunities to serve rural and underserved communities as a top priority. We of course did not predict that the COVID‑19 pandemic was right around the corner, but keeping with the university’s land grant mission our goal of changing the law was to increase the ability of our health science students to serve our communities,” said Seignemartin, who currently serves as the executive director of the Alaska Pharmacists Association and as a clinical assistant professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage/ Idaho State University doctor of pharmacy program.

Before the law was enacted, a student pharmacist could only be precepted by a pharmacist if they want to administer vaccines or point of care tests, like those used during the COVID‑19 pandemic. Now a student pharmacist can be precepted by a physician, nurse or a pharmacist in order to take part in these point of care activities. In addition, student physicians and nurses can be precepted by a pharmacist when the activity is within their scope of practice.

In the report, Seignemartin and Akers outline the deeper understanding and knowledge preceptors and students across disciplines gained from collaborating during one of the drive-through COVID‑19 test sites in Pullman, Washington in September 2020. They surveyed students and preceptors following the experience and learned that medicine and nursing preceptors expanded their understanding of a pharmacist’s scope of practice. Students also benefited from the experience with increased confidence in their ability to perform COVID‑19 testing and work with providers from different health disciplines.

The significance of this law has played out across Washington state but could have implications nationally as pharmacies have become the center of COVID‑19 vaccination efforts. These learning opportunities could help to enhance access to care for communities such as immunizations, health assessments, HIV and Hepatitis C screening, as well as chronic disease management.

“The pandemic has really shined a light on the many services that pharmacists in all practice settings can provide for patients. I anticipate that pharmacists’ roles will continue to grow and change, reimbursement for non-dispensing patient care services will create sustainability for every health care team that includes a pharmacist,” said Seignemartin.

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