As our national health care system strains to educate and fill critical health care positions across the country, West Texas VA in Big Spring, Texas, consistently hires well-trained pharmacists for its rural health care system. It does this by hosting a first-year, post-graduate pharmacist program funded by Office of Academic Affiliations.

Hosting two residents each year, West Texas VA’s Post-Graduate Pharmacy Residency Program, now in its sixth year, is highly successful. Much of that success can be attributed to Clinical Pharmacist and Residency Program Manager Tyson Kubena.

Pharmacy resident Jeny Buechel is part of a 1-year residency program

“We have a unique program in Big Spring,” Kubena said. “Because we’re VA, we can practice at a level that is uncommon in private practice which is appealing to many pharmacists and pharmacy students.”

Pharmacy residents selected for the one-year program at West Texas are exposed to and trained in more than pharmaceuticals and medication management. Kubena says they focus on inter-professional dialogue and communication skills as much as clinical proficiencies.

Trained in more roles than pharmaceuticals

Pharmacists in VA work in various roles, including working with Veterans in substance abuse treatment programs, the ambulatory clinic or their community living center. Kubena says that communicating effectively in difficult situations is essential to positive health care outcomes and is a skill that must be practiced.

“Our residents have the opportunity to work in mental health, primary care, substance abuse treatment, and a host of other areas,” Kubena said. “We focus on developing the interpersonal skills necessary for building positive relationships that are critical when working with a Veteran to develop a treatment plan that meets the Veteran’s health care goals.”

Pharmacists in VA have unique authorities not often found in the commercial sector, like prescription writing privileges. The standard practice in community health care is that a provider will diagnose a patient and write a patient’s prescription, which is then filled by the local pharmacist.

Pharmacy resident Andrea Feldkamp in residency program

In VA, pharmacists often will receive the diagnosis from the doctor. Then, considering the patient’s pharmaceutical history, will write and fill the prescription best suited to achieve the health care goals for the patient.

“Having prescriptive authority is one reason I chose to pursue a residency with VA,” says first-year pharmacy resident Andrea Feldkamp. “This authority lifts one barrier to timely access to care because we’re able to apply our expertise without having to find time in a doctor’s busy schedule to enter the prescription.”

Feldkamp, a graduate of Ohio State University, plans to stay with VA and pursue a career in the mental health field. She speaks highly of the training she received through clinical rotations at VA and then as a pharmacy resident.

She says the inter-professional dynamic, where the entire health care team works with the Veteran to develop a health care plan, is professionally fulfilling, and not what she would experience in the retail sector of pharmacy work.

West Texas VA proudly serves Veterans in 33 counties across 55,000 square miles of rural geography in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico. More than 56,000 Veterans reside within our area, of which approximately 17,000 receive care here. On average, the health care system supports more than 170,000 outpatient appointments annually.

By Michael Cole is a public affairs specialist for the Office of Academic Affiliations. Photos by Will Hatton, chief of communication and community engagement at the West Texas VA.

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Published on Feb. 9, 2022

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