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Life as a Pharmacist Working in an HIV Community Pharmacy

There are so many different types of careers within the field of pharmacy—from research and drug development to pharmacy informatics! To highlight some of the more unique career settings in the industry, we’re introducing a new page on our website—Novel Pharmacy Practice Settings—where you can explore these unique career pathways.

In addition to learning more about unique pathways on our new webpage, we’ll also be featuring pharmacists who work in these unique settings on our blog. Today we’re excited to spotlight Maria Lopez, PharmD!

Dr. Lopez is the President and Lead PrEP Pharmacist for Mission Wellness, a specialty pharmacy in California, focusing on specialty medications, including HIV, hepatitis, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and more. The following is a look into Maria’s unique career path.

From what institution did you earn your professional pharmacy degree (e.g., Pharm.D.)?

University of California San Francisco School of Pharmacy

Please describe your novel practice setting. What makes your career path unique?

I work in community pharmacy with the American Society of Health-System Professional’s (ASHP) community postgraduate year one (PGY-1) program and in a collaborative practice with the San Francisco Department of Health for PrEP, STI, and HIV prevention.

I also led the first stand-alone community pharmacy in California to initiate PrEP under collaborative practice, which eventually became state law via SB159.

What led you to this career path? What steps did you take?

After residency, I worked as an infectious disease pharmacist then an HIV community pharmacy specialist. This led me to my current career.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

During a typical day, I teach students and residents and oversee our point of care (POC) testing in PrEP, and conduct COVID-19 testing (right now).

I’m often on Zoom calls with other providers and community people. On these calls, we plan ways to provide our services and help others.

My role also involves regular involvement as a specialist with the CDC’s capacity-building assistance (CBA) in HIV prevention in the western U.S.

Describe the most exciting or rewarding aspect of your novel practice role.

The most rewarding aspect of my job is being able to help patients access PrEP to prevent HIV. In the past, many patients experienced barriers prior to coming to us for PrEP, and we’ve made it easy for them with this one-stop model.

It was also very exciting to be involved with getting the bill signed into law. But now that that has occurred, the hard work of implementation begins!

Describe the most challenging aspect of your role.

One of the most challenging aspects of my job is handling reimbursement for pharmacists’ clinical services. It’s an aspect of the work beyond dispensing medication that’s so important for healthcare but not often recognized.

The SB159 bill is paving the way for pharmacists in CA to receive reimbursement for the initiation of PrEP and PEP.

How can someone learn more about this unique practice setting and the career opportunities it presents for pharmacists?

I recommend reading up on the area of pharmacy, listening to podcasts, and more. The following are a few resources about the pharmacy PrEP work we are doing that should be helpful:

What advice would you give to a current student pharmacist who is interested in pursuing a similar type of practice role in the future?

I’d recommend they apply to our residency! It’s also a great idea to get involved in advocacy and don’t be afraid to try new things.

What general advice would you give to a high school or college student who is interested in pursuing a pharmacy career?

Pharmacy is a rewarding career where pharmacists can use their expertise to help not only patients, but physicians, nurses, and the community in general. I’d recommend students explore all of the various pharmacy practice settings!

Share a brief story about a time you had a positive impact on a patient, population, or community in your role as a pharmacist.

I once had a patient who had moved to town and was on PrEP but was running out of medication. He was nervous because he was unable to get an appointment to see a physician. Then someone told him about us. He was so grateful and amazed that he could go to the pharmacy, get tested, and pick up PrEP all in one place. It was great to see our hard work pay off!

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