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 DeLon Canterbury, Pharm.D., BCGP.
Delon is the President and Chief Executive Officer of GeriatRx, Inc. in Durham, N.C., and is a Certified Community Pharmacogenomics (PGx) Consultant. Canterbury has dedicated his career to serving low-income and rural socioeconomic populations, aiming to give his patients healthier lives by supporting them in their health journeys.
Please describe your novel practice setting. What makes your career path unique?
I work as a consultant pharmacist at GeriatRx, which uses a patient-centered approach to holistic care. We implement telehealth, Comprehensive Medication Management, and Pharmacogenomics to provide cost-effective patient solutions. My job allows me to provide invaluable services while demonstrating pharmacists’ unique skill set to improve health care outcomes.
What led you to this career path? What steps did you take?
It’s two stories in one. I’ll start with the very real, raw side. I was a retail pharmacy manager for about six years. I kept seeing the very same patients who were either minorities or elderly coming in with the same medication errors. It ended up being such a theme that I thought, ‘how can we avoid this altogether? How can we stop them from coming in with duplicate therapies and drug interactions that are causing harm?’
I tried to remember why I got into pharmacy in the first place, which was for community service. It started with volunteerism. So I found a fantastic group – Senior PharmAssist, led by Gina Upchurch, a Tar Heel alum. She runs a nonprofit called Senior PharmAssist that focuses on helping older patients with Medicare assistance and Medicare enrollment in Durham. I started working on their formulary committee and started researching medications we should put on or take off the formulary, and that was so fun! It got my fire back; it got my passion back. We were able to give that extra help outside of the four walls of a pharmacy, and it encouraged me to see how pharmacists can tremendously influence the way health care is delivered.
Story number two, my grandmother suffered from dementia in her later years, which encouraged me to get that Board Certified Geriatrics Pharmacotherapy Certificate. We had to move her from New York to Atlanta because she was declining so poorly, and her dementia was worsening. When we went to refill her prescriptions, a pharmacist realized she was on an inappropriate medication that worsened all of her symptoms. My parents suffered for months trying to figure out the cause, with countless medical bills and expenses wasted on a condition that, in the end, was due to an inappropriately prescribed medication. Imagine how many other caregivers and family members are suffering just like this without a pharmacist to guide them along their medication management journey? Her side effects completely subsided after the pharmacist talked to her doctor and changed her medication. That also inspired me to continue in pharmacy and specialize in geriatric care.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
Day-to-day, I’m following up with providers and patients to ensure we’re keeping up with patients’ health care goals. For patients, I’m checking in to make sure they are keeping up with their goals, asking questions such as, “are we checking our blood sugar and blood pressure every day?”
Each day varies based on patient needs. Some days are about motivational interviewing and talking about medication adherence and compliance. Some days, we talk about financial barriers to adhering to those medications. Other days, we talk about new therapies and pharmacogenomics, or health literacy.
We can assess and customize patient needs like fall risks or anticholinergic toxicity burden. We look at the social determinants of health that impact health outcomes for our patients while providing medication/therapy management and pharmacogenomic testing if needed.
With GeriatRx, you’re getting a full medication/therapy review. We provide that record to patients and their provider(s). Once a patient comes on board, we also go through each disease state and educate on each disease. We are teaching our patients everything we can about their bodies as if we are presenting a patient case from pharmacy school in a fun and easy-to-follow manner. We’re educating and empowering our patients. With education, we hope to change behavior.
And when we communicate with the patient, we also consult their doctor and identify any barriers that we can address as a team. Everything is team-based and patient-centered for us. This is why we stress the need for a holistic and public health approach model to care.
We serve a mixed demographic of patients. So right now, during COVID-19, the majority are skeptical of the vaccine. But they know they can reach out to us at any time and ask questions. I make myself readily available for anything COVID-related due to the misinformation. That’s been at the forefront of our practice. I’m offering free consultations to our patients and anyone who has questions about the vaccine. It led to me speaking at town halls and church panels, taking part in media interviews, and features on several news channels and radio features that have given us much traction. I’m on the Executive Board of the African American COVID Task Force (AACT+) here in Durham, and it’s been amazing because we’ve helped to provide testing, resources, and community connections so people can get the support they need in these tough times. We’re here to educate and advocate, so our patients make the best decisions.
Through media interviews, I’ve also been able to speak to some of the power pharmacists can really have in this time of need and figure out vaccine logistics. I’ve also been able to address COVID-19 and systemic racism that’s in play and the lack of equity we see in the vaccine rollout across the state. It speaks to the fact that systemic racism, or medical racism, has always been there, but COVID has now placed a mirror on the gaps in health care, especially within our Black communities.
Describe the most exciting or rewarding aspect of your novel practice role.
One of my most fulfilling moments was working with an 80-year-old patient. The patient was prescribed 36 different medications, which was completely ridiculous. I’m seeing she’s on five different drugs that will contribute to anticholinergic toxicity; she’s on two other sleep meds. Her caregiver described her as a “walking zombie.” She was barely responsive, depressed, and dying. After reviewing her case and managing her meds, we reduced her to 8 medications. If it weren’t for our Comprehensive Medication Management, this patient would have been placed into a nursing home, costing over $150,000 annually.
As a consultant pharmacist, GeriatRx was asked to serve as a medical expert on this case and provide the evidence behind our pharmacy interventions. I stated in court that it’s not her; it’s the medications. GeriatRx not only worked with her provider on developing an efficient deprescribing plan, but we were able to get our patient her life back. That was the most humbling and rewarding moment as a pharmacist and solidified my calling and purpose to advocate and empower my patients against a broken health care system.
Describe the most challenging aspect of your role.
It’s a relatively minor barrier, but some patients may hesitate to seek help. Some people are still getting used to the idea that pharmacists can even do consulting work. The traditional lens of how people look at pharmacists is something we need to change, as it’s outdated and ineffective. Pharmacists have to be loud and be our own champions in demonstrating our invaluable services to the health care team. People don’t know much about pharmacogenomics, but pharmacists lead this charge.
How can someone learn more about this unique practice setting and the career opportunities it presents for pharmacists?
You need to be exposed to know what you’re getting into. Joining a pharmacist association, such as the Student National Pharmaceutical Association and the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, has been extremely beneficial. Join the ones that speak to you. Build relationships with your faculty and staff. If you want to break out of the traditional roles, find mentors in nontraditional roles. Follow entrepreneurs within the pharmacy space and gain the tools to be your own entrepreneur. Go to conferences and network. Networking has been so valuable, and invest in yourself with coaching or conferences.
What general advice would you give to a high school or college student who is interested in pursuing a pharmacy career?
It’s the ones who think out of the box that are going to do well. And remember to go into pharmacy from a place of passion and servitude. Don’t do it for the money or the prestige. Do this because you know someone else will benefit from your education. If you are considering pharmacy, go volunteer in a pharmacy. Get into the hospitals. Start from the ground up. And if you don’t know where to start, start with your teachers because they can guide you. I was extremely fearful to ask for support or letters of recommendation. You don’t learn or realize that until you’re out of school. Show up. Think outside of the box.