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Debby Cowan – Hospital Pharmacist

Debbie Cowan
What makes your career path unique?

I have practiced pharmacy in a small, rural hospital (25 beds) for thirty years. I started my career here as the first pharmacist with a plan to develop a comprehensive program.

Now, my staff consists of eleven people who are responsible for the robust acute care program, outpatient infusion services, and outpatient anticoagulation management. This includes a progressive clinical program (direct patient care) and technology-assisted equipment (“smart” pumps, telehealth, BCMA, CPOE, and CDS software).

What does a typical workday look like for you?

I start each day with a staff huddle to coordinate tasks, assignments, announcements, and priorities.

The remainder of my day is spent in a variety of ways. Some of my most commons tasks include attending meetings and participating in phone calls within the hospital or our six-hospital system, working on tasks to support current or growing programs, improving workflow processes, leading groups (med use safety, pharmacy clinical, system pharmacy operations), managing staff development efforts, and rounding/feedback with staff and patients.

As our pharmacy enterprise has grown, I work to maintain direct patient care as part of my day despite the increasing management duties.

Describe the most rewarding day of your career.

One of the most rewarding days in my career wasn’t actually a day at all—it was two nights and a day.

Our community had just suffered a hurricane-induced landslide disaster that wiped out a local community. Despite victims being friends and, for some of my staff, family members directly impacted, our team was able to organize our pharmacy effort around the clock to treat victims, take in all the residents of a local nursing home (including providing them with medications), support staff, and assist with community needs.

At a time like that, you realize what support you can give each other and are reminded that we can do anything, even under extremely trying times. I was very proud!

Describe the most challenging day of your career.

One challenging day that sticks out in my memory occurred within the last year.

We had recently moved to a new space with new, clean rooms built with carefully planned specifications to meet USP 797 and 800 requirements. Our construction cultures were negative, so we moved into the space. However, a week later, the cultures came back from the clean room certifier that exceeded the recommended limits. What a dilemma!

It was too late to move back into our old space and we weren’t sure what the reason was for the organisms to have grown. I had to explain to administration what choices we had and what actions we needed to take to ensure we passed for repeat cultures.

I dealt with this challenge by reaching out to experts for advice and by following all of our processes step-by-step, including testing, and completing a risk analysis for our actions.

At this point, we have implemented many changes and are readying for some reconstruction, but it was a very worrisome experience.

What most attracted you to pharmacy over other healthcare professions?

I accidentally fell into pharmacy in college when trying a variety of other fields—art and accounting, specifically—after talking to a high school friend with a pharmacist father.

Even in my very first classes, I knew I loved pharmacy! I found learning about how the body worked and how the drugs interacted with the body to be very interesting.

I was drawn to clinical rotations with direct patient care because I felt I could make a difference in patient lives. And, I was drawn to hospital settings where I could see the patient’s labs, for example, and make a change in their therapy.

After several years, I realized I was being drawn into setting up programs to expand pharmacy services and treatment options. Therefore, I took an open position at another hospital as pharmacy manager which has allowed me to continue growing pharmacy programs to this day.

What steps did you take to enter into this career path?

Since I was already in college trying other fields, I went to the pharmacy school and met with teachers and advisors to determine the requirements, what pharmacy opportunities existed, and the school structure. While I had already taken most of the science prerequisites, I still had other classes to take for acceptance.

I only spoke to one pharmacist before pursing pharmacy school and a pharmacy career. While this worked for me, I would suggest that students interested in the field plan to talk to more pharmacists and spend more time shadowing than I did.

Once I graduated from pharmacy school, I spent time trying out several jobs before I settled on a hospital as my primary career path.

What advice would you give to a student entering pharmacy school?

Pharmacy has become quite a diverse field. I’d recommend that students keep their eyes open to all possibilities because they may find they really want to go into an area entirely different from their original idea. I’d also advise them to try a wide diversity of opportunities before they narrow down their practice.