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Erin Hickey – Oncology Pharmacist

Erin Hickey
What makes your career path unique?

Oncology pharmacy is unique for many reasons.

First, it’s a particularly fast-growing area of medicine—there were 63 new approvals for the use of hematology/oncology drugs last year! Helping the medical team and patients make the best use of these medications requires specialty-trained oncology pharmacists.

Next, oncology pharmacists also have a wide variety of clinical practice opportunities, as well as opportunities in cancer research, clinical trials, specialty pharmacy, and much more.

And finally, oncology pharmacists working in clinical settings usually have a high level of patient interaction. We have the opportunity to see patients in the hospital and in clinic and have the honor of getting to know our patients well.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

I am a postgraduate year two (PGY-2) oncology pharmacy resident, which means that I rotate month-to-month through many areas of hematology and oncology practice.

A typical day in clinical oncology pharmacy includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • reviewing medications
  • rounding with the medical team to make therapy recommendations and plan cancer treatment
  • teaching patients about their chemotherapy and other medications
  • dosing and approving chemotherapy
  • monitoring medications
  • making sure a patient has a smooth transition from inpatient to outpatient settings

No day is complete without many medication-related questions from nurses, physicians, and patients that require complex problem solving!

Describe the most rewarding day of your career.

The best part about oncology pharmacy is working closely with the patients! It’s amazing to see patients stay positive as they endure a life-altering disease.

Although it’s challenging at times, sharing little happy moments with patients and helping them at their most vulnerable state is truly rewarding.

One particularly memorable experience occurred when I was monitoring methotrexate (a chemotherapy used mainly to treat leukemias and lymphomas) for a patient in the hospital. We would celebrate every level that came back at goal, because that meant one step closer to going home to her family.

Describe the most challenging day of your career.

It’s most challenging when patients who you’ve made a close relationship with pass from cancer, especially when it is sudden.

While I cannot choose just one challenging day in this regard, these situations have a way of linking you with humanity, which has always been important to me in my career.

As a pharmacist, these situations prompt me to help choose the best treatments for patients with the least toxicity possible, and they remind me to always take patients’ wishes into account.

Providing supportive care to patients at the end of life can also be extremely rewarding, and oncology pharmacists certainly have a role in this.

What most attracted you to pharmacy over other healthcare professions?

I was most attracted to a career in pharmacy because I loved the idea of being able to understand something so fascinating and complex—medications. And, I wanted to use this understanding to help people.

Pharmacy allows me to use basic sciences like chemistry, biology, and immunology, to solve complex problems while making relationships with patients and working on a team.

When I discovered that pharmacy has an extremely wide range of career paths, I knew that I would be fulfilled.

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

I was the first person in my family to go to college, so it was not easy to get where I am.

To enter into this career, I began by working as a pharmacy technician in community and hospital pharmacy when I was 17 years old.

Then, I obtained my bachelor’s degree from James Madison University (JMU) and completed my PharmD at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). After graduation, I began a PGY-1 pharmacy practice residency at University of Kentucky HealthCare, where I am currently completing my PGY-2 in hematology/oncology pharmacy.

As a student, I took every opportunity to get to know the profession better. These experiences included talking to every pharmacist I worked with about their journeys, joining my pre-pharmacy club at JMU, and completing a 6-week summer academic enrichment program to explore pharmacy and other health professions at VCU before pharmacy school. I also took on leadership positions and designed a research project which helped prepare me for a challenging residency.

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

Pharmacy school is an explosion of learning opportunities, both inside and outside of the classroom. This is important for professional growth, but students may feel pressured to do everything.

My advice to students entering pharmacy school is to be aware of all opportunities and only participate in the (organizations, projects, employment opportunities) that they love and that fit with their professional goals. Also, mentors are key to making this a success!