AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Spending a week on the beach, relaxing at your parents’ house, going on a road trip with friends or going to Washington, D.C., to lobby lawmakers on health care – which spring break trip sounds most exciting? First-year Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy student Kaitlyn Gary’s choice, hands down, is a trip to our nation’s capital to combine her two passions: pharmacy and government.
A native of Montgomery, Ala., and a 2013 Auburn graduate, Gary was selected for a program called RxIMPACT through the National Association of Chain Drugstores, or NACDS. As part of the program, she will travel to Washington, D.C., March 12-13 for RxIMPACT Day on Capitol Hill and RxIMPACT U Academy. Gary will represent Auburn University as one of a group of students from around the country lobbying lawmakers on current issues facing the pharmaceutical profession.
Gary, no stranger to Capitol Hill, was excited about the opportunity to return and lend her voice in advocacy for pharmacy.
“Mrs. Charlotte Cheatham, Coordinator of Student Services for the Harrison School of Pharmacy, sent out an email to all the mentors and my mentor knew that I want to get involved in advocacy – a professional goal of mine,” Gary said. “I have interned twice on Capitol Hill, including as recently as last summer, so I am aware of all the issues and the majority of the organizations involved in pharmacy advocacy. I absolutely wanted to do it and it worked out well that it fell over spring break.”
The event, now in its sixth year, opens with NACDS RxIMPACT U academy March 12, a time set aside to educate the students on current issues facing the profession. The students then will spend the rest of the time applying those skills as they educate members of Congress about the importance of pro-patient, pro-pharmacy policy.
“I like the way the NACDS is trying to get pharmacy students involved,” Gary said. “A lot of organizations just stick with their own personal lobbyists.
She said she also appreciates the education component of the trip as she will have the opportunity to learn more about effective advocacy.
“They are not just throwing you out on Capitol Hill and saying ‘go for it,'” Gary said. “They are trying to get us ahead of the game. You learn first so you can then go in there and talk about it.”
Gary will be returning to her old stomping ground while in Washington, D.C. She interned during the summer of 2011 with Alabama Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) and then with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Mobile) during the summer of 2013.
For Roby, Gary assumed administrative roles such as answering phones and correspondence and giving capital tours. With Sessions she got hands-on experience working with his liaisons to the health care, education, pensions and labor committees.
“Most of the time, I would draft basic letters for Rep. Roby and Sen. Sessions related to the issues, but they knew my focus was health care and sent me to committee hearings and meetings that involved current health care legislation,” Gary said. “The Drug Quality and Security Act, which would provide for a national track and trace system, was working its way through the system last summer. I was able to go to both House and Senate hearings and meetings on that legislation, mostly doing the legwork and research for them to give them a head start.”
Gary is excited about the program not just because of the opportunity it gives her, but because it is getting students involved in advocacy and stressing the importance of it to the profession.
“I don’t think people, especially students, understand where this field may go if they don’t have someone pushing for them on the Hill, or pushing for them in any legislation,” Gary said. “If we don’t push for our profession, we are going to get taken out. We need to get out there and tell them. We need the patient interaction, something patients would miss otherwise if they did not have a pharmacist. I believe in this profession and I believe it will be lost if someone does not say something about it.”
(Written by Matt Crouch.)