It’s Not Easy Being Green: Five Tips For Green Oncology Pharmacists

by Amy Smith (as part of her Green Oncology series)

{Photo: M. N. O'Donnel/Flickr}

The Oncology Issue

Just over a year ago, I first stepped inside of the Saskatoon Cancer Centre and began working as an oncology pharmacist.  I have learned much from other practitioners and patients but not all of these lessons are regarding oncology treatment.  Like all parts of life, some lessons have come easily and some have led me down a slightly bumpier road.

As a green pharmacist, you often feel as though you know so little when surrounded by experienced practitioners.  Reflecting on the past year, I have begun to realize what lessons oncology practice has taught me.  If I were to jump inside a telephone booth and travel back in time (anyone seen Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure?) I would give my 2012 self some practical advice.  The following are my top five tips for green oncology pharmacists. 

Rx Advice

1) The patient comes first.  Always.

It seems to me that no matter what clinical area I practice in, there is one rule that should always apply: the patient comes first.  Personally, I thrive in environments where the patient is the number one priority of every employee.  Oncology practice provides ample opportunity to go the extra distance for the patient.  At times, when stakes and emotions are high, it may be difficult to keep this in mind but it’s important to stay true to this purpose. 

2) You’ll talk a lot of crap

For new oncology pharmacists, there are certain symptoms or side effects you should and will be very comfortable discussing.  In a first year university anthropology class, I learned that anything a culture greatly values has multiple names or terms to describe it.  Pooping, sitting on the throne, number 2, bunged up, and on and on…it must mean a lot to us to have regular bowel movements.  Naturally, you will also develop processes for controlling nausea and heartburn as well.  Typically oncology patients don’t have complex complaints.  They want to feel as ‘normal’ as possible which means eating a good meal, keeping it down and passing it through in a reasonable manner. 

3) Implant useful equations in your memory

No need to write down how to calculate body surface area or creatinine clearance.  These equations will be implanted into your brain within 30 minutes of working in an oncology setting.  Calculator required! 

4) Become friendly with a reliable resource for natural health products

Patients and their families want to do everything they can to assist the healing process which means many patients seek herbal or natural health products to assist treatment.  No matter what your personal opinion on various natural health products is, you first duty as a pharmacist is to ensure your patients’ treatments are safe and then provide your opinion on efficacy.  Consider getting to know one of my personal favorite resources, Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.  Natural Standard presents another option.

5) Be comfortable in your own ignorance            

Jokingly I have stated that it’s not that I have really learned a lot over the past year, it’s just that I have become more comfortable with my own ignorance.  I have immensely expanded my clinical oncology knowledge but what I have learned even more is that I need to be comfortable in what I don’t know.  I am beginning to understand that all those I work with don’t expect me to know everything.  Being more confident in my own knowledge and decision making skills is allowing me to become more comfortable in providing care.      

The Bottom Line

While some lessons are practical and easily learned, other lessons require you to stay more true to your intentions and purpose.  As a green pharmacist, you should be confident and comfortable in the skill set you have and continue floundering through the things you don’t know.  I’m not sure if, as a pharmacist, you ever completely stop feeling like a fish out of water but from what I have experienced so far, those feelings do lessen.  You are going to struggle (for awhile as I am finding out) before feeling comfortable working in oncology.  Learn small pieces at a time and eventually the pieces will start fitting together.  

Amy Smith is a recent graduate of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Saskatchewan.  After completing a hospital residency program with the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, Amy began working with the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency in Saskatoon as a pediatric oncology pharmacist.  During her time away from work, Amy enjoys traveling, volunteering and participating in a various athletics including powerlifting and running. 

Amy is a member of CAPhO's Communication Committee.