The Cancer Hospital of New Jersey at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) is the flagship hospital of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. It is the only Comprehensive Cancer Center in New Jersey designated by the National Cancer Institute. The partnership between RWJUH and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey allows patients to receive care from research physicians in a state-of-the-art environment.
The cancer hospital has 103 beds. In addition to such oncology-focused services as diagnostic, laboratory, and pain-management services, the cancer hospital offers patients education and psychological and spiritual support. Supportive services include the care of an oncology social worker, an oncology nutritionist, and a chaplain, as well as support groups, inpatient hospice, and complementary therapies.
The Oncology Pharmacist spoke with Jon Lalli, PharmD, BCOP, about his role in the management of cancer patients at RWJUH.
Can you describe your role at the Cancer Hospital?
Jon Lalli (JL): My job is to make sure that the right medications are given to the right patients at the right doses. In other words, I am ensuring quality control and safety with regard to dispensing drugs as prescribed.
Also, if I think that a medication is being prescribed for a patient who has contraindications or who would do better on an alternative drug, I will discuss this with the oncologist.
What are the biggest challenges in your job?
JL: The biggest challenge is juggling my responsibilities in an ever-dynamic environment. I have no control of work flow so there are many times I am trying to prioritize targets that are constantly moving, all while simultaneously making sure that I am thoroughly checking high-risk work.
What are your biggest rewards?
JL: I would say that hearing that a patient was helped through my actions—indirectly or directly—is extremely gratifying.
What are you excited about in the field of oncology?
JL: I think everyone in the field is excited about the potential of targeted therapy for specific cancer types. The first 2 targeted therapies to have a big payoff—imatinib for chronic myelogenous leukemia and trastuzumab for HER2-positive breast cancer—showed us all the promise of therapy targeted to a specific abnormality. Since then there have been other breakthroughs with targeted therapies, like crizotinib for ALK-positive non–small cell lung cancer.
How has the role of the oncology pharmacist changed over the past 5 years?
JL: The role of the oncology pharmacist is constantly evolving. There have been many advances in treatment as well as advances in the understanding of cancer on the molecular level. Keeping up with the new material is very challenging.
What inspired you to become an oncology pharmacist?
JL: I really found my way into it. I never thought that I would feel a level of comfort in this field. My mother fell victim to breast cancer when I was 8 years old, and growing up I would avoid conversations about cancer. But now that I am taking part in the fight against cancer I actually keep her in my thoughts while working, and that keeps her closer to me.
What is your advice for someone entering the field?
JL: There is a growing need for oncology pharmacists, and pharmacists have the ability to make a significant contribution to the care of cancer patients. So, my advice is to learn as much as possible to maximize that contribution.
If you weren’t an oncology pharmacist and could do anything you wanted to, what would you be doing?
JL: I would have stayed in the sciences and probably would have found my way into cancer research.