In 1986, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMCCC) was established as a center of excellence at the University of Michigan Medical Center. UMCCC is designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute and is 1 of 21 cancer centers participating in the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
As an academic institution, there are more than 350 faculty members from 36 departments representing 9 schools at the University of Michigan. These faculty members are directly involved in cancer research and patient care. UMCCC conducts basic science and clinical/translational research programs, all with the goal of providing better care for patients. In addition, research at UMCCC is focused on cancer prevention and control and includes biomedical prevention and socio-behavioral research programs.
UMCCC also offers a variety of support services for patients and their families and caregivers. Similar to research and patient care at UMCCC, the support services programs take a multidisciplinary approach—including social workers, art therapists, psychologists, nutritionists, and others who specialize in the needs of those facing a cancer diagnosis.
Shawna Kraft, PharmD, BCOP, is a hematology/oncology clinical pharmacist at UMCCC and a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy. She answered our questions about the role of an oncology pharmacist.
What approach does your institution take to treating people with cancer?
Shawna Kraft (SK): The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center really focuses on the “comprehensive” part of the care by ensuring multidisciplinary care for our patients. This is done by including many key providers, such as physicians, nurse practitioners/physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, psychology/ oncology, spiritual care, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists, dietitians, and many, many more.
How does that translate to better outcomes for your patients?
SK: I believe that by treating the whole patient, meaning all of the different aspects of the patient beyond just his or her cancer treatment, we can improve our patient’s quality of life even if we can’t cure the disease.
What are you excited about right now in the field of oncology?
SK: Oral anticancer agents! There are more and more oral anticancer medications rapidly becoming available; thus, patients are able to be at home more. This is also providing ample opportunities for pharmacists, given the multiple access issues, possible drug interactions, and ensuring adherence.
How has the role of the oncology pharmacist changed over the past 5 years?
SK: I think with the explosion of oral anticancer agents and the increased focus on symptom management and supportive care, outpatient pharmacist opportunities in cancer centers have really expanded. Outpatient cancer centers are beginning to rely heavily on pharmacists to provide education, drug interaction screening, and side effect management for their ambulatory patients—akin to the traditional role for inpatient pharmacists.
What inspired you to become an oncology pharmacist?
SK: My hematology/oncology preceptor as a fourth-year pharmacy student inspired me by her interactions as an inpatient clinical pharmacist. I was amazed by the impact she had with the patients and the medical team in everything from educating a newly diagnosed patient on his/her chemotherapy regimen to assisting the oncologist in managing the side effects. The imprint she made in every patient’s life was incredible. I truly believe the patients were better cared for because she was involved in their care. I really wanted to work closely with patients and providers and saw oncology pharmacy as a perfect fit in order to do so.
Any advice for pharmacists just entering the field?
SK: 2 things:
- Try to come up with a strategy to stay on top of the ever-growing oncology literature. Subscribe to table of contents, set up a journal watch with colleagues, attend conferences, follow ASCO, NCI, etc on Twitter, or do whatever works for you. Create a plan to try to stay current. It’s very difficult to do!
- Take time for yourself. We are in a very difficult field that can easily become overwhelming and depressing. Be sure to take time every now and then to regroup and rejuvenate so you don’t become burned out.
If you weren’t a pharmacist, what would you be doing?
SK: I would say a high school teacher or a chef/baker. I really enjoy teaching but I also love to cook and bake!