Like many health care leaders, it was a personal experience that led Alexis Townsend to want to be a pharmacist. When her uncle was diagnosed with diabetes, she quickly saw his condition landslide to impact his whole health. “He had neuropathy in his extremities,” she says. “Then an immersive infection from a cut at the bottom of his foot led to an amputation.”
If her uncle’s pharmacy team hadn’t worked collaboratively with other providers to care for him, his wellness journey would have been completely different, Alexis says. “I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” she remembers. “I knew I could be a part of a team like that. I realized how much a pharmacist could make a difference.”
How the power of communication improves patients' health care journeys
When it comes to care and customer service for her patients, communication is both king and queen, Alexis says. As pharmacist-in-charge at Avita’s onsite pharmacy at the Music City PrEP Clinic—a sexual health and wellness clinic that offers discreet, no-cost lab testing for HIV and bacterial STDs, plus hepatitis A, B, and C testing—she explains that a transparent, thorough, and compassionate dialogue is not only appreciated by her patients but is also central to positive health outcomes. “You have to treat each individual scenario with such diligence and openness,” she says. “You’ve got to take the time to make sure the patient understands the entire process. It absolutely translates into other realms of their care.”
Being a good care provider goes beyond just filling a script. “We work to improve their entire health care journey,” says Alexis, whose team integrates patient care directly with the onsite clinic, provides financial assistance support, and even helps enroll patients in more comprehensive insurance.
Patients are noticing, with Alexis’ pharmacy growing its patient base exponentially since she joined the team just two short years ago. Music City Prep Clinic, Avita’s onsite covered entity partner, has felt the impact: It named Avita its Partner of the Year. “With the explosive growth we’ve experienced at the Music City PrEP Clinic, it would have been tremendously more difficult to provide quality services and efficient monthly prescription fills to our patients without the guidance and support of Avita,” said Rob Birkhead, Music City PrEP’s marketing director and office manager.
Leveraging the experience of women health care leaders—and paying it forward
It truly takes a village to build a successful pharmacy professional, one that in Alexis’ case has been packed with influential women leaders. Her mother, an accomplished nurse, inspired her to move forward with a career in pharmacy. “She served as my role model; I wanted to continue her example of creating a positive impact along the patient journey,” Alexis says. “I’ve also been able to learn under some excellent women, including pharmacists-in-charge and district managers, who have encouraged me to get to where I am today.”
This gift of mentorship is not one she takes for granted. “The pharmacy industry is dynamic and has not been short of opportunities for me thus far,” she says. “I hope to serve as another example to young pharmacists and technicians in the pharmacy industry. My goal is to continue to shine a light on the unique perspectives and values women bring to leadership roles.”
Key to this mindset is that pharmacists are more powerful when they work together to remove health care barriers, Alexis says. “Every day I use my position as a pharmacist-in-charge with Avita to remind myself it is not about what the profession can do for me, but what I can do for the profession.”
Professional development & holistic care go hand in hand
To provide the very best in clinical care, Alexis is constantly furthering her education, especially in primary treatment areas for her patients, like HIV, PrEP, STI, and LGBTQ+ care.
She’s also AAHIVP-certified by the American Academy of HIV Medicine. This certification is one of the first and only credentials offered domestically and internationally to physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and pharmacists specializing in advanced-level HIV care.
Alexis, who received her PharmD in 2018, decided not to take the traditional route of going into a residency program after school, instead jumping right in as a community care provider. “There are other paths to get to the same end goal,” says Alexis, who is now licensed in three states, and has extensive training in patient-centered diabetes care, opioid antagonist training, and medication therapy management. “You just have to look for opportunities, set your goal, and figure out how to achieve it.”
“As pharmacists, we’re in a really unique role,” she says. “It’s not just about understanding the medicines and side effects. I’ve built the knowledge to capitalize on patient care on an individualized level and help people navigate their wellness beyond their prescription.”
A successful partnership = more than just filling prescriptions
When it comes to successfully partnering with community health care organizations, Alexis is once again leading the pack. She considers her pharmacy team an extension of the Music City PrEP clinic (Avita Pharmacy is located onsite). “We learn something new about each other every day,” she says. “We’re both open to changes in our processes or ways we can adapt to complement each other.”
She’s also passionate about ensuring her patients know there is more to the pharmacy team than just filling prescriptions. “We want them to understand that we have a scope of knowledge into other areas of health care,” Alexis says. “That of course, we’re there to talk about drug interactions and doses, but we can also help them understand how their insurance works, and what other options they have to get what they need. We’re intermediaries who can communicate with all the various parties behind their care and advocate to get them resources.”
Her demonstration of cultural competency is also a modern take on the patient experience. Alexis’ pharmacy serves many individuals from the LGBTQ+ community, and she’s dedicated to giving back to that community through volunteerism at the onsite clinic and local Pride events. “I was awarded the opportunity to deliver patient care, but it has gone so far beyond that and changed my personal life,” she says. The relationship she’s formed with her patients has “changed my character and perspective on things. People think of the pharmacist as taking care of the patients. But in so many ways they’ve taken care of me too.”
Advice from Alexis
- A tip for pharmacists coming up in their careers:
Think outside of the box: Even if you’re not pursuing a residency program, there are other ways to add on to your professional development via credentialing and continuing education. “You just have to look for opportunities, set your goal, and figure out how to achieve it,” she says.
- Why patients should trust pharmacists:
There’s so much more: “We have a scope of knowledge into other areas of health care beyond filling prescriptions,” Alexis says. “Of course, we’re there to talk about drug interactions and doses, but we can also help you understand how your insurance works, and what other options you have to get what you need. We’re intermediaries who can communicate with all the various parties behind your care and advocate to get you resources.”
- How covered entities can get the most out of their pharmacy relationship:
Sync up: “Whether it’s a designated staff member or multiple members of your organization, it’s helpful to sit down with the pharmacy staff and understand our workflow,” explains Alexis. “We can discuss how to intermingle it with yours and make your mission even more successful.”