Respecting individual patients’ needs is key to success, says Avita Pharmacist-in-Charge Tarik Smith. “You need to meet people where they are.”
From a very early age, Avita Pharmacist-in-Charge Tarik Smith was impacted by the importance of compassionate care and community engagement. Born in a small town in North Carolina, his mother was a high school educator, and his father was a military chaplain. “I watched my mom go to work every day trying to teach the next generation of leaders,” he says. “I watched my dad giving emotional support and spiritual guidance to people experiencing significant challenges and traumas. Seeing them in action every day inspired me to want to have an impact on my community and advocate for other people.”
In 2010, Tarik completed a summer internship with the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa, where he studied adherence among individuals living with HIV and receiving free medications. He quickly learned that the most significant barrier to medication adherence was disclosure. It’s a lesson he goes back to every day in his current role as a pharmacist serving many patients from the LGBTQ+ community.
“For instance, I’ve worked with individuals who haven’t disclosed their sexual orientation with their partners,” Tarik says. “We’ve had to find ways for them to finance their HIV medication without forcing them to share their orientation.”
Tarik’s experience has also taught him to think outside the box—and often his comfort zone—when it comes to patient treatment and community advocacy. “I’ve got to be visible,” says Tarik, who leads Avita’s onsite pharmacy at Charlotte, North Carolina-based RAO Community Health. “Working with the community health center, we’ve identified patients who might be at risk for HIV and have reached out to them in some unconventional ways, such as hosting outreach programs at bars, clubs, balls, and other LGBTQ+ events. Being present in those spaces has been key to our success and an important platform for me to be accessible and share my own stories.”
As a result, when Tarik advocates for his patients, he’s always looking at situations from their perspectives. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, he retrofits his services to fit each patient’s needs. Tarik, a member of the LGBTQ+ and Black communities, serves many people of color and knows that they are disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic.
“Having a seat at the table and being someone who looks like the community I serve can be transformative,” Tarik says. “It’s easy to get hyper-focused on the day-to-day operational work. And that’s important. But it’s not sufficient to meet the specific engagement my community deserves. My pharmacy team must find ways to heighten awareness, mobilize resources, and identify key research opportunities.”
Tarik has leveraged his compassion, collaboration, and resourcefulness to help local health centers better connect with their patients. As a spokesperson for the community, he’s been featured on the local news discussing free HIV treatment options and other wellness opportunities.
He’s also taken the important step of becoming 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.
Tarik’s patients and colleagues routinely recognize his efforts. “Tarik puts Avita’s core value of compassion into action by understanding and appreciating the needs of our patients and the communities we serve,” says Avita CEO Michael Yount. Says yet another team member, “He’s positive, informative, and transparent about his ‘why.’”
But in the end, much of Tarik’s leadership and advocacy work is done quietly in the background. “I’m constantly working to connect to local providers and let them know that there is a pharmacy in town that is specifically dedicated to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community,” he says. “We advocate for these patients, we do everything we can to make sure they have access to medications, and we’re extremely mindful of creating a safe, stigma-free space.”
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