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Angie Wieck, Published January 12 2014

It's My Job: Pharmacist works to help patients get right medicines

FARGO – Growing up, Janet Bonn was always interested in working in the medical field because she wanted to help people. She liked the idea of working with doctors and nurses, but she didn’t see either profession as the right fit.

Becoming a pharmacist did not occur to her until she enrolled at North Dakota State University.

Today, Bonn works as a clinical pharmacist for Essentia Health, where she is an important part of a patient’s health care team.

Q. What is the difference between clinical and retail pharmacists?

We don’t sit in a pharmacy dispensing medication. We work on the (hospital) floors interacting with the other health care team members – the providers (doctors), the nurses and the patients.

We review patients’ medication orders for appropriateness. We look through the patient’s chart at things like the problem list, the medication list and lab results when evaluating that order. Then, we confer with that patient’s provider if a change is needed.

Our goal is to use the medications in a way to maximize their effectiveness while minimizing any side effects. So, particularly with high-risk medication or more difficult to manage medications, we will manage those for providers. These are things like anticoagulants (blood thinners), several antibiotics or intravenous nutrition. We order the appropriate initial doses and order the lab tests that are needed. Then we readjust those based on those results and the patient’s response.

We’re really a great help to providers in the hospital setting. In a hospital setting, I have a lot more opportunity to improve a patient’s outcome.

What do you like about your job?

I love my job because I feel I have the opportunity to make those differences to influence those outcomes. Being easily accessible in the hospital is also great for the providers and nurses who have medication questions. It feels good being able to help them with their jobs, too. My favorite part of my work is when a patient or a family member thanks me for my help in fixing a problem with their medication. I like to think they feel better knowing there are pharmacists in the hospital watching out for them.

What are some of the challenges?

I would say our first challenge would be in determining what medications that person had been taking at home. Many of our patients have seen providers at other health care facilities, and we have no record of their medications list or we have an old list on record. Many are unable to tell us the medications or what those dosages are because they don’t carry a current list with them. We have to call several places to try and figure that out for them.

Another big challenge is managing the nation’s drug shortages. Several medications are either unavailable or they’re at critically low levels. We work every day to find substitutes for those medications that we cannot get or to make sure that the medications that we have are used for the patients that truly need them.

Do you have any advice for patients?

My first thing would be to always carry a current medication list with you. You never know when you’re going to be admitted into the hospital, possibly unconscious or unable to talk about your medications. People are on some medications for life-threatening illnesses that we can’t manage if we’re not aware of.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501