From left: Susan Marchi Kellogg, Lauren Eichstadt Forsythe, Emily Sorah, Brian T. Bowers

On February 28 the Washington State University (WSU) College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (CPPS) and the WSU chapter of American College of Veterinary Pharmacy (AVCP) hosted a Veterinary Pharmacy Panel as part of the Preparing for Your Career in Pharmacy Seminar Series.

The panel included:

  • Susan Marchi Kellogg, staff pharmacist, Sixth Avenue Pharmacy
  • Lauren Eichstadt Forsythe, staff pharmacist, UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital
  • Emily Sorah, director of Clinical Pharmacy Services and director of the Veterinary Pharmacy Residency Program, NC State College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Brian T. Bowers, director of Pharmacy, Acheson Teaching Hospital Pharmacy at Oregon State University’s Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine

Veterinary pharmacy is when pharmacists turn their talents toward the animal kingdom. Often this includes creating medications in forms that are more easily administered to animals through veterinary compounding. For example, a veterinary pharmacist may integrate medications into oats for horses or a transdermal gel that can be rubbed into the ear for cats. Sorah described the profession as, “an opportunity to specialize without really specializing and actually expanding to treat a variety of species using my pharmacy knowledge.”

While Forsythe, Bower and Sorah all work in teaching hospitals, Kellogg brought a different perspective to the table, as an independent pharmacist. Though veterinary compounding accounts for approximately 40% of the compounding at Sixth Avenue Pharmacy where she works, they primarily treat human patients. “What we do for our animal patients is what we do for our human patients,” Kellogg explained. “Every veterinary patient has a profile on the computer because for accreditation standards, we don’t distinguish between veterinary and human patients.”

The other panelists agreed that there were many similarities between human and veterinary pharmacy while discussing the importance of recognizing the differences between the two specialties, especially in terms of physiology. “It’s a little bit of retraining your mind to not assume that you know the answer because you know what you would do in a human,” said Sorah.

Forsythe added, “A lot of it is understanding that you need to look for the differences, being able to understand things that are toxic to animals that may not be toxic in humans, and the backgrounds behind that.”

Another big difference between the two fields is the training involved. “It was my third year when I realized there was this whole other world out there and nothing in the curriculum addressed that,” Bowers said and the other panelists agreed, they didn’t know veterinary pharmacy existed until later in their training.

Sorah explained that she did take an elective course pertaining to the field but found an elective rotation during her fourth year to be more helpful. She suggested that research can help students prepare, as could shadowing in a vet clinic, “just to get an idea of the atmosphere and the kinds of issues that you would need to be prepared to handle.”

Forsythe added, “when people walk into residency, it’s not the drugs that are overwhelming, it’s not the dosing or the administration but the difference, the gap between human and veterinary medicine. Human medicine you are doing everything in a sterile environment and then you walk into veterinary medicine where they’re mixing IV fluids in the barn… it’s a shock if you’re not used to that field.”

However, Forsythe, Bowers and Sorah all agreed that once their training was complete they spent much more time in traditional pharmacy or teaching environments. They explained that while they were not often brought the animals, they could always go looking for them; especially considering that working at a teaching hospital many of the veterinarians are in the same building.

“Our prescribers are right down the hall and that allows the relationship to be a lot more collaborative and we try to take as much advantage of that as we can and learn from them as well,” said Sorah. Bowers agreed, saying, “You have to develop a trust, a mutual respect, those sorts of things. It only gets better from that point on.”

From her independent pharmacy perspective, Kellogg added, “I like our prescribers in Spokane but I love the vets… for us, usually they’re initiating the contact, and they’re so excited. Their patients are biting them if they don’t like what they’re doing and we can sometimes help them solve a real problem.”

These are the kinds of problems veterinary compounding is meant to fix, by introducing an alternate dosage form, such as a treatment in the form of a treat or gel instead of an injection.

The panelist also pointed out that despite the fact that most of them worked for teaching colleges there were many opportunities for veterinary pharmacists in addition to academia. As with Kellogg, there are opportunities in compounding within independent pharmacies. There are also opportunities consulting for veterinary clinics and large chain pharmacy companies, in zoos and aquariums, regulation for the Food and Drug Administration or the National Institute of Health, and research.

According to Forsythe, with a growing number of residencies and rotations more students are being trained specifically in veterinary pharmacy leading to a growth in the profession. She said, “I think as we keep expanding on that and we keep building up a profession of people who know more about veterinary medicine we’ll start seeing more of a role because our pharmacists will start being more able to fill that role.”

The college coordinates this seminar series to introduce student pharmacists to career opportunities and leaders in the pharmacy profession.

The seminars are funded through the WSU CPPS Dean’s Fund for Excellence and our community partner, the Spokane Teachers Credit Union. For information on participating in the career seminar series, or to contribute to the Dean’s Fund for Excellence to help expose WSU student pharmacists to thought-leaders and industry innovators, contact the CPPS advancement office at gocougs@pharmacy.wsu.edu or 509-358-7651.