Filling gaps in primary care takes creativity

By Addy Hatch, WSU News

From left: Kelley Halverson, Jiquanda Nelson and Julie Akers

A need to fill gaps in primary care is driving new approaches to health care workforce development in Washington, including at the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Panelists discussed their organizations’ strategies at Inland Northwest State of Reform, an annual health policy conference.

Julie Akers, clinical associate professor at the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, said the college is preparing students for a future that may look quite different from traditional pharmacy roles.

State law in Washington allows pharmacists to provide direct patient care for uncomplicated illnesses or conditions. Akers said pharmacists are already providing that care in public health systems such as the Indian Health Service and VA Health Care, but most private insurers and community pharmacies are still trying to determine efficient ways to reimburse pharmacists for that work.

Throughout the health care system, however, there’s a push to have professionals at every level practicing at the “top of their license,” or to the full extent of their education and training.

“We really need to see pharmacists and other health care providers step in and help with the primary care shortage,” Akers told the audience.

To prepare pharmacists for that role, WSU offers courses to build students’ critical thinking and leadership skills alongside traditional clinical education. Students also participate in team-based interprofessional education with nursing and medicine students at WSU Health Sciences.

Similarly, CHAS Health is taking a fresh look at caregiver roles within the community health organization, said panelist Kelley Halverson, vice president of administrative services there. CHAS offers medical, dental and behavioral health care, plus pharmacy, at its clinics, which gives greater opportunity for collaboration than a traditional primary-care clinic might.

CHAS also offers apprenticeships, and it launched a nurse practitioner residency program in 2015. Halverson said CHAS is reevaluating clinical training programs to give preference to those educating professionals most likely to stay and work in the region.

The third panelist, Jiquanda Nelson, senior manager for equity, inclusion, diversity and workforce development at Kaiser Permanente, said the insurer had just launched a new apprenticeship program for medical assistants with features to lower barriers and attract a more diverse workforce. The program includes prominent health care employers and labor unions, and includes assistance with childcare and transportation – things that might have prevented qualified applicants from taking advantage of previous programs, she said.

The panel on workforce development was offered as part of the all-day State of Reform conference. Spokane was the first stop in the nine-state series; for more information visit

Categories: Faculty