Career Seminar Series: Want to become an expert in snake bites? Here’s how.

Student pharmacists with Erica Liebelt following her presentation.

SPOKANE, Wash. – What do a spy and a pharmacist have in common?

This was one of the many questions Erica Liebelt, executive director and medical director of the Washington Poison Center, asked a room full of student pharmacists.

Liebelt, who is also a clinical professor at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, kicked off this year’s Career Seminar Series which showcases various professions in the health care industry. Liebelt’s version of a spy is a little different than the typical James Bond archetype that may come to mind. A SPI, specialist in poison information, at the Washington Poison Center, may be a pharmacist, nurse or physician. Two hail from the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences: 2019 graduates Hanh To and Trent Eason.

SPIs guide medical professionals and distressed members of the public through what to do in the cases of poisoning. But, according to Liebelt, the two spies have something in common: investigation.

“I like putting the pieces of the puzzle together,” said Liebelt, “you’re using your brain quite a bit to make quick decisions and assessments of the situation.”

SPIs require critical thinking and clinical reasoning skills to provide treatment recommendations. They are experts in clinical toxicology, and put their expertise into practice by knowing what drugs can be used to treat overdoses. With Seattle being the only Poison Center for the state, they have seen everything, from bites from exotic snakes smuggled in through the port of Seattle, to a chlorine spill in Spokane.

On any day a SPI may manage a range of cases, from unintentional and intentional overdoses to exposure to toxic plants and hazardous chemicals.

The Washington Poison Center is open 24/7, 365 days a year to receive calls from the public, health care professionals and emergency medical services. Over the course of 2018 alone, they handled 64,139 human exposure cases.

Responding to cases is not the only task of a SPI either. Other potential activities include community outreach, teaching, lobbying and policy making, research opportunities and provider education among many other responsibilities.

“It’s more than a job, it’s a career,” said Liebelt, “it’s very rewarding.”

Liebelt’s presentation was part of the Preparing for Change Career Seminar Series, which the college coordinates 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 or 509-358-7651.