Picture from the 2020 Legislative Day taken February 2020, provided by Xiaomeng Jiang, WSU-WSPA Spokane senior student liaison.

In an ordinary year, the spring semester is when dozens of pharmacy students descend upon the Washington state capitol for Legislative Day to speak with lawmakers and advocate for the pharmacy profession. As with so many things, this year’s event looked quite different with students traveling not to Olympia, but instead the few short steps to their computers.

On Tuesday, February 16, 54 pharmacy students from Yakima and Spokane logged in to host 61 meetings with legislators and legislative aids for the first-ever virtual Washington State University student chapter-Washington State Pharmacy Association (WSU-WSPA) Legislative Day made possible by WSU-WSPA student leaders including WSU-WSPA Yakima chair Brian Wu, WSU-WSPA Spokane senior student liaison Xiaomeng Jiang, WSU-WSPA Spokane junior liaison Brook Kotlarz, and WSU-WSPA Yakima co-chair Todd Riddle. Their goal? To raise awareness of the training it takes to become a pharmacist and the role pharmacists play in public health particularly as it relates to two upcoming House Bills (HB).

“It is important that our lawmakers understand that pharmacists are the most accessible health care providers, particularly in rural areas, and that our areas of knowledge and service go beyond just medications. This is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, where pharmacists are continuing to provide quality care in addition to vaccination and testing services,” explained Wu.

Pharmacists have been providing delegated prescriptive authority patient care since 1979, as a highly accessible option for medication prescriptions and vaccinations. In 2015, Washington state officially recognized pharmacists as health care providers included in the 2009 Every Category of Provider law. Today, pharmacists serve as an integral part of the health care team. In addition to their traditional roles dispensing medications, pharmacists are found in most of the same patient care settings where one would find physicians and nurses. Pharmacists have also served a critical role in communities during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing point-of-care testing and immunizations for the virus.

Lawmakers understanding the current role of pharmacists in health care is particularly important for bills such as HB 1368, which has to do with funding for COVID-19 response. During Legislative Day, pharmacy students asked legislators to consider expanding pharmacists’ roles when discussing such policies to make health care more accessible, equitable and cost effective.

The other bill students talked about this year, HB 1445, is focused on the definition of compounding for purposes of the practice of pharmacy. Compounding is the art and science of combining ingredients to fit the unique needs of a patient. Rather than ingesting a drug in the traditional form of a pill, pharmacists can use innovative methods to help patients take their medicine such as creating medicine in the form of lollipops or gummy bears to make it more palatable for young children. In 2008 the definition was modified and does not currently align with the Federal Food and Drug Administration definition. As a result, pharmacists face difficulty with mixing even simple solutions such as water or saline with common prescriptions—which would not traditionally be considered compounding. HB 1445 clarifies what constitutes compounding.

Background on current bills is provided to students ahead of Legislative Day by the Washington State Pharmacy Association (WSPA), which also is the formal organizer of the event. The WSPA also offers advice ahead of time to prepare students for what is often their first direct experience with political advocacy—though many students continue to volunteer for the event through all four years of their pharmacy education.

“This will be my third Legislative Day and having the chance to talk to legislators is just as exciting and rewarding as when I was a [first-year],” said Wu. “I can’t wait to be back next year, hopefully back in-person in Olympia.”