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It's Personal

A pharmacy student’s CVS internship ignites her drive to help others

It’s repeating the answer to an elderly patient’s question one more time. It’s reassuring a nervous child before giving a flu shot. It’s teaching a patient how to use his epi-pen to possibly save his life one day. Pharmacy is all of these things, but most of all, it’s personal.

To many, interactions such as these may seem perfectly ordinary, but for fifth-year pharmacy student Heather Shaffer, they are the reasons she wants to be a pharmacist.

While technical knowledge is absolutely essential to laying a foundation, Shaffer believes that a personal connection with patients is what makes a good pharmacist into a great pharmacist. An intern at a retail CVS store in Lima, Ohio, for the past 18 months, she’s learned that it is most important that she give her patients what they deserve: a personal advocate for their health.

"I have patient interactions every day,” Shaffer says. “I’ve definitely learned a lot, not only about applying things that we learned in class to pharmacy, but also how to deal with patients in different situations and how to talk about certain things."

The high-impact learning opportunities she has experienced at ONU have been invaluable.

In her time at CVS, Shaffer has earned the trust of her superiors through her positive attitude and attentive actions. As an intern, she is able to do all the tasks a pharmacy technician can do, and she has even been permitted to counsel patients and help them pick over-the-counter medications on her own, although help is always available if needed. Because of this mutual trust, she has been allowed to step into the shoes of a pharmacist and really try it on for size – all before receiving her license.

Since Shaffer’s home store is small-volume, she has been able to experience firsthand how special it is to have a personal connection with patients. Her supervising pharmacists know most of their patients by name, something that has particularly made an impression on her.

I think that a personal connection is really important, and I think it provides a level of trust between the patients and the pharmacists,” Shaffer says. “Some of our patients will ask our pharmacists questions they easily could have called their doctor for.

Even the tedious aspects of a pharmacist’s duties have helped remind her of her purpose in pharmacy. “I just have to step back and remind myself it’s all for the patient,” she says.

Shaffer’s supervising pharmacists have shown her what it really means to be dedicated to patients, something the CVS Health Company as a whole greatly values. Part of this dedication is ensuring that patients have all the right tools to maintain and improve their health.

One of the tools CVS particularly emphasizes is what made Shaffer initially excited about working for CVS: the company’s 2014 initiative to discontinue the sale of tobacco products in store and replace them with nicotine-cessation products.

“It really made sense why we did it,” she says. “Since we are a pharmacy promoting the health and wellness of our patients, why would we sell something that was so harmful to them? I thought that the forward thinking and push was a really good idea.”

Coincidentally, Shaffer recently had the opportunity to meet the leader of the company whose values she admires and shares. On Feb. 16, Larry Merlo, CVS Health president and CEO, was on campus to deliver the Sebok Pharmacy Lecture, an event established by the alumni and friends of the Raabe College of Pharmacy to honor Dr. Albert A. Sebok, BSPh ’53, one of the College of Pharmacy’s most distinguished alumni. During his visit, he talked with several ONU pharmacy students who intern with CVS, which, of course, included Shaffer.

I don't know how often an intern in a big chain gets to meet the CEO of their company," she says. "It was a really cool experience.

And the source of all of these life-changing experiences is her choice to attend Ohio Northern University. Her experience as a pharmacy student has fortified her as a person and a future pharmacist, shaping the kind of professional she is becoming.

“We’ve been taught since the first day what the ideal patient encounters and interactions should be,” she says. “ONU has been able to give me all of the knowledge and the foundation I need to accomplish my career goals.”

But at the heart of it all, Shaffer’s driving force as a pharmacy student is knowing that when she graduates with her pharmacy degree, she will begin her career focused on making patients’ lives a little easier, and a little better, in some way. After all, these six years aren’t just academic. They’re personal.