by Ike Evans
On the Hogg Foundation website, there are currently six policy briefs that were each authored by a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin. What else do they have in common? All of the students recently completed an interdisciplinary graduate seminar, “Mental Health and Social Policy,” taught by the Hogg Foundation’s own Dr. Lynda Frost, director of planning and programs. Though the briefs do not reflect official positions of the foundation, we are happy to share them in hopes that they will further inform policy discussions, decision making, and smart action on complex issues in mental health policy in Texas.
Over the coming weeks, we will be featuring Q&A interviews with the graduate students in this blog space. This interview is with Benita Bamgbade, who recently earned her PharmD from the College of Pharmacy at UT Austin. She talks about her work in the area of pharmacy’s role in addressing mental health disparities.
- Tell us about yourself. At what point did you decide to pursue a doctorate in pharmacy, and what influenced that decision? I decided to pursue a PhD in pharmacy during my last year in the UT College of Pharmacy PharmD (clinical) program. During my second and third year in the PharmD program, I had the opportunity to engage in research under the guidance of Dr. Jamie Barner. I really enjoyed how patient care intersected with problem-solving and complexities of research. Yet, although I enjoyed research I was hesitant to embark on another 4-5 year higher education journey having just completed 4 years of pharmacy school. In the end, I knew that I wanted to pursue a graduate degree in pharmacy and it ultimately was a matter of when: now or later. I opted for now.
- Your brief is titled, When the Doctor is Unavailable:Addressing the Physical Health of People Living with Mental Illness Through Pharmacy Services. What questions are you trying to answer with this work? What led to your taking a professional interest in this particular topic? Pharmacists’ provider status is a hot topic and major focus for the profession of pharmacy today. The literature on pharmacists and pharmacy services provides evidence that pharmacists have a positive impact on improve patient health outcomes. Yet, providing services is not feasible until pharmacists are given provider status, which makes them eligible to be directly reimbursed for services. Pharmacists have been fighting to be recognized as providers for several decades. Healthcare professionals want to be acknowledged for their positive contributions to improve population health. When I entered pharmacy school, I picked up the torch and wanted to do my part in contributing to this effort. While in graduate school I developed an interest in mental health and health disparities. I was shocked to learn that people living with mental illness are at a higher risk of developing chronic health conditions and on average, these individuals die 25 years sooner than those living without mental illness. With this work, I am challenging the professional community to address the issue of mental health disparities and its subsequent impact on physical health in a unique way: through pharmacy services.
- Are you interested in engaging in the policy process (local, state, federal) in other ways in addition to your academic work? Are there people or organizations you consider champions on your issues? I am interested in engaging in the policy process in addition to my academic work. Completing Dr. Frost’s Mental Health and Social Policy course last semester, really drove home the importance of engaging in the policy process to effect change. I think the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great organization. The local chapter in Austin has put together some great programs for members at my church that has really helped a lot of families. I would love to partner with them in the future.
- Are there any resources that you can recommend for those who might wish to learn more about the topic? The American Pharmacists Association (www.pharmacist.com) is the go to for the latest information regarding pharmacy provider status. They have done an amazing job in rallying pharmacists and supporters and in keeping the movement front and center with providers and legislators. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has a great report entitled “Mental Disorders and Medical Comorbidity” that gives a great foundation on the intersection of mental illness and physical illness disparities.
- How do you plan on using what you learned while authoring your brief in your future work? What are those future aspirations? Presently, I am interested in changing pharmacists attitudes towards mental illness and improving their willingness to provide medication counseling to people living with mental illness. I believe most pharmacists are unaware of the physical health disparities that exist in mental health. I think that by exposing pharmacists to the physical health disparities that exists, it might help them realize how people living with mental illness need pharmacy services just like everyone else. I hope to uncover and change any underlying stigmatizing attitudes, which can result in providers limiting service provision to people living with mental illness,which can result in widening the disparity that already exists.