Heidi Le: A Passion for Collaboration and Caring for the Underserved Patients Facing Addiction and Chronic Pain
As an undergraduate biology and chemistry student at Augsburg College, Heidi Le knew she wanted to pursue a career in pharmacy. She also knew she wanted to take some time to explore her roots in Vietnam—the country from which both her parents and grandparents came from following the Vietnam War.
After being selected as a Fulbright Scholar, Le spent a year in Vietnam teaching English and exploring her family’s roots.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Le. “I started to learn more about who I was and where I came from. I was missing that piece and I needed to explore it for myself.”
After being accepted into two pharmacy schools, she selected the University of Minnesota for its high rank and leadership in medication therapy management (MTM). During her years at the college, she explored future career paths and settings.
“After briefly working in retail and hospital pharmacy, I decided that the best fit for me was working as a clinical pharmacist in a clinical setting,” said Le. “What I discovered was that I loved building relationships with people, and as I learned more about MTM, I confirmed that this was what I wanted to do in the profession.”
After a first-year residency providing MTM services at the University of Minnesota Physicians Broadway Family Medicine Clinic, Le discovered the rewards of family medicine pharmacy.
“I have a love for working with underserved patient populations,” said Le. “I really connected with it and felt it was my calling.”
The following year, Le joined the HealthPartners MTM group—in the HealthPartners Neuroscience Center –Pain Management practice near Regions Hospital. Le was especially interested in pharmacy practice in the specialty of addiction medicine after experiencing a close family member with alcoholism while growing up.
Through the support and mentorship of Anne Pylkas, MD, an internal medicine and addiction medicine physician, Le found a physician champion for her MTM work.
“She took me under her wing, teaching me about pain medicine and addiction,” said Le.
Through this strong partnership, Le and Pylkas discovered that outcomes and patient satisfaction increased when Le was able to see patients directly for MTM follow-up appointments to provide guidance on medication issues.
“We work closely together and this teamwork has made things smoother for our patients,” said Le.
With this arrangement, Pylkas is able to see more patients and spend more time educating and creating therapy plans, while Le is able to provide direct MTM services to patients. During the patients’ visits, Le focuses on all their medications, including those for alcohol and opioid dependence, as well as those for tapering off chronic pain medications.
“This is a very complicated patient population we serve,” said Le. “This can make it a difficult job, but hearing firsthand from the patients about the impact we have on their lives, pushes me through the challenging times. It’s hard work, but I thoroughly enjoy it. It’s so rewarding to be a part of this patient care team.”