Putting Pharmacists in the Emergency Department

Arinze Nkemdirim OkereArinze Nkemdirim Okere, PharmD

Assistant Professor, Ferris State University College of Pharmacy 
LEA Class of 2010

by Kendra Metz, Class of 2012


As student pharmacists we hear how important leadership skills are and how developing those skills in college will benefit you for the rest of your life. How much does leadership training really help you though? It’s in the books and we hear it from professors, but how about an example that is a little closer to home? Well here’s proof, right from our Leadership Emphasis Area (LEA) at the University of Minnesota, College of Pharmacy. This is Arinze’s story.

Arinze Nkemdirim Okere attended the University of Minnesota Duluth, College of Pharmacy (Class of 2010) and is now an Assistant Professor of Pharmacy on tenure track at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. As you can imagine, a lot happened in those few years between and Arinze attributes much of his path to his leadership training.

While attending an APhA conference as a student, Arinze listened about the patient benefits that occurred from hospitals implementing an emergency department (ED) pharmacist. That’s when the light bulb lit up – why doesn’t Essentia (hospital in Duluth) have an ED pharmacist? And that is how his leading change project began. His goals were to enhance pharmacy services in the ED by involving clinical pharmacists in medication reconciliation (done properly) and the day to day activities, and develop a collaborative practice between ED physicians and pharmacists. During his acute care APPE rotation at Essentia, Arinze created a two page background summary designed to create a sense of urgency for the project…but who should it go to? Thankfully, Arinze had great relationships with faculty mentors. He presented the idea to Mike Swanoski (Pharm.D.) who thought ‘great idea’ and sent it to the director of pharmacy who thought ‘finally a project to get pharmacy in the ED’ and sent it to the research group, and so forth. The timing for this project at Essentia was impeccable, making the process smoother than he could have hoped for. Next, Arinze formed a strong guiding coalition that included pharmacy, nursing, ED, and faculty representation. Money was an issue though (of course!) How could they pay a pharmacist salary when they had no data to support its usefulness? So Arinze came up with a solution – use pharmacy student interns for a pilot project. It was a win-win situation; student pharmacists got a unique clinical experience and data was collected for his leading change project.

Fully implementing the vision for pharmacists in the ED would take years, but there were short term wins to keep the momentum going. After only 3 months of data collection, there was a significant reduction in ED readmissions due to the student pharmacist medication reconciliation and patient education. As a result, the ED staff requested more services from the student pharmacists. What a success! As he continued, Arinze’s passion about his project focused and motivated him to reach his goals.

About this time Arinze was moving onto the next phase of his career, a residency at Essentia. He expanded this leading change project into his residency project, received $50,000 for the research and spent 3 months as a licensed pharmacist in the ED. Using skills from his leadership training, Arinze’s innovation and hard work contributed to the success of a shared vision with Essentia. After dedication and persistence, two full time ED pharmacist positions were created!

Arinze’s next step was to his current position at Ferris State College of Pharmacy where he is busy teaching, developing a practice, and researching in the neuroscience field. Arinze feels that the LEA helped him transition from a student to a resident to faculty. Unfortunately, Ferris State does not currently have a leadership program, but Arinze is interested in tackling that initiative to pass on the skills he has learned…when things settle down in 3-4 years!

Reflecting on his leadership path, Arinze laughed that he didn’t take the Strengths Finder assessment seriously (like all students!) but it was one of the major take-away points from his leadership training. Applying his signature themes (Activator, Futuristic, and Ideation) helped his ED projects to take off. He also attributes much of his success to great mentors and strongly recommends students to form those relationships with faculty at the College of Pharmacy. In particular, Arinze mentions Dr. Grant Anderson and Dr. Mike Swanoski for pushing him forward and Dr. Angela George for great advice during his transitions. Mentors provide a sense of direction, encourage you to succeed, and are genuinely excited when you reach your goals. Oh how that choice to walk into your first Leading Change in Pharmacy class can change your life!