Q&A: Local pharmacist earns statewide award for community work

SERVING THOSE IN NEED: Pharmacist Shawn Taylor prepares an antibiotic for a patient with an infection during a 2015 trip to Honduras. Photo courtesy of Taylor

For Shawn Taylor, helping is a way of life. Winner of the 2022 Ambulatory Care Pharmacist of the Year Award, she splits her time between teaching students at Wingate University’s Hendersonville campus, assisting low-income patients at the Appalachian Mountain Community Health Centers and traveling to work with underserved rural Honduran populations through the nonprofit Shoulder to Shoulder.

“My whole life, I wanted to be a helper in some way,” she says. “I landed on pharmacy as the best option for me. Pharmacists are known as the most accessible health care professionals who folks can find in a community pharmacy.”

In 2010, Taylor finished her education at the University of South Carolina and relocated to Asheville for a postgraduate residency at the Charles George VA Medical Center. The following year, she accepted an associate professor position at Wingate University. “By sharing with learners my approach to treating patients and interacting and serving the community, I can have a lot bigger impact,” she explains.

Taylor’s community expanded to Honduras in 2012, when she took her first trip with Shoulder to Shoulder. Since 2015, she’s regularly brought two-three students with her during these weeklong visits.

Students also accompany Taylor as she works with local low-income residents at Appalachian Mountain Community Health Centers. “I have a really strong belief that just because folks are in a lower socioeconomic status or have experienced some event that’s left them in a less than desired place in their lives, they still deserve the best treatment and access to care,” she says.

The Ambulatory Care Pharmacist of the Year Award is given by the N.C. Association of Pharmacists to a pharmacist showing moral character, good citizenship and high professional ideals while making significant contributions to their area of practice. “I feel like I’m just doing my job and I got awarded, which is really wonderful,” Taylor says. “And it’s so well appreciated to be recognized by your peers in the state. It reinforces what I’m doing.”

Xpress sat down with Taylor to discuss her work in Honduras and how alternative treatments and pharmaceuticals can work together.

Editor’s note: This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Xpress: What propelled you to begin traveling to Honduras?

Taylor: I had some experiences with work in other countries through my church growing up. So, it had been on my mind for a long time that I wanted to switch gears and serve in a fully medical capacity. I identified Shoulder to Shoulder through some friends that had also worked with them down in Honduras. They have a U.S. contingent and a Honduran contingent. This organization in particular is founded on integrating into the community and working with systems that already exist in rural Honduras.

What made you decide to include your students on these trips?

A big component of being a good pharmacist is learning how to problem-solve, and what better way than to take away all the resources you’re used to and solve a problem? In some instances, different medications aren’t available. There’s a lack of internet resources, so they have to either know the information or go to a textbook. Sometimes the electricity goes out. There’s obviously a language barrier component as well. It adds a lot of different obstacles that you’ve got to navigate around. It’s really cool to watch how they solve problems in that type of setting.

Part of the experience that the students have on rotations is spending time with me at Appalachian Mountain Community Health Centers. And then they spend time with me at the clinic in Honduras, and they compare what it’s like being in poverty and how to treat patients and how it differs depending on the resources that might be available. The different government programs, grants and funding that we have here might not always be available there.

Asheville is a town that has a large number of skeptics when it comes to pharmaceuticals. What are your thoughts on the concerns and issues surrounding this?

I actually teach a lot of our integrative medicine curriculum in the pharmacy school. This includes teaching the students how we add alternative medicine strategies to some of the more traditional medication therapies. For example, one of my classes learned about all the benefits of yoga and then went to a beginner practice together.

From a patient standpoint, I think it’s really important to understand what’s happening in their bodies. Let’s say you have a heart attack. You’re going to get discharged from the hospital on a classic cocktail of medications to prevent a secondary heart attack. Oftentimes, those prescriptions are written, and certainly, there’s education given, but many patients don’t understand what’s happened in their body and where each one of those medications fits to prevent them from having a secondary event.

My appointments as a certified pharmacist practitioner tend to be 40 minutes to an hour long — however much time it takes to help the patient understand what’s happened in their body, what’s the potential to happen in their body, how each medication fits and what the side effects of the medication are. That’s a really big reason that patients are concerned about putting all these chemicals in their body.

My role is making sure they understand what could happen from a negative standpoint, where they should time the medication in their day or if they should take it with a meal to avoid or mitigate some of the potential adverse reactions. And then, ultimately, turning it back to them. Asking, “Now that you’ve heard all this information, how does that feel?” I might be the expert on drugs, but the patient is the expert of their body. It takes both of us to come up with the best solution.

What do you feel is your biggest success up to this point?

I think that I’m an approachable person that is able to meet folks where they’re at whether that’s a patient or student and spend time with them really trying to understand who they are as people — whether it’s solving a problem that a patient may have or just giving a listening ear to a student. I think being someone that’s seen as an advocate is probably my greatest accomplishment, and I think that has led to a lot of the success that I’ve had in my career.

What advice would you offer people regarding wellness?

I serve on our well-being committee at the university, so the emphasis is on improving the well-being of our medical professionals. If we are not well ourselves, it’s really hard to promote wellness to our patients. Just today in the integrative medicine class, we were discussing how diet influences our well-being, not just physically but mentally. What are the things that, as a student, you could tweak a little bit or changes that you could make that might support your sleep quality or your energy levels and that may help you be more successful on exams? A lot of students will make the comment, “I’ll get around to that. I’ll make time for exercising when I finish pharmacy school. I’ll get a more balanced diet when I finish pharmacy school.” And I tell them that it just gets busier after you graduate. It’s a different busy, it’s not taking exams every week, but you will have different pressures and expectations from your employer. Being able to establish those habits early on will lead to a lifelong, healthier self.


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