MY TRAVEL ADVENTURES OVER THE YEARS HAVE provided me the opportunity to stop in and visit with pharmacy colleagues across borders, regardless of where I may be headed. I am always curious how the pharmacy looks, where it is located and the physical footprint, what products the pharmacy carries, and what it’s able to provide over the counter and behind the counter.
I also try to make a purchase to help the business side of my colleague’s endeavors. And while there may be some differences in the practice, the common elements across all my visits are the practice’s focus on the patient and its core place as a health center in the community. These themes are the common language that bind us together no matter our country.
My interest in international pharmacy started as a student at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. Dean Lawrence Weaver was an internationally respected scientist who became a leader in innovative pharmacy practice. His knowledge was sought by many, and the university developed a special relationship with King Fahd University in Saudi Arabia. Dean Weaver was a frequent traveler abroad and shared learnings from these trips with students in a variety of ways.
As a pharmacy resident with the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), then-CEO Joseph Oddis was tapped to help build a solid foundation for the International Pharmaceutical Federation, or FIP. His legacy of leadership is made obvious by the extent to which American pharmacists are involved throughout FIP’s many sections and the abundant leadership roles that they have served.
A quick look at the FIP sections shows nearly 20 U.S. pharmacists in leadership positions today. Countless more have already served and made their way through leadership chairs. I enjoy keeping up with the lifelong international relationships they have made through social media.
FIP: THE BACKGROUND
FIP was founded in 1912, and since my early involvement in the late 1970s it has grown by leaps and bounds. FIP is the global body representing pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences, and pharmaceutical education. They have 146 national organizations, academic institutional members, and individual members, representing over 4 million pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists, and pharmaceutical educators around the world.
FIP’s vision is “a world where everyone benefits from access to safe, effective, quality and affordable medicines and health technologies, as well as from pharmaceutical care services provided by pharmacists, in collaboration with other healthcare professionals,” and their mission is to “support global health by enabling the advancement of pharmaceutical practice, sciences and education.” You can find more about FIP at www.FIP.org.
While I have not attended an FIP World Congress in decades, I continue my FIP membership as a means to keep up with my international colleagues. Many countries have made advances patient care, but others lag. But the common element is the focus on the patient and pharmacist-provided care, and the well-being of the pharmacy team. A scan of recent FIP news headlines confirms this.
A sample of International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) news headlines
- FIP publishes information to support countries to take pharmacists and pharmacy technicians from Ukraine into their health workforce
- Pharmacists’ impact on global vaccination rates is growing, according to new FIP report
- World Pharmacist Day 2022 to underline importance of professional unity
- Latest handbook from FIP gives pharmacists guidance on supporting self-care
- FIP emphasizes pharmacists’ wider medication review roles in update of its medicines use review toolkit
- New resource from FIP supports pharmacists in tackling public health threat of diabetes
FIP publishes competency framework for pharmacists working in the humanitarian arena
From a technology standpoint, FIP has also addressed interoperability as a key to successful digital health, and has launched a course to address gaps in digital health education. Its programs address humanitarian efforts and other global issues as well, such as climate change, air pollution, public health threats, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Having a formal, international pharmacy organization provides a structure to advance the profession globally.
Yet as individuals, having a formal leadership position in FIP is not necessary to build international bridges with colleagues. Each of us can advance global understanding and relationships through grassroots activity — making time to stop in and visit with colleagues where you travel.
Most recently, I visited with a pharmacist in Philipsburg, St. Maarten. The pharmacy was in a bustling part of the town center, easily accessible for international travelers. The pharmacist was kind enough to show me the pharmacy’s setup. They had a similar behind-the-counter format as many U.S. pharmacies and had a great selection of front-end merchandise. I was able to find an OTC remedy that one of our group members needed for a sudden-onset malady.
In 2018, I stopped in to meet the pharmacist and pharmacy technician team in Senggigi, on the island of Lombok in Indonesia. The focus was on the behind-the-counter medicines with a very small front-end section. They were delighted to learn a bit about U.S. pharmacy.
My pharmacy visits have been happening for many years. A memorable one was in Shanghai, China, in 2004. The focus here was on traditional Chinese medicine and herbals, with less of a focus on finished-good pharmaceuticals. It would be interesting to see how Chinese pharmacy has changed since then and with the onset of COVID.
As the world reopens and travel begins anew, it is a good time to think about reaching out to our colleagues in other parts of the world. I encourage you to take a minute to visit a pharmacy wherever your travels take you. Bon voyage and safe travels. CT
Marsha K. Millonig, B.Pharm., M.B.A., is president and CEO of Catalyst Enterprises, LLC, and an associate fellow at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy Center for Leading Healthcare Change. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.