May 6, 2013

A prescription for healthy aging

By adcomweb

Endowment helps UW pharmacy student specialize in senior care

Lara Hart

Laura Hart, third-year PharmD student

Laura Hart’s passion for helping older adults started with her grandma.

The family matriarch was losing her vision, severely limiting her independence. Laura spent months helping her with shopping trips, doctor appointments and prescription pick-ups. But instead of tiring from the experience, Laura was inspired by it. She became drawn to the idea of helping more seniors lead healthier lives and decided to focus on a field already in her DNA: pharmacy.

Laura comes from a long line of Husky pharmacists. Her late grandfather Lyle Clerget, ’51, and her mother Joan Marie Hart, ’83, both graduated from the UW School of Pharmacy. Now in her third year, the Olympia native sees that an aging population means a looming shortage of healthcare workers, including pharmacists, for grandparents all over the United States. With her fellowship from the Plein Endowment for Geriatric Pharmacy Research, Laura is working to curtail that predicament. Cheering her on is her fellowship’s founder and UW pharmacy pioneer Joy Plein, ’51, ’56.

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Joy developed a dose of momentum to study medication therapy for seniors back in the 70s, a time when little was known about the specialty. She was a pharmacy professor at the UW with her late husband Elmer, and together the couple created the first nursing home pharmacy course, which led to more classes and eventually a certificate in geriatric pharmacy.

“Now the information and technology have greatly advanced,” says Joy. “And when my husband and I were deciding how we wanted to support the UW, we chose to fund things that kept the momentum going.” The Pleins created three endowment funds to carry on the couple’s pioneering legacy in education, research and practice.

UW pharmacy pioneer Joy Plein, ’51, ’56

UW pharmacy pioneer Joy Plein, ’51, ’56

As a Plein Fellow, Laura is conducting research with UW Pharmacy Cares, a community outreach program that helps seniors learn about adverse drug interactions. Laura has been sending surveys to residents at University House Wallingford to better understand their perceptions of UW Pharmacy Cares. The University House is one of several Era Living facilities that partner with the UW, and Laura’s small project could prompt an expansion of services there.

Beyond her research, Laura also serves as UW student chapter president of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, which coordinates education and outreach events like wellness fairs. As it happens, Joy is one of the chapter’s most active advisors.

“Joy has been a real mentor to me,” says Laura. “I volunteer because it’s important to give back to my school and community, especially after having so much support in return.” Laura also received a Class of 1969 Endowed Scholarship and the UWRA Scholarship in Aging.

Eventually, she’d like to follow in Joy Plein’s footsteps, balancing a life of academic research with a healthy measure of clinical care. Her hope is to inspire other students so they can influence geriatric health in any setting.

“My mom filled me in on Joy’s reputation before I started school,” Laura says. “But I didn’t realize what a huge inspiration she would be in all she’s done to pave the way for geriatric pharmacy, past, present and future.”

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