Careers in pharmacy involve lifelong learning and adaptation to new situations. In this feature, a Virginia pharmacy inspector discusses her ever-changing role in the field.
Amy Branson, PharmD, RPh
Pharmacy Inspector, Virginia Department of Health Professions
How long have you been serving as a pharmacy inspector for the Board? What was your prior role?
I have served 3 years as a pharmacy inspector in the enforcement division of the Virginia Department of Health Professions. Prior to my role as an inspector, I spent 2 1/2 years as a pharmacy manager/clinical pharmacist at a small hospital in Virginia and 7 1/2 years as a pharmacy manager at an independent retail pharmacy in Virginia.
What tools or skills are a must-have in a pharmacist inspector’s toolkit?
Inspectors must have a particular set of skills, acquired over a long career, and inspector experience does not come preloaded into the new inspector toolkit. Further, inspections can be hectic, with all the normal activities of pharmacy operations taking place while the pharmacy staff provides regulatory information to the inspector. An inspector needs keen observational and multitasking skills in order to be able to monitor the many facets of the pharmacy operation and staff, while addressing the original task. A pharmacy inspector must possess an inquisitive nature and strong communication skills to help them assess each situation appropriately and fairly.
What are some common issues that you have witnessed and addressed as a pharmacist inspector with the Board?
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues in our profession have placed increased demands on pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in providing patient care. One challenging situation facing pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, patients, and inspectors is pharmacy working conditions. Pharmacies face challenges such as insufficiently trained staff, and staff face challenges such as lack of adequate time to complete professional duties or take breaks to avoid fatigue or distraction. This can lead to delays or mistakes in patient care. My number one priority is to ensure patient care services are safely provided in compliance with pharmacy laws and regulations.
Is there an inspection experience that you found particularly interesting, egregious, or unusual?
During multiple pharmacy investigations, I discovered that pharmacists were diverting controlled substances for their personal use. It really disheartens me to see the hold that addiction has over some people, especially fellow pharmacists. I urge any practitioner struggling with addiction to seek help through their state’s Healthcare Practitioner Monitoring Program. Enrolling could be a life-or-death decision.
What advice would you give to a new Board inspector?
Be a lifelong learner. The more I learn about the different aspects of pharmacy, the more opportunities for professional growth and expansion I have. Also, rely on your fellow inspectors. Being an inspector can sometimes be a difficult and isolating experience, and your visits are not always joyfully received. Remember that answers to questions, advice, or commiseration are only a phone call away. I attribute my successful integration as an inspector to my fellow inspectors, who always offer levelheaded advice and positive encouragement during tough inspections. Stay professional. No matter the inspection outcome or demeanor of those around you, be kind, fair, and professional, and when in doubt, consult the Board. It is always there to provide clarification in tough situations.
This blog was adapted from an article that originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of Innovations.