Robbie Schwenker, PharmD

Robbie Schwenker, PharmD

PHARMACY: NuCara Pharmacy, Coralville, Iowa

EDUCATION: University of Iowa College of Pharmacy

FROM CHEMISTRY TO PHARMACY: "I started in chemistry and had a strong initial interest in research. Pharmacy was presented to me as a path I could pursue and I felt it was going to be one where I could use my understanding of chemistry and apply it in a health care setting. By chance, I came across a job as an intern for compounding—and, at the time thought a mortar and pestle was just a symbol, so I was excited to go beyond the symbol and see what it means, in real terms, for the profession and our patients."

COMPOUNDING COVERAGE: "My love of compounding grew—even with the pharmacy practice changing, in big ways, over time. Both sterile and hazardous drug roles have changed significantly, for instance, and you need a deep understanding of therapeutics, but you also have to understand lab operations, compliance requirements, and how to properly train employees. There's still so much out there I want to explore.

I direct compounding services for NuCara, which has locations in four states. We're in our 51st year and started in Iowa, but we've expanded to home medical, IV infusion services, long-term care, specialty pharmacy, compounding, and telepharmacies. We try to cover all aspects of pharmacy practice—you think of Iowa having a lot of rural areas, and we make sure we can provide services to all our communities."

TELEPHARMACY FILLS A GAP: : "That's where telepharmacies fit in. I personally come from a small town in this state, and these communities will struggle if they don't have a pharmacy available. The idea of mailing out drugs doesn't work for everyone and there are a lot of gaps with that, and you don't have the same relationship with a pharmacist with that approach. So, NuCara feels a responsibility to take care of our communities and that's where telepharmacy matters. You need to do more than just provide the patient a phone number to call if they have additional questions. That's not good medicine. We have to build trust with our patients."

THERAPEUTICS FOR TODAY (AND TOMORROW): "Prior to my current position, I was a pharmacist-in-charge for many years, and before that, a staff pharmacist. I understand the challenges with keeping up with all of the tasks in a single day, and there's no one right answer as to how to find efficiencies, but there are options available for pharmacists to free up more time to spend with patients. Professionally, I wear two hats—and so I have another role beyond pharmacy practice which is the chief scientific officer for Steel Therapeutics. This pharmaceutical company came about when I was approached, at the time, by a pharmacy student who had an entrepreneurial mindset looking for prospective drug candidates. I was in a great position with my work experience because I see a lot of compounded preparations that are not commercially available and have a place in therapy—maybe they're available elsewhere in the world and have a lot of promise here—so Steel's mission is to find these gems that are derisked for Food and Drug Administration approval and to make them available. Steel worked with ISA Ventures, built out a team, and is on the path toward [investigational new drug] FDA submission to start clinical trials on our first drug candidate."

CHALLENGES POINTING THE WAY FORWARD: "You have state boards of pharmacy rules that differ in each state, so those are challenges for us having a regional footprint and dispensing throughout the United States. NuCara has always prioritized compliance and using accreditation agencies to provide guidance on handling rules and regulations. There are many ways to address the recent USP chapter updates—and that's the challenge with compounding. There's no doubt that the recent regulatory changes will increase patient safety and improve compounding quality, but with increased regulatory measures creates new challenges for the compounding practice moving forward."

WHAT NCPA MEANS TO ME: "Legislation hasn't been a strong interest of mine, but we need voices for all of us who are passionate about pharmacy practice. Having an organization like NCPA that supports our needs and can put together the research and funding to put a message out is extremely important. We, as pharmacists, went into this to practice pharmacy, not necessarily to advocate on our own behalf, so we need people who can do that and help us."