Expert Interview: Dr. Veronica Vernon

vernon veronica pharmacist womens health choose controlMost people are familiar with the roles of physicians and nurses, but don’t always know what pharmacists roles are. Dr. Veronica Vernon is a clinical pharmacist specializing in women’s health and shares a little about what she offers her patients.

How did you become interested in women’s health?

Through high school, I struggled with some gynecological issues, and this really sparked my interest in learning more about women’s health. During pharmacy school, my interest grew as I discovered more about the differences in how medications work in men and women and how to treat women’s health conditions. I noticed that many practicing pharmacists and fellow classmates were uncomfortable discussing women’s health issues. I desired to further grow my knowledge in order to meet a need I saw in my community.

Who benefits the most from having a women’s health pharmacist caring for them?

I see patients by myself sometimes and other times with a doctor. The gynecologist refers patients to me who have menopausal symptoms, side effects from birth control, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and those who are pregnant or want to be. The patients who have multiple chronic illnesses or complicated medical issues seem to be benefiting the most from having me work with their doctors. I treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and low thyroid function as well.

Pharmacists are an integral part of any women’s health care team, since we understand how medications can work differently in women and we are the medication experts. Discussing your medication use with a pharmacist is extremely important to make sure that you are not experiencing any side effects and the medication is optimally working. We can also help prevent and manage chronic illnesses. I always discuss how to live a healthy lifestyle with all of my patients. My favorite part of my job is helping women lead healthier lives.

Do you think other hospitals or clinics should hire a women’s health pharmacist?

I firmly believe other VAs, health systems, and clinics should hire a pharmacist focused on women’s health. I have been able to spearhead initiatives, such as providing emergency contraception to our female veterans and the use of methotrexate for ectopic pregnancies, in our health system. I also lend my services to the smaller VA hospitals in our region that do not have the resources to hire their own women’s health pharmacist.

I can see patients using a video conference system (similiar to Skype) and assess their symptoms and manage their issues virtually. I enjoy this more than a phone call since the patient and I can actually see each other without having to be in the same room.

I serve as a resource to all of our providers in my VA faciltiy and provide quarterly education sessions each year on women’s health topics. This allows my facility to improve the overall quality of care provided to female patients.

What are your top 3 tips for women based on what you’re seeing among your patients?

  1. Women should make sure they are getting regular check-ups (including pap smears if indicated) and talk with their doctor regarding ways they can prevent chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
  2. Women should find a healthcare provider with whom they feel comfortable voicing their concerns. Many women are embarassed to bring up gynecological-related symptoms, such as pain during intercourse or vaginal burning or itching, but these are important issues to discuss with your healthcare provider.
  3. Women should keep an updated medication list with them at all times (I recommend keeping one in your purse or wallet) and know why they are taking each medication. Being well-informed about your health is empowering and allows you to take control of your health instead of your letting your health control you.

What do you wish you could do for your patients?

I would really enjoy starting a prenatal class for our patients who are pregnant. I think meeting with a pharmacist throughout their pregnancies would be extremely beneficial. I think my patients would like the support system that could be formed through this class. I would want to bring in other healthcare professionals, such as nurses and dieticians, who could support my patients.

About the Expert: Dr. Veronica Vernon, PharmD, BCPS, BCACP is a board-certified pharmacist practicing at the Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Affairs L Medical Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Butler University.  Dr. Vernon is a North American Menopause Society (NAMS) Certified Menopause Practitioner.  Female veterans who would like to make an appointment with Dr. Vernon should call (317)988-4917. 

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