Profiles in Pharmacy #3 - Mary Kuzel: Clinical Pharmacist
Feb 19, 2019 1:15 PM
Mary Kuzel: Clinical Pharmacist, Ambulatory Care
For University of Utah clinical pharmacist Mary Kuzel, every day at work is different.
Her 30+ year career in pharmacy has provided countless, daily opportunities to utilize her degree and make a difference. From teaching pharmacy students to providing hands-on problem solving in vulnerable communities, Mary has lived all around the country and specialized in a different aspect of pharmacy in each place. Yet, while her location has changed through the years, her goal has remained the same since her first day on the job: helping patients to meet their health goals.
Mary credits her Aunt Kathy with inspiring her to pursue a career in pharmacy. Aunt Kathy was a local pharmacist in Mary’s hometown. She enjoyed the daily challenges of her work and the people she worked with. With Aunt Kathy’s example, Mary thought her own degrees in biology and chemistry seemed a perfect fit for becoming a pharmacist.
“Remember to Take Your Medicine”
Mary’s pharmacy training was at North Dakota State University College of Pharmacy. She began her career as a hospital pharmacist and faculty member at her alma mater, where she practiced and taught for 14 years. After several moves, Mary and her family settled in Minnesota. It was in Minnesota that she began working as an ambulatory care pharmacist for vulnerable populations. The elderly, refugees, people with substance use disorder, and the homeless were all her patients.
After months of caring for patients in the homeless shelter clinic, Mary came to a startling realization: if you are homeless, how do you carry around your medications and keep them safe?
At the time, Mary worked for a county hospital system with scarce funds. Mary and her team developed a prototype for a nylon backpack that could also be used as a pillow. On the front of the backpack, “Remember to take your medicine” appeared in multiple languages.
Mary wrote a grant to a non-profit and received funding for the backpacks. Shelter residents were given the backpacks to keep their medications safe and accessible. Ultimately, the backpacks weren’t just a safe place to store medicine while on the bus or at the shelter – they also made an impact on patients’ medical care and overall health.
“The backpacks gave patients access to their medications, making them more compliant with taking it as prescribed,” says Mary. “And because the patients had their medications with them all the time, our medical team at the clinic was able to see the medications in person and more safely assess their needs.”
Mary recalls seeing the backpacks even years later and feeling thankful that the program was so successful and beneficial to patients.
Mary has taught pharmacy students for more than 14 years and is a member of the University of Utah College of Pharmacy’s Experiential Education Advisory Committee. As an ambulatory care pharmacist, she continues to serve vulnerable populations, helping to manage medications and offering resources to aid her patients in overcoming barriers in their medical care.
“There are so many benefits to being a pharmacist,” says Mary. “It’s team-based care, and I love building relationships. If I have a barrier for one of my patients – for example, someone is recently homeless and needs help keeping their insulin refrigerated – I call our social workers and care managers. We all work together to really improve our patient’s health.”
Mary says that each day offers new problems – and new opportunities to solve them. She loves being around pharmacy students and often instills advice on students considering her field.
“Get out and talk to people!” she says. “Go to health fairs. Walk into your local pharmacy and chat with your pharmacist. If you have parents or grandparents taking medication, get to know their medications and why they’re taking them. Get engaged!”
Mary compares her job to being a detective – breaking pieces apart, figuring out the best option and then the next option if the first doesn’t work out. She says even in a traditional pharmacy setting, there is a lot of variety.
“The highlight of my career is the fact that I’ve been able to experience so much within the profession. It really allows you to reinvent yourself, to try new things, and to help in other ways. Don’t be afraid of change! Embrace it. It’s so good for you and for everyone around you.”