Joanna Lewis: “Accessibility”

Accessibility: During COVID-19, many people delayed preventative care or put off going to the doctor for emergent needs because they were scared to go to the hospital. For example, we have seen more people come in with advanced cancer because they ignored symptoms or put off coming to the doctor until their symptoms became unbearable. […]

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Accessibility: During COVID-19, many people delayed preventative care or put off going to the doctor for emergent needs because they were scared to go to the hospital. For example, we have seen more people come in with advanced cancer because they ignored symptoms or put off coming to the doctor until their symptoms became unbearable. People in rural areas also historically have had trouble getting the access that they need. A positive aspect that has come out of this pandemic is that telemedicine is becoming more mainstream. This is going to result in less missed appointments because of a childcare or ride issue and will ultimately lead to better medication compliance and earlier disease state interventions. Of course, telemedicine will never substitute for face-to-face, but it is a great alternative to no care at all.


The COVID-19 Pandemic taught all of us many things. One of the sectors that the pandemic put a spotlight on was the healthcare industry. The pandemic showed the resilience of the US healthcare system, but it also pointed out some important areas in need of improvement.

In our interview series called “In Light Of The Pandemic, Here Are The 5 Things We Need To Do To Improve The US Healthcare System”, we are interviewing doctors, hospital administrators, nursing home administrators, and healthcare leaders who can share lessons they learned from the pandemic about how we need to improve the US Healthcare System.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure to interview pharmacist Joanna Lewis.

Joanna Lewis, PharmD, MBA has worked as a clinical pharmacist at UNC Hospitals, a pharmacy administrator a Duke University Hospital and currently manages the 340B program at a hospital in Florida. She has written two eBooks addressing wellness strategies as the key to a successful, meaningful career. She also writes for Pharmacy Times and speaks to pharmacy schools and organizations about the importance of managing stress and taking care of our mental health in healthcare.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into our interview, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and a bit about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up, I was always interested in medicine and chemistry but I did not choose this specific career path until I started shadowing different health professions in college. At that same time, my grandmother and uncle were going through their own health anomalies, which peaked my interest in medicine even more. The other appealing thing to me about pharmacy was the accessibility to the public as I loved my interactions with people and wanted to make a difference in helping them understand their medicine and avoid any interactions (like my grandma had gone through).

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have been privileged to work in some of the top hospitals in the country. I could tell you so many stories about experiences or even funny questions I have gotten as a pharmacist, but really, the most interesting thing in my career is that a big journey through burnout pushed me into the meaningful work that I do today around wellness. I started The Pharmacist’s Guide because of that experience and my social media platform has connected me with so many amazing people and opportunities!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh man, this is a hard one. Usually mistakes in health care do not end up being funny. We do get situations with people that we cannot even anticipate. For example, I had a woman come in to the pharmacy upset that she was pregnant and her birth control pills had not worked. After further discussion, she disclosed that they had been making her sick so she gave them to her boyfriend to take instead. Now I know to not always assume in my counseling that something is straightforward! .

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When it clicked in me that a purposeful life is something that I build and design rather than one that happens to me, I ditched the victim mentality, started setting better boundaries and I took control of my wellness habits. We often think that once we go to school and get a degree, we will fall into the perfect career, but that is rarely the case. I love Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “you can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude”. It’s not always that simple, of course, but managing your mindset is one of the first steps to any change.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

At my hospital, I work closely with the inventory management team and manufacturers to provide affordable medication prices to our patients. I also work with our patient assistance services to make sure patients can get the medicine they need.

With my social media platform, The Pharmacist’s Guide, I inform others and demystify the principles of wellness. Historically, many of these wellness principles were only available to celebrities or others with many resources, but by educating and making the steps simple and accessible, we can give people the tools to take care of themselves physically and mentally.

How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?

I think most practitioners would define an excellent healthcare provider as one who puts the patient first in every decision and who delivers exemplary medical care. The mentality of health care providers is sometimes more of a “calling” rather than a job as they will often work past when their shift ends, deliver medications to people in need outside of working hours, and essentially be “on call” all hours of the day. These above-and-beyond gestures make health care professionals exceptional, however, they are also a big factor in burnout as many of these expectations we put on ourselves just by nature of the people that are drawn healthcare in the first place. With that in mind, I would define an excellent healthcare provider as one who not only delivers outstanding patient care by meeting the physical and emotional needs of their patients, but also someone who demonstrates healthy habits himself or herself.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. The COVID-19 pandemic has put intense pressure on the American healthcare system. Some healthcare systems were at a complete loss as to how to handle this crisis. Can you share with our readers a few examples of where we’ve seen the U.S. healthcare system struggle? How do you think we can correct these specific issues moving forward?

Healthcare has always been a tricky balance of resources. Where do you put your time and energy? Through the pandemic, we saw some areas that we need to start focusing on more, specifically the accessibility and affordability around healthcare.

Of course the story was not entirely negative. Healthcare professionals were true heroes on the front lines of the crisis. The COVID vaccines are saving millions of lives. Can you share a few ways that our healthcare system really did well? If you can, please share a story or example.

We did really well in mobilizing and coming together as a profession. I saw doctors and healthcare professionals come out of retirement to help. Pharmacists travelled around the country to administer immunizations. Many health care professionals travelled to the badly hit cities to offer assistance. In reality, this is what they do always for catastrophic events — there was just a bigger spotlight on it.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. As a healthcare leader can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.

The pandemic has been a scary time in healthcare, but it has also been a time of great growth and involvement. I believe our healthcare system will move through this stronger than ever, especially by focusing on these five areas.

Distribution channels: Early on in the pandemic, we saw some supply chain issues with personal protective equipment and even ventilators. Because we were not able to get things from our regular manufacturers, some smaller companies switched gears and started producing masks and other goods. I think of all of the wonderful people who started making masks and distributing them to their families and friends and of the clothing companies that shifted their production to making masks.

Accessibility: During COVID-19, many people delayed preventative care or put off going to the doctor for emergent needs because they were scared to go to the hospital. For example, we have seen more people come in with advanced cancer because they ignored symptoms or put off coming to the doctor until their symptoms became unbearable. People in rural areas also historically have had trouble getting the access that they need. A positive aspect that has come out of this pandemic is that telemedicine is becoming more mainstream. This is going to result in less missed appointments because of a childcare or ride issue and will ultimately lead to better medication compliance and earlier disease state interventions. Of course, telemedicine will never substitute for face-to-face, but it is a great alternative to no care at all.

Affordability: A component of accessibility is if a person can afford their medications. There has been a big spotlight on drug prices recently. I think of the recent example around the 400% price increase of Epipens due to a monopoly in the market. Of course, medication costs are complicated and there are many factors involved (patents, limited distribution, generic availability, availability of insurance, etc..), but I do believe the climate is changing. Hospitals are starting to become more transparent and publish data around their prices in an effort to create goodwill and give people choices.

Mental health: I saw firsthand how hard it is to navigate the mental health system when trying to get some support for a friend. Not only are the resources hard to locate, but there are usually not a lot of treatment beds open and there is often a long waiting list for an appointment. The last thing someone who is suicidal or depressed wants to do is be transferred from person to person before someone can help him or her. I wish it were easier, especially with the rise in stress levels, fear and frustration that the pandemic brought on. There are some great national groups working on initiatives around mental health in our country and I think the pandemic will give them and healthcare professionals the momentum they need to give more support to the communities.

Healthcare burnout: Along the lines of mental health, healthcare professionals are starting to speak up about burnout. Though burnout has been here all along, COVID-19 was a tipping point and we saw the ramifications of not caring for our providers, as they are caring for us. Part of this is because of the culture for healthcare professionals. We work long hours, put others first and do what we can to help without taking the breaks we need or putting practices in place to manage our stress levels. Understanding the key factors that lead to burnout can help individuals and hospitals work together to put systems in place to help and support healthcare professionals.

Let’s zoom in on this a bit deeper. How do you think we can address the problem of physician shortages?

In the next decade, we predict a big physician shortage due to the aging population and the amount of doctors that are retiring. Expanding the roles of advanced practitioners such as physician assistants, pharmacists and nurse practitioners within their scope of practice is one way to mitigate the shortage.

Many pharmacists do specialty residencies and have the knowledge to assist physicians with certain parts of care. Some states have already passed legislation recognizing pharmacists as providers and expanding that legislation to all states can be a big help with not only the physician shortage but also with providing people with more access to care.

How do you think we can address the issue of physician diversity?

I do see awareness around this right now. Can we do better? Absolutely. Healthcare facilities are looking at their hiring practices and looking at assessing where they can do better. We need to address diversity early in the process for physicians, starting with college and medical school admissions. Supporting people through prerequisites, looking at scholarships, etc… are all ways that we can begin to address the issue.

How do you think we can address the issue of physician burnout?

Changing the culture around mental health for physician is an important first step. There is not a lot of work-life balance in the medical journey and that has been an accepted sacrifice. Medical school is nonstop studying and even a little break will put you behind. Residency is full of long hours and minimal days off. By the time physicians have finished training, that lifestyle is ingrained. Many specialties also have long on-call hours just by nature of the work. Doctors are resilient and essentially programmed not to ask for help, as they are the helpers. If we can normalize taking care of our own mental health first through even the basics of healthy sleep patterns, nutrition and movement, we can take first steps toward burnout. I do know some of the medical associations are beginning to do the work around this, specifically the American Medical Association.

What concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest all of the changes you mentioned? What can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to help?

For me, it all starts with awareness and recognizing there is a problem. Healthcare professionals are naturally solution-driven, but we are also a product of a big system that takes a lot of effort to change. This principle applies to mental health, diversity, and all of the affordability and accessibility issues that we discussed.

When individuals recognize and take care of our own mental health, they will be less prone to burnout and in a more resourceful state to look for solutions. Especially through this pandemic, I have seen corporations and leaders take great strides in taking care of the mental health of their employees. My institution has held meditation classes and provided access to counselors. Communities can continue to use their voice to raise issues around the accessibility and affordability of medical care. I find when healthcare professionals have examples and data; they can find very good solutions.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

For me, educating the public about the ingredients that are in our health and beauty products is a big advocacy project that I am working on. We assume that everything at the store is safe, but that is not always the case as the practices to get them to market and many safety measures are outdated.

I also strive to inspire to take care of themselves. Physical movement, nutrition and sleep are the pillars of wellness, and often we forget to take care of our foundation. I believe we would be in a happier and meaningful state if we could learn to take care of our bodies better.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am active on social media at @pharmacistsguide and I have a blog, thepharmacistsguide.com. I love sharing my journey and helping others prioritize their wellness!

Thank you so much for these insights! This was very inspirational and we wish you continued success in your great work.


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