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ETSU pharmacy professor makes cover of national magazine

June 2nd, 2014 9:30 am by Contributed to the Press

ETSU pharmacy professor makes cover of national magazine

A professor at East Tennessee State University’s Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy has been featured in back-to-back issues of the magazine Pharmacy Today, a publication of the American Pharmacists Association.

In the April issue, Sarah Melton was the subject of the magazine’s “Provider Status Profile.” For the May issue, she is featured in the cover story, “Moving Mountains: Managing Patients with Psychiatric Disorders,” and a color photograph, taken by ETSU’s Larry Smith, graces the magazine’s cover.

In that story, writer Sonya Collins describes how Melton has “built her career around caring for patients with mental illness and opioid addiction in the Appalachian region of Virginia and Tennessee.”

An associate professor of pharmacy practice, Melton is a psychiatric pharmacist, a career path she chose after she did a rotation in psychiatry while working on her doctorate in pharmacy at the Medical College of Virginia. She has been board-certified in the field since 1996 and says she was one of the first in the country. Now, she estimates, she is among some 700 psychiatric pharmacists nationwide.

A native of Riner, Va., Melton has seen, firsthand, the effects of the extremely high rates of prescription drug abuse and overdose in Appalachia, and she has dedicated a career to fighting those conditions. She splits her time between a clinic called HighPower in Lebanon, Va., and ETSU’s Johnson City Community Health Center, a new operation run by nurse practitioners.

The May Pharmacy Today article describes a referral system Melton developed, whereby nurses who identify mental health needs in patients refer them to Melton. She meets with each patient for an hour and then schedules a 30-minute follow-up, all the while staying in close communication with the nurse practitioner to manage the patient’s medications. In addition, Melton works with a counselor who does psychotherapy, often alleviating the need for more costly visits with a psychiatrist.

Consistent with the mission of the ETSU Academic Health Sciences Center, Melton’s work is interdisciplinary and interprofessional. Pharmacy students rotate with her at the Johnson City Community Health Center, a place of constant activity staffed with three interpreters to serve the large number of Hispanic patients.

“This center presents a very unique opportunity that most students would not otherwise get to witness,” said Melton said who sees 13 patients between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on a typical day.

The fast pace of the center suits Sarah Melton fine. As the Pharmacy Today article points out, she shares her wealth of knowledge with fellow practitioners through continuing education programs that have reached more than 2,500 providers.

The hardest part of her work, she tells Collins, is dealing with addicted pregnant women and, later, their babies, who are born dependent on prescription drugs.

The April Pharmacy Today article deals with a subject that has motivated Melton and many other pharmacists to become politically active. She points out that pharmacists are not recognized as health care providers under Medicare and therefore cannot bill insurance companies at a level that is equal to the complexity and the quality of care they provide. By making the case with organizations like the pharmacists associations in Tennessee and Virginia, Melton hopes to see a day when pharmacists are recognized as equal members of the health care team.

And her voice is being heard on the national level. 

After the Pharmacy Today coverage, she received a letter from Scott F. Giberson, acting U.S. Deputy Surgeon General, who wrote: “In a time of healthcare change, it is critical that pharmacists in all health care settings maximize their skills and take an active role to be essential members of the health care team. By sharing your story, you have also provided fellow pharmacists with the impetus to improve the way they practice pharmacy.”

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