Being able to leverage your career to positively impact the lives of others isn’t easy. In many cases, it’s a nearly impossible task. However, for UCI School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Professor Dr. Keri Hurley-Kim, it is a daily reality.
Dr. Hurley practices as an ambulatory care pharmacist in addition to being an educator at UCI. She has been a pharmacy educator since 2014 and has worked with PharmD students and residents at all levels of didactic and clinical education.
“I think educating the next generation of pharmacists to help create novel and expanded positions in primary care and other clinical practices – to not be satisfied with simply filling prescriptions – will be the key to moving the profession forward,” Dr. Hurley said.
Originally interested in studying kinesiology and physical therapy, Dr. Hurley made a career shift early on in her journey due to the desire to be engaged in her local communities. Her passions specifically lie in the areas of immunizations, public health, health equity and increasing access in primary care for communities and groups that are currently underserved. Dr. Hurley’s main reason for pursuing pharmacy is that pharmacists serve communities by caring for patients – something she is grateful to be able to do every day of her career.
“What really made a difference for me was the idea that pharmacists are both highly trained medication experts, but also so accessible and integrated into communities,” Dr. Hurley said.
“Most people in the U.S. live within five miles of a pharmacy and can talk to a pharmacist with no appointment, at no cost, sometimes 24 hours a day. We tend to see our patients frequently and often have long-term relationships with them. No other medical provider supports patients and communities in quite the same way.”
With her work at a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), Dr. Hurley cares for many patients who are uninsured or underinsured, with about 50% of her patients not having adequate health insurance. She believes that there is a lot of opportunity for pharmacists to meaningfully contribute to primary care in a team-based, collaborative type of model that impacts not only those patients but also their communities. Her drive to contribute to the field comes from working with her patients and learning about their stories.
“My biggest sources of inspiration are my patients,” Dr. Hurley shared. “I work with many patients who do not have legal status in the U.S., face financial barriers, and/or have very difficult life histories, but they continue to be invested in their health and overcome complex medical issues.”
The passion for service does not stop there. In addition to her work in a FQHC and being a SPPS faculty at UCI, Dr. Hurley is the current vice-chair on the steering committee for the Immunization Coalition of Los Angeles County (ICLAC). Here, she serves in an advisory and program planning capacity and is a part of the team that is responsible for collaborating with various public health organizations in Los Angeles County.
“I was recruited by ICLAC and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) as a pharmacist member of the steering committee because of the heavy involvement of pharmacists in immunization efforts in LA,” she said. “I do work with other professional organizations as well, but ICLAC gives me the unique opportunity to serve in my own community and to bridge my backgrounds in pharmacy and public health.”
ICLAC’s primary mission is to provide greater access to the medically recommended immunizations for all residents of LA County, especially among groups at highest risk for vaccine-preventable diseases. Sample ICLAC projects that Dr. Hurley is currently a part of include communication around Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy as well as an influenza immunization campaign targeted toward adult day health centers.
While the past year has affected her practice and patients unlike any other year prior and has forced pharmacists in all settings to adapt in new roles and new ways of practice (e.g., offering Covid-19 testing, running mobile vaccination clinics at nursing homes, seeing patients via telemedicine), Dr. Hurley does see one primary “bright side” coming out of the pandemic.
“One very positive thing that could come out of this profession-wide effort is the federal designation for pharmacists as healthcare providers,” said Dr. Hurley. “There is bipartisan legislation in the House and Senate currently and would allow pharmacists to be reimbursed more broadly for ‘cognitive services’ (i.e., clinical services that do not involve dispensing medications). This type of legislation has been introduced a number of times in past years, but the hope is that pharmacists have been so visible and vital during the pandemic as front-line providers it will be a bigger priority this time.”
Recently named an “Outstanding Reviewer” by the Journal of the American Pharmacists’ Association for her valuable peer-review contributions in the field, Dr. Hurley decided to join the UCI School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences due to the robust opportunities for research that would be available to her while still being able to teach and practice.
“Academia gives me the opportunity to be more heavily involved in research, professional organizations and public health,” Dr. Hurley said.
Some of her most prized teaching moments are when she sees her students growing and thriving in clinical rotation, as it demonstrates the importance of applicable practice – being able to go beyond coursework to effectively interact with patients and perform critical thinking skills that are essential for clinical practice.
Her biggest piece of advice for pharmacy students and new residents is to be flexible and open to unexpected career opportunities throughout their individual journeys, keeping their priorities and main goals at the forefront of all decisions they make.