HOPA member Jordyn Paige Higgins, PharmD, BCOP is a Thoracic Oncology Clinical Pharmacy Specialist at Emory Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta, Georgia. In addition, she is a member of the National Student Committee for HOPA.
Please describe your current position and the types of patients you see in clinical practice.
I am a Thoracic Oncology Clinical Pharmacy Specialist at Emory Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta, GA. I practice under a collaborative practice agreement in a lung cancer clinic where I order anticancer therapies and supportive medications, educate patients on anticancer therapies, screen medications for safety and efficacy, monitor patients on active treatment, and recommend dose modifications and supportive treatments, when necessary. Although I primarily treat patients with non-small cell and small cell lung cancer, I also see patients with neuroendocrine tumors, thymomas/thymic carcinomas, and head and neck cancers.
Please tell us about your research interests and the potential impact of your research on patient care.
My current research interests include the optimization of anticancer treatments for my patients. Recently, the results of my PGY-2 oncology residency project were published regarding the use of immunotherapy in patients with preexisting autoimmune disorders. Our data supported the notion that patients with preexisting autoimmune disorders can safely receive immunotherapy treatments, without a significant increase in immune-related toxicities.
I am working to support trainee research projects. I am involved in case reports regarding secondary angiosarcoma of the breast and taxane-induced pneumonitis, medical chart reviews concerning the tolerability of lenvatinib/pembrolizumab in endometrial cell carcinoma, and the efficacy of direct oral anticoagulants in combination with second-generation antiandrogens.
In alignment with my new role, we are hoping to publish a review article on targeted therapy updates in non-small cell lung cancer. The goal of this article is to provide insights into the data behind and our experience with these agents to lung cancer treatment decisions at an academic medical center and community practice sites.
Tell us a little bit about your outreach efforts and where your passion for this work comes from.
Currently, I serve on committees for HOPA and ASHP. I have been involved in pharmacy organizations since I was a pharmacy student. As a new practitioner, I think it is important to stay actively involved with these organizations to make connections with other pharmacists throughout the nation, learn and grow within your current practice, and help support the organization’s strategic plan.
I am currently an active member of the National Student Committee for HOPA this year. I am passionate about interested students having the ability to get involved with hematology and oncology early in their careers. Our group is working on expanding student member opportunities within HOPA.
I also serve as the Chair of the Clinical Practice Advisory Group of the New Practitioners Forum for ASHP. I am most excited about the opportunity to lead the group as they develop clinical and professional practice resources for our members.
What is one of the proudest moments of your career?
One of the proudest moments in my career was redeveloping the oncology course in my previous faculty role at a local college of pharmacy. I spent a lot of time and effort redesigning the syllabus and lectures to make learning the complex and vast field of oncology more manageable for third-year pharmacy students. In addition to focusing on more generalized cancer treatment and supportive care topics, I incorporated more active learning in the form of patient cases, assessment questions, and team-based learning activities. The feedback from the students was overwhelmingly positive. It was extremely rewarding to spark oncology interest in so many students and to help those who wish to pursue an alternative pathway have a basic understanding when taking care of oncology patients.
What advice would you offer to other oncology pharmacists who are either just beginning their career or expanding their role?
My advice to other oncology pharmacists who are either just beginning their career or expanding their roles is to first be an observer. When establishing yourself at a new practice site, it is important to understand the current processes before jumping to make big changes. Slowly start to insert yourself in conversations regarding anticancer treatment, gently offer your opinion, and seek to understand when making recommendations. Over time, this will help to build trust amongst you and your colleagues.
I also recommend that you find a mentor or mentors to help guide you personally and professionally throughout this transition. It is important to recognize that despite all the training you have had so far, there is still so much to learn in your new role. Having someone to help you with clinical treatment decisions, deciding what projects to pursue, and how to advance in your career (e.g. research, precepting) is key.
As a newer practitioner, what advice would you offer to other oncology trainees who are just beginning their career? My advice to oncology trainees is to possess an open mind and willingness to learn. There are many pathways within oncology you may way to pursue such as focusing on solid or liquid tumors, inpatient or outpatient practice, and community oncology or subspecializing. There are also oncology opportunities in the areas of industry, academia, and research. I would encourage you have an open mind on each of your rotations as you might surprise yourself and realize you have an interest that you did not think you had before. Also, there is something to learn from each rotation and you may see many of the same anticancer treatments utilized in multiple disease states.
Being eager to learn and maintaining a positive outlook will make it more rewarding for your preceptors and may open the door to additional learning and career opportunities. You will also enjoy your time as a trainee more. Staying present and taking mindful walks really helped me as a trainee and can help you feel more refreshed and able to refocus your efforts.