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On this special episode of OnScript with NHA, we celebrate Pharmacy Technician’s Day by highlighting technician Susan Mumme, CPhT. Susan is the Pharmacy Purchasing Coordinator at Ochsner Medical Center – Hancock, and was recommended to us for an interview by a former pharmacy supervisor.  During this episode, we talk about how Susan got started in her pharmacy career, what changes over the past 20 years have been most impactful to her as a pharmacy technician, and find out what it was like taking care of her patients while taking a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina. 

Happy Pharmacy Technician’s day to all those pharmacy technicians taking care of their patients, directly or indirectly.  Your dedication to safety and quality throughout the entirety of the medication use process is not only necessary, but also appreciated.  Whether you’re behind the counter, mixing IVs in the hospital basement, or even teaching the next generation of pharmacy technician, we celebrate you and all you bring to the field of healthcare!  

Read the full transcript

Jeremy Sasser:
Pharmacy Podcast Nation, welcome. This is your host, Jeremy Sasser for On Script, the only podcast on the Pharmacy Podcast Network dedicated to the pharmacy technician workforce, their issues, their stories, their frustrations, we all have it come out on this show. Today I am very privileged to have a guest with me for Pharmacy Technicians Day. We really wanted to have somebody recommended to us from a coworker, a peer, a member of the community that just goes above and beyond and boy did our listeners deliver. Today I am fortunate enough to have technicians, Susan Mumme with me from Mississippi. Susan was recommended by a former coworker to be on our podcast today. And before we get into talking to Susan, I just want to go ahead and read verbatim what Theresa had to say about Susan.

Theresa says, Susan is a very independent technician. She stayed during hurricane Katrina and helped bring Hancock Medical Center back to life after the whole town lost their homes and work. Even though she came back to a slab and had nowhere to go, she worked tirelessly many hours and never complained. She now has helped make the transition from Hancock hospital to the new Ochsner medical center. She learns fast and takes the initiative to learn new and challenging jobs. She is very much a team player and strives to do her best. I've worked with her in the past and she is an asset no matter where she works. Her first concern is patient care and safety of everyone. I think she should be nominated as I think it is time for her to shine as she never gets the recognition she so deserved.

Wow. Susan, you have a fan in Theresa.

Susan Mumme:
I didn't know what she said but that is wonderful. I'm flattered.

Jeremy Sasser:
Yes, I mean it doesn't get any better than that. And you're just a real exemplary, well an example of what many technicians, a lot of technicians don't get credit for. So Susan Mummey, thank you so much for joining me on this episode of On Script for Pharmacy Technicians Day.

Susan Mumme:
Oh, thank you for having me, Jeremy. I appreciate this.

Jeremy Sasser:
So let's start off. Can you just kind of give me a background on your training, how you came to the position that you're in and kind of your background working as a pharmacy technician.

Susan Mumme:
Yes. I started, it was roughly about 20 years ago, I was working for a large corporation in their general merchandising area and I was talking to a friend and she said that they needed help in the pharmacy department. I thought, well, I don't know anything about that and she just made it sound like it was great and it was fun. And I thought, well, okay. So I put in the transfer and I transferred over to the pharmacy. And 20 years ago you didn't really have technicians in the pharmacy, we were there, but we were never call technicians, we were just the sales clerk and whenever the pharmacist would go out to lunch, we always had two pharmacists and one would go to lunch, I thought, well, I'm going to go learn how to type these prescriptions. And so that's how it all began.

Susan Mumme:
Whenever for my hour, it was really two hours a day because they'd each take about an hour for lunch and I would go back there, I learned how to read the prescriptions, I learned what the drugs were, I learned how to input the SIGs and it just kept moving forward, just picking up momentum from there. Well then one day we get an email from the corporate office saying that anybody that's working in the pharmacist pharmacy in the back needs to be certified. So the pharmacist is like, "Do you want to go take the test?" And I thought, well I don't really know if I know enough, but yeah, I'll try it because I hadn't been doing it that long. And I went and I didn't tell anybody, I had gotten a few books together and didn't tell anybody I was gone. And I went one Saturday over to the community college and sat and took the test and I thought, Oh goodness I failed that. I didn't feel like I knew anything.

And because a lot of the questions on there were hospital related and I knew nothing about hospital at that time. And low and behold, I get a certificate in the mail that says I'm certified now. So it was a changing day for me. At that point in time I thought, well, I don't really know any more, so what am I going to do with this certificate? And then I had one of our PRN pharmacist had come along and she's like, "We need help at the hospital. Would you consider coming to the hospital?" And my first thought was, oh no, I don't do that well with sick patients and I just knew I was going to have to go in the patient's room and see everything like nurses see. And she goes, "Oh no, no, it's nothing like that." And I was like, okay.

So I went there PRN at first just to get my feet in the water and see how I like it. And I enjoyed it. It was different, it was very different, but it was also very challenging because drugs are different in the retail world. People don't realize that but you've got a totally different set of drugs it seems like. And-

Jeremy Sasser:
No, sorry I don't want to interrupt, but how long ago did you start? You said about 20 years ago.

Susan Mumme:
20 years. Yeah.

Jeremy Sasser:
Okay. Yeah. That was back in the day when you showed up with a pencil to take the exam and then filled in the bubbles and waited, I think had to wait six weeks or something like that.

Susan Mumme:
Yes. And it was ... well I'd gone back to the large corporation I was working for and I said, "Well here you go." I said, "I passed." And she's like, she got so excited about it and so that kind of got the ball rolling because I was the first certified technician at our store. Nobody else was even interested in taking it or not even really interested in that part of it, just learning about the drugs and learning just how they work and what they do. They were more inclined to just give the patients their meds and stuff. So that's how it started there. And then-

Jeremy Sasser:
Sounds like somewhat serendipitously, it started for you. It kind of in a very similar fashion, the same thing happened to me and it does make me pause and wonder just how often technicians who are really great at their job, how often it is that the beginning of that just has to do with somebody else working in a different part of a store, in the pharmacy recruiting somebody, they see something in somebody and it just takes off from there. I mean I've made a whole career out of it and I thought I was just getting a high school job at the time.

Susan Mumme:
Yeah, absolutely. Because when I moved over [inaudible 00:08:22] PRN at the hospital, we had a new director come in and I only worked with her maybe once or twice a week. If she was there and she always went home early as the director and there was just something about it and she goes, for some reason she always called me Lou, I don't know why, but she always said, "Lou, I want you to come work for me full time." And I was like, "Oh, I don't know about that now." And so I was like, okay. And she goes, "I want you to leave your other job and I want to come here." And I thought long and hard about it. And I thought, well, I really liked what I was doing at the hospital level, I missed the patients when I left the retail world because you don't see the patients as much in the hospital. And so I took the challenge and I moved on over and went to the hospital full time and haven't, other than-

Jeremy Sasser:
And you've been 100% hospitals since then, is that correct?

Susan Mumme:
Yes, yes.

Jeremy Sasser:
Well you know pharmacies changed, a lot, in that period of time.

Susan Mumme:
Yeah.

Jeremy Sasser:
What do you think in your broad experience and you having retail experience as well as hospital, what is the biggest change that's been most impactful to you as a technician, would you say, over the past 20 years?

Susan Mumme:
For me, impactful is the drug shortages. I've never dealt with so many drug shortages and some of the drug shortages, it's like how can something ... cardiac meds, it's like how do these things go on back order and you can't get them. And you can't get them for months and months and it's such a challenge because at my job now I'm the purchasing coordinator for pharmacy. And so we service the whole hospital and we also service the clinics, our outlying clinics and stuff and that'd be the most challenging thing for me, for sure.

Jeremy Sasser:
Yeah. And it really makes you have to think critically and kind of have a backup plan in mind. And I know that hospital even too, is you're a little bit more restricted to whatever formulary a P and T committee typically has put in place for the hospital. I'm sure there's work arounds for that. But are you finding that because of drug shortages, are you guys having to compound, do more sterile compounding for IB medications that may be on back order?

Susan Mumme:
Not at this time, no. Because about a year and a half ago we merged with a larger system out of Louisiana and being a part of the system and not being our little independent community hospital, opens up more channels for it, so I can sometimes put out a word, "Does anybody have any D50 syringes that we can borrow?" And nine out of 10 times somebody will be like, "Oh yeah, we have those." And if it's just something that's totally, we can't get it, nobody can get it, usually the system will step in and they'll just have to rework the whole plan of action. No we don't really have to compound anything as far as that goes. Now we did start, which is kind of interesting for us, we started a chemotherapy program at the beginning of the year and that's a whole new world of drugs too.

I'm still learning a lot about that. I don't even know how to describe it. It's heartwarming to me because just seeing our patients and interacting with our patients and just being there for our patients and they're special needs and just wanting to do everything you possibly can. It's like, Oh, let's get this down there kind of quickly, in case they're not feeling well or something. And just the whole new, just learning about all these new drugs that we've never dealt with there. We'd done chemo at our hospital before hurricane Katrina, but we didn't after, because we had lost so much after the fact. And so we started it up when we became, merged with this bigger company.

And so it's been interesting. It's been tough at times because you do get drug shortages and that field too but we always managed to make do, I don't know, somebody's looking out for us, that's for sure. It's a constant on the phone, just checking with different vendors and just trying to get what you can get and getting it in there.

Jeremy Sasser:
One of the hallmark traits that everybody loves to see in technicians is, I mean there are many but initiative and critical thinking and just soft skills in general seems to be at times in our workforce, a pain point. But also oftentimes individuals like yourself come forward and elucidate for those who may not know just kind of the day to day problem solving that has to occur to make any pharmacy operate and really to what links you go to for your patients and ensuring your patient safety and all through the medication use process, it's just absolutely amazing. And speaking of working through problems and being there for your patients, can you talk to me about September of 2005, hurricane Katrina? What did you have to go through at that point to take care of your patients?

Susan Mumme:
Wow. Well we took a direct hit in Bay St Louis, Mississippi, right there on the Gulf coast. It was a cat five, came straight for us, hit us head on. We normally always put our patients on the first floor, our employees slept on the second floor. And I can remember the pharmacist stayed with for that one and she said, "We need to get our stuff and we're going to move the patients to the second floor." And I was like, okay. And so I went down to get my luggage and stuff and I looked out the window and I could literally see why caps coming up the road. And where our hospital is, it's not a flood zone, there's no water around us per se. And I thought, oh, this isn't good. So we get our stuff. We come up, we went downstairs to help the patients.

We had to get them up the stairs and stuff. And I can remember this one little old lady and her husband was the patient, but the hospital allowed her to stay with him and it's like, "Come on, we've got to get you up the stairs." "Oh honey, I can't, I can't." I said, "Come on, just hold on, let's go." And so me and another person got her up the stairs, got her comfortable with her husband, went down there to get a few more and by then the water was almost knee deep. And we're down there and I thought, we better check out of the water because it's about to hit the electrical sockets and we're all going to get fried. And we still had power at that time, we got all our patients up to the second floor, everybody and the power, that was it, it had hit us then and knocked everything.

And so the pharmacist and I were up and down the stairs a good bit because we were on the third floor. They're all on the second floor. And for some reason we left all their IV antibiotics on the counter on the first floor and we had to go down, back down to the first floor and get it. So it was myself and two of the maintenance men went with me to help me get everything that we needed and we're go on down this back hall and it's dark. It reminded me of the Titanic or something with the water coming in and a sheet got wrapped around my ankle and I didn't know what it was and started screaming and they're like, "You're okay. You're okay." So we make it to the med room, we get what we need. And then we head back upstairs and I'm talking to my friend's husband, we still had cell phone usage and he says, because it's kind of calmer right now.

And he says, "Oh, that's because the eye's over you." And he told me how many minutes. And he says, "It's going to start back up and then the water's going to start leaving." And to the T, the water started leaving. We had our patients, I mean, that second floor was our pediatric postsurgical area. There wasn't enough room for everybody, so we had them pretty much lined up in the lobby area, in their beds, in a wheelchair, whatever we could do with them to just keep them out of harm's way. And we all kind of rode it right there and then after the eye passed again and the water left us and everything, that's when the adrenaline really hit because that's when we just realized, it's like, oh this isn't good.

But looking out the window on that day, later on in the afternoon, it was the prettiest blue sky, prettiest breeze and it was just whatever we had to do to take care of the patients. We had lost everything on the first floor. All of our automated dispensing machines went under. We had one on each side, but we really had no power to run them. And like I said, it was just me and that pharmacist, bless her heart and we rode it out. Yeah.

Jeremy Sasser:
Wow, wow. Not only was it a challenge obviously at the hospital, it came at also great personal expense to yourself.
Susan Mumme:
Yeah. Everybody in our department except for one person, we all lost our homes. We lost everything. I can remember we had a relief pharmacist that somehow made it in and I was with him for a little bit and we were taking, the people just started showing up at the hospital that had stayed in this area and they were over and we were taking them, driving them over there in his car to the high school because everybody else's car had going under. And we were driving them and it was just too much. It was just, I don't know, it was the saddest thing ever and not really knowing, we knew what happened but we didn't really know what happened, the devastation. Because I'm just looking out a window from the third floor and I still see trees and yeah, all the cars are moved but you didn't realize how much devastation.

And we needed to get some more antibiotics because so many people were showing up. So the police department had given us the authority to go into a local drug store and they told us, I think the terminology, had the 10, 23 to come and get with what we need. Well when we did that, we ended up having to take all of the drugs with us. No problem, we toted and toted and they stayed there and watched us take them all. And it was like just running them up and down the stairs, but we got what we needed and sent it to the ER and took the other drugs and locked them upstairs in the pharmacy with us. And I can remember him saying, because the area I lived in at that point was called Cedar Point and I remember him saying, "Oh it looks like a bomb went off there."

And I thought, I'd always left for hurricanes and always came back and always had a house and no damage. So I thought, well my house is going to be there. Well I stayed at the hospital a few more days. Most of the patients, well all of our patients had left, by this point, AMR had come and got some or they were flying them out, whatever they could do to get them to another facility. And I ended up just heading out with a friend that had stayed across the highway at her mom's and they let me catch a ride with them out of town. And it was actually my mom and my daughter and that was a hard thing too, not knowing where my daughter was. She was about 16, 17 and it's like, I just needed to know that they were okay.

I knew there were fine, they had left town, but I'd lost track, I lost communication with them, couldn't get in touch with them. And my friend Teresa was actually able to get in touch with my daughter through her computer, which I've kept telling her, "No, don't bring the computer. You don't have room in the car for it. Just get what you need and you all get out." Because everybody went to bed Saturday night thinking, oh well this storm's not coming. And I got a call about five o'clock that Sunday morning from Teresa's husband and said, "Tell your mom to get Christina. They need to get out of town." And I was like, okay. And I called my mom right away and she's like, and he's the one where if he tells you to leave town, you leave town. If he says, "Oh, it's not going to do anything, we're staying." We're staying.

And as soon as I told her, she packed her stuff up and we got everything together and they left and she insisted on bringing that computer for some reason. And thank God she did because that's how her and Teresa were communicating. Well, when I left town with my friend, I was just in the car, I would call, I would just hit redial and kept calling, well I was finally able to get in touch with Teresa first and she told me that they were in Florida at that time and everybody was fine. And I was like, oh my, so that was a load. And they had come back from Mississippi because it was no communication still per se. So my mom and Chris had come back over here and she had called me and I forget where I was even at at that point because I just ended up with Teresa and her husband Greg, and I don't even remember where I was.

And my mom was in front of my house and she goes, "Well, you have nothing left." She goes, "I can see your dining room table. I can see Chris's bed." And I was like, oh, okay. And I still didn't believe it until we made it back down there and I actually drove down, well you couldn't even drive down the street. But I knew it was my street because of there was a house that somebody had just recently built and it was still somewhat there. And I thought, this is my street, this has to be my street. And then I could see, because I put this pretty yellow siding up the summer before and I saw my pretty yellow siding, I found my pretty yellow siding in a lot of peoples yards. And that was the big joke after Katrina, it's like, "Could you keep your house in your yard next time."

Nothing that was yours was where it was when you left. I would go over there and sit on my slab basically in somebody else's living room it seemed like because it wasn't mine and just sit there and cry most days but they were very, very bad times, but they were all the best of times. I mean, it just brought everybody together, it brought the community together, it brought families together. I ended up living in Teresa and Greg's backyard in my FEMA trailer because they wouldn't let me put my trailer on my property because there was just so much devastation in that area.

Jeremy Sasser:
That's absolutely incredible. Wow. I am-

Susan:
Yeah, there was nobody left back there.

Jeremy Sasser:
Well that community is certainly fortunate that they had you willing to stay and take care of those patients at a hospital. That's just another testament to the dedication that you as a technician displayed, to stay back and take care of your neighbors, I mean that's just absolutely amazing. And it's so hard for those of us who only saw the devastation through a camera lens, to fathom. But when you are dealing directly with those patients who have lost everything, it really brings it into your own home atmosphere, whatever. Because I was fortunate enough myself to volunteer all the way in Tucson, Arizona, I was volunteering with the University of Arizona, School of Pharmacy, to help patients that were displaced and were staying at the Tucson Convention Center.

Jeremy Sasser:
Helping them identify whatever medications they had, making sure that we were working with pharmacists and physicians to get them new prescriptions so that they didn't go without. I mean, I think the human cost in terms of managing chronic diseases and things like that, I think that aspect is often lost when we see a natural disaster like this. But you don't stop having type two diabetes because of hurricane Kate. You don't stop having a central primary hypertension or anything and you still need to maintain those chronic diseases. And I could just see the heartbreak and just listening to them tell stories and cry and just being there for them. I mean, even from thousands of miles away, it was just unbelievable.

Susan Mumme:
Yes, absolutely. And for the longest ... I don't think people really even knew we still existed right there for a little bit. And then as time went on and the National Guard had come in and then we had basically a tent hospital put out in front of our hospital because our first floor was pretty much wiped out. We had no surgery area, no ER, I mean one of our surgeons was trying to suture somebody with a flashlight in the dark, just doing what we could to help people because we were, I guess you could say, like a hub that people didn't know where to go at that point in time. And they just all kind of flocked to the hospital and we just did the best we could. And I mean we didn't really have any resources, you can, like you said, you can never prepare enough.

You think, oh well we've got enough insulin, we'll be without power but we always have generators but even the generators went underwater. Eventually the government started sending in supplies, we got a lot, you think, oh well I've got hundreds of doses of tetanus diphtheria, no, you need almost thousands of doses of tetanus diptheria when something like that comes to the area because you don't think about getting your tetanus shot in unless you're in something like that. And then just coming back to the area, it's like you really need to get your tetanus shot before anybody. And so that was another big thing. And like you said, the insulin, we didn't have enough insulin to give to everybody. We couldn't take care of it. And most of the pharmacies here had gone underwater. And the government, I do remember they had sent in a lot of insulin, so then we were able to help people out more. And like you said, there was no phone lines and people had ... yeah you take your medicine with you but it was-

Jeremy Sasser:
Oh sure, it was damaged, unrecognizable. I mean, medications are meant to dissolve as soon as they get wet. We were just getting sandwich bags with five different medications in it, all of which were actively dissolving. It was certainly an eyeopening experience for me. But I'm glad to have you on here because I think that as pharmacy technicians and just pharmacists, pharmacy personnel in general and it's funny to say sometimes how busy it is, hectic, crazy, we all share some crazy stories. But at the same time, for those listeners out there who may be studying to take a certification exam, maybe training, maybe they've only been in a pharmacy environment for a year or two, what do you say to them? What do you recommend to them as they go through their career? And what do you recommend, how do you recommend they get through those days that just, you swear you're not going to come back. What would you say to them?

Susan Mumme:
My biggest thing is if you're not doing it for your own personal self, think about the people you can help and the gratification that you get that at the end of the day your patient, wherever, you made a difference in their life by, oh my goodness, I was able to help obtain that drug or I was able to mix that drug for that patient. And I don't know, for me it's just more or less for the patient at this point. I just love thinking about the patients, especially when you have a patient in ICU and it's kind of hit and miss and then a week or so goes by and then you see that patient walking in the hall and you thought, I did something to help that patient that's walking in the hall.

Because we all know that, I don't feel like we really get the recognition we should and nurses are utmost the most important things but pharmacy is a pretty important job at a hospital or anywhere. And just knowing that you made a difference and hey, even if like, oh, I delivered the meds that that patient got that day that helped them to turn around, their condition turned around. And just knowing that you went home that day and it's not always ...

Jeremy Sasser:
It takes a team and often, even inter professionally the relationship across different professions, pharmacists to physicians, nurses to technicians, pharmacists to nurses, et cetera. It's not always fantastic, but we do have to remember that it takes a team and everybody has a role and it's really that team based approach that is going to improve outcomes and just improve the level of quality of care that these patients are receiving.

Susan Mumme:
Exactly, yeah.

Jeremy Sasser:
The fact that you embrace that, I mean that says…


Susan Mumme:
Yes, yes. And everybody, whether it be a retail facility or a hospital facility, everybody, you might think, oh, I didn't do anything, but at the end of the day you did make a difference in someone's life.

Jeremy Sasser:
Yes, absolutely. Well, Susan, thank you so much for joining me on this episode. I'm so glad that Theresa sent in her recommendation for you and thank you to everyone who responded to our drug topics request for recommendations of technicians. We received many other wonderful recommendations. I wish I could have every single one of you on the podcast, but just know how important a role the technician plays in supporting pharmacists, the pharmacy, medication use process, medical field. It's an ever evolving role. There's been a lot of changes, but one thing remains true, remains the same, it's extremely important that we have technicians doing the work they do, so thank you so much Susan.

Susan Mumme:
Thank you.

Jeremy Sasser:
All right listeners, as I wrap up this episode, that was Susan Mumme, again, she's a certified pharmacy technician with Ochsner Medical Center in Mississippi. Absolutely amazing story of facing adversity, getting through quite a harrowing experience and taking care of her patients. For those of you who are new to the On Script podcast, if you liked this episode, don't forget to listen to our other episodes. You can find those at nhanow.com/learning-leading. That's our blog there at NHA, and go over to the on demand tab and you'll find all of our podcasts in one place. But until you guys hear me again, I wish you all the best and happy Pharmacy Technicians Day 2019. Thank you everyone for all you do.

Susan:
Thank you, Jeremy.

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