Preceptor Kelsey Hennig learns from her students as they learn from her
Kelsey Hennig married her love of science and math with a career that would help others. Even though none of her family members are pharmacists, she learned at a young age how “incredible” people on a healthcare team can be as she watched providers care for her grandmother. It left her with a healthcare career in the back of her mind.
As a pharmacist now, she brings that level of care to her teaching and precepting.
Hennig earned her PharmD from Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
“In school, I thought, ‘Wow! This really did bring me to the right place,’” she said. “I loved the idea that I would learn throughout my career in a continuous process. And those answers always come back to help a patient at the end of the day.”
“It’s been a very long journey to get here, but a lot of different pieces plugged into the puzzle that made pharmacy a good fit for me,” she added.
Hennig completed two years of residency after earning her Doctor of Pharmacy degree, the first at St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center in Syracuse. “It was such an amazing experience. Residency isn’t for everyone, but I would go back and do it again because it helped me grow so much as a pharmacist.”
Her second residency was in ambulatory care through her alma mater.
“I had spent the previous year watching patients get admitted to the hospital, the ICU or come into the emergency department and I couldn’t help but think we could prevent all this, or a lot of it, by helping out and addressing things up front by optimizing therapies or even addressing the social needs of patients,” she said. “We often forget about this other dimension that plays into the recommendations we make. It’s not just about finding the right drug. It’s about finding the right drug for that person and making sure they’re able to access the right resources they need in order to do well on therapies.”
For Hennig, the ambulatory care residency really brought it back to talking to the patients before the emergency room visit or the hospital admission.
She worked in physician’s offices with the physicians and providers, assisting with the care of nephrology and rheumatology patients, and also worked in a non-physician associated practice where she collaborated with physicians but that had no physicians in the office. “Patients would come to see us,” she said. “It was really unique and we worked closely with community health workers and even community pharmacies and in a different capacity than usual.”
Hennig is now based out of Syracuse in internal medicine with St. Joseph’s Health, but it brought a new opportunity to her as she incorporates a teaching role into her time there. “I work with a teaching team. In Syracuse, they have a big family medicine residency through St. Joseph’s Health and the medical residents rotate in for about a month. When I round with the team, I try to contribute as much knowledge as I can about medications.”
As a pharmacist, Hennig likes the idea that everyone can get better. “There is no ‘You are perfect, you’ve learned it all.’ It’s always changing and that’s why, to me, interdisciplinary practice is so important because you have so many people who contribute knowledge to the puzzle that is healthcare to make the best recommendation for our patients.”
The internal medicine rotation is a hard one for pharmacy students because the breadth of knowledge is so large, Hennig said.
“You can see someone come in with both a cardiovascular and a pulmonary disease at the same time they have kidney disease or an infectious disease. Tying in the complex things one person might present with and figuring out how to do the best by them is both challenging and very rewarding.
“Understanding that there’s an intersectionality to many different disease states is certainly one of my goals for my students,” she said. “One of the things I tell students when they come into my rotation is that when you’re going through pharmacy school you have this unconscious competence — the idea that you don’t know what you don’t know.
“My job is to get my students to understand what they don’t know, because at the end of the day when they go into practice they need to feel really comfortable in saying ’I don’t know. Let me look that up.’ And then, the next time, the student can be consciously competent about that subject.”
Hennig doesn’t remember a specific light-bulb moment when she grasped that as a PharmD student herself, but there were moments along way that changed how she thought about things.
“My P4 year, when I was in a rotation in a nephrology clinic, we were working up patients day in and day out,” she said. “You can really get lost in a process, writing things down and not understanding what it truly means, but you would work up the patients and then you would go see them with the nephrologist. Watching that change from a paper of facts written down, about someone I didn’t know, into this person in a room that I got to have a conversation with and talk to about their medications, was incredibly impactful.
“Every decision you make, there’s a person behind it. It’s not just that paper or electronic health record. It is a person and each person has incredibly complex things going on in their lives besides just what you’re there to see them for. That had a huge impact on me,” she said.
Hennig also had mentors, and a preceptor who made a difference for her during her first residency.
“I remember struggling with decision making. How do you figure out what is the best decision to make? He always used to urge me about what else do you want to know?” Hennig said. “He instilled in me the idea of getting curious about the entire picture and to try to figure out what I need to know to make the best decision at the end of the day. It wasn’t just about finding the right things in the chart, it was really about talking to people, the providers, to the team and to the patients and figuring out how to balance those ideas and the different things that people need.
“I had a lot of different moments along the way and it shaped who I am as a pharmacist, as a preceptor, as a teacher. And I had a lot of incredible mentors walking me through the process.”
Hennig also sets a goal for her students their first day with her: always do better than the day before. “It’s an incredible process to watch the students go from ‘I just want to observe, this is a lot, this is overwhelming’ to ‘I can’t wait to do this again. I want to go to rounds the next day because I want to find an intervention and want to talk about it in rounds with the medical residents and the attendings.’
“At the end of the day as a preceptor, I learn as much from my students as they learn from me. Each student is different and each student teaches you to think and teach differently. It’s been a joy to work with the students I’ve had so far.”