HIMSS News

A Pharmacist’s Pathway to Informatics

When I began my pharmacy school journey in 2001, I was not aware of the diversity in career paths I could choose as a medical professional. Like many other pharmacy students, I believed that I could pick one of two tracks after graduation to include working in a hospital or retail community pharmacy. My view quickly changed thanks to a mentor. I began an internship with a pharmacy owner at an independent pharmacy and through his mentorship, I was able to view another side of pharmacy that is equally as important as practice – policy, advocacy, and promoting the value of your profession. At the time, I did not realize how much my effort as a pharmacy student advocate would help shape my view of the pharmacy profession and just how much policy affects the way health care professionals practice.

New Opportunities in Technology

After graduating with my Doctorate in Pharmacy in 2007, I took a less traditional career path and accepted a fellowship at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS). I was hesitant about leaving full time pharmacy practice but was able to maintain my clinical skills with shifts at a local community pharmacy. After my fellowship, I accepted a position on staff as the Manager of Pharmacy Technology Standards and Policy, which was my introduction to the pharmacy technology and informatics world.  I was grateful to have this opportunity as a newly licensed pharmacist and through this role, I gained insight into the policy and technology world that I never imagined.

In my role at NACDS, I helped facilitate the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) e-prescribing standards efforts including a technical review and written analysis of the DEA New Proposed Rule Making on the electronic prescribing of controlled substances. I also analyzed the impact of the HITECH Act on the pharmacy profession and worked with state and federal government affairs teams to seek amendments to statutes and regulations that fostered pharmacy adoption and utilization of Health IT.

My love for students and education then took me on a detour in my career path where I served as Director of Student Affairs for the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) and subsequently as Assistant Professor and Assistant Director of Experiential Education at the Notre Dame of Maryland University School of Pharmacy. Through these roles, I developed my skills sets in communication and mentorship, which serve me well to this day. While I enjoyed working with students, I knew that at heart I wanted to continue my career in policy, specifically in Health IT.

The HIMSS Connection

I was introduced to HIMSS through my role at NACDS where I served as a liaison to organizations that focused on Health IT. From my work on HITECH and pharmacy standards, I appreciated HIMSS’ mission to transform healthcare through the best use of Health IT and was thrilled to join the HIMSS Government Relations staff in December, 2014. 

Currently, I serve as the Senior Manager of Federal Affairs and Pharmacy Initiatives where I am responsible for cultivating HIMSS’ relationships with federal government agencies, serve as the staff Liaison to the Federal Health Community, and provide pharmacy subject matter expertise. Pharmacy plays a vital role in the continuum of care and information from pharmacy systems is important to recognize as we look to optimize patient care through the use of information technology. I look forward to my continued role on the Government Relations team at HIMSS and utilizing my professional background to provide the pharmacy perspective in improving healthcare through information technology.

About the Contributor

Dr. Afton Wagner, Senior Manager of Federal Affairs and Pharmacy Initiatives for the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), is a health IT policy professional based in Arlington, VA.  She is responsible for cultivating HIMSS’ relationships with federal government agencies, such as the Department for of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), among others. Dr. Wagner serves as a policy convener to a community of federal employees to encourage innovation and elevate the quality of health and health IT policy. Additionally, she serves as HIMSS’ pharmacy subject matter expert and lead their initiative to engage the pharmacy community and increase awareness and support of pharmacy related topics.

Previously, Dr. Wagner served as Assistant Professor and Assistant Director of Experiential Education at the Notre Dame of Maryland University School of Pharmacy.  She is also a veteran of both the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) where she respectively served as Director of Student Affairs and Manager of Pharmacy Technology Standards and Policy. 

Dr. Wagner received her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Northeastern University Bouvé College of Health Sciences (2007) and completed an Executive Residency in Association Management at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (2008). She is an active member of the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), Lambda Kappa Sigma Professional Pharmacy Fraternity, National Council for Prescription Drug Programs (NCPDP), and the Virginia Pharmacists Association (VPhA).