by Jennifer Delliskave

Cancer treatment is rapidly advancing, with new therapies and medications emerging all the time. Managing the medication regimen for cancer patients has become increasingly complex. Clinical oncology pharmacists play a crucial role in cancer care, and at the Idaho Cancer Clinic at EIRMC, this role is filled by Dr. Leslie Harris.

Most people have never heard of a Board-Certified Clinical Oncology Pharmacist, or BCOP for short. BCOPs are not like retail pharmacists, those friendly faces behind the counter at a neighborhood or grocery store pharmacy.

Instead, they work exclusively at a hospital or cancer treatment clinic as experts in the safe and effective use of drugs to treat cancer. They are an integral part of a multidisciplinary cancer treatment team.

“I know about cancer types, treatment regimens, and supportive patient care,” Dr. Harris explains. “So, if we are working with a breast cancer patient, for instance, I understand what the oncologists are talking about, I know what the patient will need, and I’m able to work with the oncology team to help develop the best care plan.”

Dr. Harris works directly with EIRMC’s cancer patients to conduct thorough reviews of their medication lists to identify any potential drug interactions. She also educates them prior to beginning an oncology medication regimen, believing that close, personal contact is one of the most important parts of her job.

“I know it sounds a little corny, but when I meet with a patient for the first time, my goal is to get them to smile at least once while we talk,” says Dr. Harris. “They’ve usually heard about some side effects of the medications, and they’re scared. I give them a treatment calendar and simple handouts that explain their regimen. More importantly, I go through everything with them because it can be overwhelming. I always ask myself ‘If this were my 93-year-old grandmother, would she understand what I’m saying?’

“I assure them that we have a fantastic team, that we are in their corner, and that we want the best for them. I take time and encourage them to ask questions. In some small way, I want to ease their fears, encourage them, and give them a feeling of power over their cancer.”

Patient safety is another responsibility shared by BCOPs. As Dr. Harris explains, “Safety is our biggest concern. Though I write the order for the patient, the oncologists verify it and check the protocols. Then the nurses check it. Our chemo order templates [order forms that streamline the process for ordering cancer medications] are easy for everyone to read and understand, which ensures that no steps or information are missed in the process.”

At Idaho Cancer Center at EIRMC, as a patient progresses through cancer treatment, Dr. Harris monitors their lab results and assesses their responses and toxicity to optimize medication therapy. She may recommend treatment modifications to the team as needed. She also uses medications and therapies to help manage common cancer-related symptoms like pain, nausea, and emotional distress.

Dr. Harris, like other members of the EIRMC oncology team, also stays in close contact with patients and makes herself available to answer questions throughout their course of treatment. She sees this personal touch as a unique part of EIRMC’s mission to treat patients like family.

“I see it every day, everywhere. People are busy; everyone working in healthcare is busy,” she says. “But here, the whole team absolutely makes the time to care for every patient. If they call with questions, we take the call or call back that day. If the patient needs help or needs to come in, we make it happen. We really do care about our patients like family.”

Learn more about cancer treatment services at the Idaho Cancer Center at EIRMC or call (208) 227-2720.

tags: bcop , cancer , oncology