A lifelong career in pharmaceutical research
When Director Cheng was still pursuing her master’s degree in clinical pharmacy at NCKUH, she met her mentor, Professor Kao Yea-Huei. Professor Kao is the Founding Director of the NCKUH Pharmacy Department. She also set up the first clinical pharmacy research institute in Taiwan and raised funds for its Fellowship program to boost the training and expertise of fellow pharmacists and researchers.
Under the Fellowship program, Director Cheng was able to receive pharmaceutical training in the pediatric department of NCKUH from 2002 to 2003. After which, she headed to Pennsylvania in the U.S. for an internship at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Upon return, she began her PhD to continue her expedition in the realm of pharmaceutical science.
Inspiration found working in U.S. healthcare
In Pennsylvania, Director Cheng learned that the U.S. had adopted a completely different workflow from Taiwan. “Many U.S. hospitals at that time had already automated their drug dispensing processes,” she explained. “The main responsibilities of pharmacists were prescription review and clinical care. Conversely, in Taiwan, the amount of prescriptions that needed to be dispensed at the outpatient level is so huge; pharmacists cannot verify everything and advise physicians to make changes when necessary.”
U.S. hospitals also have dedicated technicians to prepare ready-to-use medications in the exact portions required by inpatients under the supervision of a pharmacist, so nurses can readily administer these drugs when needed.
However, in Taiwan, nurses are the ones who handle both the doses and administration of drugs. This not only increases their workload but is also likely to result in errors.
“I learned through my internship that American healthcare has surpassed Taiwan in terms of automation and how valuable it would be to have a smart system providing prescription and dispensing assistance,” Director Cheng said. “So that, regardless of whether I am looking for a particular medication, confirming a repeated prescription, or verifying drug interactions and dosages, I would remain efficient and accurate. I believed this would relieve the work and psychological burdens of clinicians.”
Reflecting on the challenges faced by Taiwanese pharmacists, Director Cheng noted that medication errors are hard to avoid. She added that “for neonatal and pediatric patients, which represent a vulnerable population, additional care and detailed dosing information is essential. I have come across a case of a premature baby. The physician in charge made a prescribing error that was not picked up by the pharmacist or the system. Fortunately, the error was discovered later during one of the follow-ups, and no major mishap took place.”