For Kimberly Zitko, PharmD, BCACP, BCGP, being a pharmacist and a South College Pharmacy instructor is all about connecting with others. “Meaningful patient interactions stem from empathy and being able to put yourself in your patients’ shoes and treat them how you would want somebody to treat your mom or dad,” she says. “Building relationships with people is incredibly important to me in my practice and in my approach to education.”
Dr. Zitko first began thinking seriously about her future career when she attended a pharmacy summer camp in high school. She did pharmaceutical calculations, made soap and hand sanitizer in a compounding lab, and toured a hospital and community pharmacy. Afterwards, she became a part-time technician at a local community pharmacy – a job that confirmed her passion for pharmacy.
“I really enjoyed having a relationship with my patients in the retail pharmacy,” she says. “I loved that sense of community and giving back.” Despite her positive experiences in retail, Dr. Zitko remained open to exploring other specialties in her PharmD program and final year clinical experiences. Her first residency was with St. Louis College of Pharmacy and Mercy Hospital St. Louis, working with team-based rounding clinical pharmacy specialists and seeing a broad spectrum of patients. In her second year, she completed an ambulatory care residency with the St. Louis College of Pharmacy / St. Louis County Department of Public Health program.
Following that residency, Dr. Zitko stayed in ambulatory care and today practices as an ambulatory care clinical pharmacist at Trinity Medical Associates in Knoxville. There, she manages chronic disease states and runs an anticoagulation service through a collaborative pharmacy practice agreement. On a daily basis, she develops and communicates healthcare recommendations for patients as well as educates them on healthcare concerns. “I have that same type of longitudinal relationship with my patients as I did in retail – which is one of my favorite things about what I do – but I have a little more autonomy with them,” she explains. “I manage a lot of their medication related issues. I get to take a lot of time with them to talk about their medicines and problem-solve for anything that may be going on.”
Dr. Zitko’s other passion is education. She worked as a teaching assistant in pharmacy school and later as a Clinical Instructor at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy. In 2017, Dr. Zitko joined South College, where she is now course coordinator and APhA Immunization Certificate coordinator for the first-year course, Career Paths and Introduction to Pharmacy. For second-year students, Dr. Zitko is a faculty facilitator and evaluator for patient counseling activities, physical assessment activities, and clinical examinations in the Pharmacotherapy Clinical Abilities Lab. She also gives lectures in courses on pharmacotherapy, pharmacy management, self-care, and public health and wellness.
“Most new student pharmacists don’t have a lot of experience yet and that’s how I was coming into pharmacy school,” she reflects. “They know that there are retail and hospital pharmacies but nothing besides that. I love bringing in my experiences to help expose them to the incredible options that are out there.”
At Trinity Medical Associates, Dr. Zitko also serves a preceptor for South College Pharmacy students doing an ambulatory care rotation and for those doing a community practice residency. “Students gain experience with ambulatory care and see firsthand how I impact patients and how I work within my clinic and my team,” she shares.
In addition to the strong experiential learning offered through rotations, labs, and simulation experiences, another feature of the PharmD program that Dr. Zitko praises is the connection between students and faculty. “When I was looking for places to teach, what stuck out to me about South College was the people. From the faculty members to the administrative members, it felt like a family,” she says. “I felt that in my job interview, and I wanted to be a part of this type of educational experience for students. Supporting students, finding solutions to help them succeed, and being someone they can go to when they have problems – that is very important to me.”