Meet our 2017 Employee of the Year: Bree Bertz, PharmD
By Kristy Bleizeffer Jun 11, 2018
As a student at Natrona County High School, a teacher once told Bree Bertz that she’d never be a pharmacist. She was too outgoing. She’d never be able to sit behind a counter and mix and measure medications all day.
I am going to do it, Bree remembers saying. I am going to show you someday.
Not only has Bree become a pharmacist, she was named the 2017 Wyoming Medical Center Employee of the Year.
“I think this is nuts. I mean, it is nice to be appreciated because there are a lot of times that pharmacy doesn’t get a lot of recognition,” said Bree, a clinical pharmacist in our Emergency Department. “But I don’t feel like I should get this on my own. I feel like our whole department should get it. Pharmacy does a lot and we are often hidden behind closed doors.”
Bree actually learned that pharmacy could be much more than selling medications to patients from inside a drug store. She realized how much she wanted to work with patients during her clinical rotations in pharmacy school.
In this interview she explains what piqued her interest, what it means to be an ER pharmacist and how her department broke the news of her major award.
How did you become interested in pharmacy?
Because I’m a nerd. Kidding. I’m not really sure to be honest with you. Ever since I was a kid, I always said, “I’m going to be a pharmacist.” I didn’t even know what a pharmacist was.
Last year, I found some year books from junior high and high school and inside were comments from my classmates wishing me good luck in pharmacy. I don’t know where the idea came from; I have just forever said I was going to be a pharmacist. I really like chemistry; I really like math. I thought pharmacy would be a great avenue to take for me to be able to practice medicine and help people at the same time. Never in a million years did I think I would be in a hospital or working in the emergency room!
Where did you go to college?
I got my Associates of Science degree in pre-pharmacy at Casper College, and then I went to UW for pharmacy school. I got my doctorate from UW as well.
Explain the pharmacist’s role in the Emergency Room.
I sit across from the doctors near the nurses’ station in the trauma pod. I am there to be a resource of drug information. I try to verify all medications before they are given to our patients. I look at our patients’ labs, their renal function, their allergies, their home meds if possible, other demographics, etc. I make sure that whatever drug is being ordered for them is appropriate. This is the job of all pharmacists throughout the hospital. It’s what we do for all of our patients at WMC. One difference in the ER is that the ER is very fast paced, and it requires very quick thinking. Everybody works as a team.
We are also Code Blue responders throughout the hospital. So anytime a Code Blue is called – when a patient has gone into a cardiac or respiratory arrest – we report as part of the clinical staff.
What is it like for you, not being trained as a nurse or a doctor, running to a room for life-saving measures?
I remember one time when I was new at working on my own and heard my first Code Blue, I was very nervous. I was running through the hospital. I passed Dr. DuQuette, and he was very calm. He told me that you have to be calm – that the more worked up you get, the more you are going to be scrambling, and you’re going to be shaking. The people who get to the room immediately, who are close by, are going to start life saving measures on the patient until the rest of the code team arrives. When we get there, we will take over and do what we need to do. HA! I felt so silly after that, but I tell you what, that was one of the best pieces of advice ever. And it couldn’t be more true! The best ran codes are the codes involving a very calm, cool, collected team – and it’s pretty awesome to be a part of that team! The only codes I run to now are Code Nurseries, I think everyone runs to Code Nurseries – a baby born who is not breathing.
You’ve been named Wyoming Medical Center’s Employee of the Year. Your nomination letter talked a lot about all the extra care you give to patients that isn’t necessarily related to pharmacy. Can you tell me a little about that?
Nobody wants to come to the ER. You don’t plan it and it always seems to happen after the cafeteria has closed or is closing. Sometimes, we have a family who is here, and their kids are starving, and they didn’t bring anything with them because they didn’t plan to come here, right? So, if there is anything I can do to help the situation, whether it be big or small, I always try my best to help everyone out! One time I took these two little twin girls that were 6 years old or so on a walk to the cafeteria. Oh my gosh, they had a blast! They thought it was so much fun to get chicken nuggets and wait through the line. Even this short 10 minute break away from the room helps to relax the parents, helps the nurses get a few things done uninterrupted, and helps calm the mood of everyone, I’d like to think.
I just try to help however I can. I answer call lights, try to help nurses with tasks requiring an extra set of hands. I help pull meds for STEMIs (heart attacks), I try to prepare the IV pumps and channels and tubing when we have code strokes. Time is brain and time is heart muscle, so if I can help improve those times by doing the small tasks necessary, allowing the nurses to focus more on the patient, then I can be a part of a great team that improves patient outcomes and our patients quality of life!
How do the families react?
They are very appreciative. I don’t do it for those reactions; I just do it because you have to feed your kids, take care of your family no matter what right? I have a blended family with five kids myself. And I know how stressful hospitals can be – and how stressful parenting can be.
How long have you worked at Wyoming Medical Center?
Since 2012, June marked six years.
What does this hospital mean to you?
I like the people I work with. That is why I really like the ER too, because I have developed such great relationships with people from all disciplines; such as residents, hospitalists, neurology and cardiology. I kind of spoke about this earlier, but for Code Strokes, we work closely with neurology. They know us on a first-name basis and they really value our help. It’s very rewarding to be a part of the team at WMC and be able to make such a huge difference in the lives of our friends, family and neighbors throughout the community.
Everybody here would do anything for one another and it is nice to have that team feeling. We are absolutely a family in the ER. Everybody wants your opinion, everybody wants you to speak up and wants you to be part of the team. There is a huge comradery within the ER, also within the pharmacy department. It is nice to know that you can come to work and have help; You have someone to go to for a second opinion if you need it.
So what do you think about this honor?
I think it is crazy. I came into work and my boss, Dave Pestotnik, Director of Pharmacy, was pacing right by the time clock. He said, “You need to go in the ER right away.” I thought I was going to get fired if you want the truth. Haha.
Then he walked with me to the ER and the manager gave me a hug and shut the door to her office. I was scared to death. I asked Corrine Arross (Director of Nursing for the ER) what was happening. She told me to calm down and that everything was going to be fine. I was losing my mind inside!
And then she opened the door, and everyone was there and they yelled, “Surprise!” I still didn’t believe it! I got showered with an awesome bouquet of balloons and two Eileen's cookies! Everyone was awesome. They went above and beyond for me. It still doesn't seem really even now.
Do you want to work at Wyoming Medical Center for a while?
So actually that is really funny. I was born and raised here, but I don’t have any more ties to Casper, really. My mom is here, but I don’t have any other family here. I don’t really need to go anywhere else. I love this hospital. When I graduated from pharmacy school, Corrine’s husband, John Arross, was my boss. I wanted to work for John because he was the absolute best boss anybody could ever ask for. He is still a huge mentor to me, even to this day.
And what’s funny about that, working in the ER now, is Corrine was my elementary school nurse – sorry Corrine, not trying to age you! But I remember sneaking away in school, making up ailments, playing “hookie” if you will, because Corrine would give us animal crackers when we got sent to the nurse’s office. She would love on us and take care of us; She’s always been such a nurturer!
Ultimately, I always wanted to work here at WMC. ER pharmacy is fairly new. There have always been pharmacists that work in critical care, and we have ICU pharmacists, but there is no board certification for emergency medicine pharmacists. It is in the works, so I am hoping I can be one of the first in the United States that goes through that to become board certified. I enjoy pharmacy, I really enjoy emergency medicine, and I’m excited at the prospect of changing what pharmacists can do, how pharmacists are viewed, and how we can become integrated as providers into the healthcare team.