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Profile of a Pharmacy Innovator: Tessa Heitkamp

It was one small moment in class, but it made Dr. Heitkamp realize that she did not want to follow the straight and narrow path in her pharmacy career. When she learned about the lack of regulation with dietary supplements, she made it her mission to provide clear evidence for these products to prevent and treat chronic disease. By customizing her education and building her entrepreneurial skillset, Dr. Heitkamp is ready for the grand-opening of her business this month: coaching and consulting clients on their wellness with a combination of supplements, nutrition, exercise, and self-compassion.

What is your background and how did it lead you to pursue new areas of pharmacy?

I remember clearly in my P1 Self-Care class when Dr. Stelter mentioned the lack of regulation when it comes to dietary supplements. From that moment on, I wanted to learn how we can incorporate natural remedies to help healing from chronic disease. I went on to complete rotations at pharmacies that focus on natural remedies, then attended Midyear to continue on to a residency. I matched and completed a PGY1 Community-Based residency at the Albertsons Safeway in Colorado. My preceptors took my interests to heart, allowing me to present my own CE on nutritional deficiency. I've met with other pharmacists who have opened up their own functional medicine practice. Since P1 year, I've known that this is what I've wanted to pursue, and so I've created my own functional medicine consulting business.

What have you learned through your residency that has inspired new patient care models and services?

During my residency, I was able to create my own business plan. I then applied the core concepts to my own coaching and consulting business. I was able to learn from my preceptors; learning from the obstacles and challenges they needed to overcome while also building my own network.

What obstacles are there to your new initiatives and plans?

The biggest obstacle to my services is the payment model. Many insurance companies do not see the value of functional medicine, and therefore will not cover my services. This can lead to difficulties if clients of lower social-economic status want to participate. Another obstacle is building a network with providers because they typically do not want to prescribe functional medicine or enforce lifestyle changes. I do not want to "battle" with providers over the clients, so I require all of my clients to have a primary care physician who knows they want to pursue functional medicine to meet their health needs.

What is a "myth" or misconception about functional medicine that you could debunk?

Functional medicine is not "hocus pocus" or a field of medicine that providers and pharmacists should brush to the side. Evidence and standardization support the use of this medicine. I would encourage any health care provider to receive extra education in personal training and nutritional coaching so that they can safely and effectively recommend these medications.

What are your plans following your residency?

I start my consulting business the week after completing my residency. I have had time to begin marketing myself and establish relationships with my clients, all of the planning and prep work is complete, so now I am going into the action phase! Due to the pandemic, my consultations will be virtual for now. Even though the pandemic has been an obstacle for most businesses, it actually allows me to expand my client base because I can reach any client in the country. We do not need to meet face-to-face because they can go to "lab hubs" throughout the country to receive any tests that I recommend (cholesterol, BMP, etc.). I can then review their test results on my portal and use the results to recommend products.

What advice would you give to pharmacy students who want to pursue a similar path?

1. Think outside the box

You do not need to follow the traditional pharmacy student path while in school, or join a specific club or organization, to be a successful pharmacist. Seek out individuals who share your passions and who can help guide you to where you want to be.

2. Gain extra education.

Most pharmacy students are not taught much about functional medicine in their general curriculum. I received extra education during my P2 and P4 years of school. I went through the National Academy of Sports (NASM) to become a personal certified trainer and I am still working through the Institute of Functional Medicine's nutritional coaching program.

On behalf of the DELTA-Rx team, we want to congratulate Dr. Heitkamp on the grand opening of her business: The Superfood Pharmacist! To learn more about her services and expertise, explore the following links:

The Superfood Pharmacist

YouTube Channel