Pharmacist Patrick Finley

Spotlight on Psychiatric Pharmacist Patrick Finley

Writer
School of Pharmacy

The most common image of a pharmacist is the person who supplies you with your medications at your local pharmacy. But dig deeper, and you’ll discover that pharmacists, like other health care providers, specialize in managing and treating specific disease states.

Dr. Patrick Finley is one of about 625 pharmacists in the United States who specialize in psychiatry. Here at UCSF, he serves as a preceptor to psychiatric pharmacy residents and has authored several scholarly articles relating to the field.

His practice centers around the management of psychiatric illnesses using pharmacotherapy, the management of medications.

Board-certified psychiatric pharmacists (BCPP) undergo a very specialized type of training. After completing two years of residency, a psychiatric pharmacist spends a minimum of one additional year practicing in a related psychiatric environment before qualifying to sit for the board certification exam.

The extensive training needed to qualify explains why BCPPs are a rare breed of pharmacist, but more are becoming certified every year. Their aid is a much-needed resource as well; the current model of mental health has numerous shortcomings in providing patients with proper care.

 “Emergency rooms and primary care clinics have become mental health centers by default, and these settings are ill-suited for this purpose,” said Dr. Finley. “There is a terrible shortage of in-patient mental health facilities throughout the country, and a cogent argument could be made that prisons have unwillingly assumed this role.”

There is a drastic need to increase the amount of mental health practitioners across the country so that patients receive adequate, specialized care by individuals with proper clinical training.

Patients have very complex medication regimens, and often need counseling and adjustments to correctly manage their medications. By utilizing their knowledge of psychopharmacology and ensuring that medications are taken correctly and safely, BCPPs provide much-needed support to the mentally ill population.

Critics of the field believe that psychiatric pharmacists focus too specifically on medications without providing more holistic treatments. Psychotherapy and other forms of counseling fall outside the scope of training for BCPPs.

Patients are encouraged to seek a correct form of therapy that works for them, and medications may or may not be the right treatment. However, with a large population of patients taking antidepressants daily, the impact that psychiatric pharmacists have on patient counseling can’t ignored, especially within the context of our current health care system.

“In spite of the passage of critical legislation such as the Mental Health Parity Act, individuals suffering from mental illness continue to be among the most neglected and stigmatized segments of our society,” said Dr. Finley. “People are reluctant to seek help, for a variety of reasons, but even when they do, it is very difficult for them to access the specialized skills of mental health specialists.”