Christina Fontana

Christina Fontana: A Pharmacist’s Perspective on Healthcare

It’s a pharmacist’s perspective on healthcare from Christina Fontana on this episode of the Perspectives on Healthcare podcast with Rob Oliver. Originally from Long Island New York, Christina Fontana is now based in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. A member of the Millennial Generation (Generation Y,) she uses her education and training in pharmaceutical to provide a more holistic model of care for the people she serves.

Here are 3 things that stood out as Christina Fontana gave us a pharmacist’s perspective on healthcare:

  • Patients represent more than a diagnosis, their needs must be met on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level. Additionally, it is important to address root causes and not merely symptoms.
  • Quality healthcare is heart centered and includes empathy, understanding, and compassion.
  • Trauma-Informed care considers patients’ past experiences and is sensitive to their psychological and physiological responses to stress.

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Here is the text of Christina Fontana giving a pharmacist’s perspective on healthcare:

Introduction to Christina Fontana

Rob Oliver: Thank you, and I appreciate you being here with me today. My guest today is Christina Fontana. She is a pharmacist, among other things. She is a member of the millennial generation, and she is from right here in Pittsburgh. Christina, welcome to the podcast.

Christina Fontana: Thank you so much for having me, and yes, I am a millennial. I didn’t expect that.

Rob Oliver: Wonderful. I feel like each different age group looks at things differently.

Christina Fontana: Yeah.

Rob Oliver: Millennials, baby boomers, everybody has a different take. We don’t ask anyone their exact age because, as you are well aware, that is rude, but we’ll classify you in a general category. Let’s jump into it. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your role in healthcare, please.

Christina Fontana: Absolutely. I am a pharmacist, and I went to school at St. John’s University. My dad is a pharmacist, my sister, my aunt, my uncle, so I have a family full of pharmacists. My dad actually owned an independent pharmacy for 32 years in Long Island, so you’ll hear my accent come out. Even though I live here in Pittsburgh, I am originally from Long Island, and I followed in my father’s footsteps. I knew I wanted to help people, and I knew that it was a calling deep within me that I loved helping people to feel better. I remember working at his pharmacy counter, and I was the cashier, and I would help someone, and this feeling would bubble up inside of me, like, wow, I just helped them with something so simple. It could have been with their prescription or finding something in the store, and I was a 14-year-old girl. I can remember feeling that pull to want to help people, so naturally my dad owned a pharmacy. I went into that profession, and I still have my license in Pennsylvania, but I don’t practice pharmacy anymore, so kind of the cliff notes version of that is I went through my own healing. I had eating disorders. I had a lot of trauma from my childhood that manifested physically as anxiety, depression, disease, you know, like I said, with my eating disorders that I had, and as a result of that and some of the other things I experienced in my early 20s, I went down this pathway of looking at how can we help patients to actually heal, because I was on my own healing and transformation journey. So now I guess that was, geez, how many years ago. You guys can all do the math now. I’m a millennial. You’ll see how old I am, but 10, 12 years later, I have since gone through so many different modalities of healing. I almost became obsessed with just learning about what is the root of trauma, why was I having these symptoms, because what I learned in pharmacy school was that disease manifests from genetics, lifestyle factors, and so it didn’t make sense with what I was experiencing, and so I almost had to become a patient myself and explore these different modalities of healing, and so over the last 12 years, that’s what I’ve been doing is looking at different things like the subconscious mind, the nervous system, energy work, and As a result of that, and hiring coaches and support and everything that I’ve done, I was able to heal myself of a lot of the trauma that I didn’t realize had impacted me as an adult, and so that’s part of the work that I do now, is I’m a holistic healer, and I essentially help people heal on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level, because I feel that having that holistic model is truly being of service to our patients, and I know we’re going to talk about that today, so that’s a little Cliff Notes version.

Rob Oliver: Sure. It’s so interesting to me, because you talk about the personal experience and the joy that comes, and maybe joy isn’t the word that you used, but the feeling that you had when you were able to help someone, and you were able to take that, and as a pharmacist, you’re working to help people, and then you’re looking now to say, okay, are there other ways that I can help people, and possibly ways that I can be more helpful to people than the opportunities that are available in pharmacy? Is that properly understanding kind of where you’re coming from?

Christina Fontana: Absolutely, and you nailed it with that feeling of joy, because that, to me, is fulfillment, and I feel that if I can help alleviate some form of human suffering, whether it’s through encouragement or a kind word or a recommendation or something that can be of a help to someone, to uplift them in some way, then that, to me, is really why I’m here, so I am just so grateful that you’re allowing me to come on the show today to share some of what I have learned over the last 12 years of really diving deep into this work, and so, yeah, that’s definitely very accurate, the joy, and I also started to realize, too, this theme of suppression, you know, with pharmacy, and what we learned in pharmacy school is there’s a disease state, and then there’s a drug that suppresses the symptom, essentially, and that’s what I was doing with my trauma. I learned from a very young age to suppress my feelings, that I was bad if I shared any type of emotion, and so all of that, my true essence and who I really was as a highly sensitive person, which now I see that as such a beautiful gift, I was suppressing that, and as a result, I had different coping mechanisms that showed up, and I see this all of the time with the patients that I serve and the clients that I serve is we develop these survival patterns to stay safe, because if you’ve experienced abuse or trauma in some way, the body’s trying to stay alive, and so we can’t tell if, you know, the brain doesn’t cognitively know, okay, there’s not an actual lion coming at me, but to us, it feels like that, because if there is a trigger or something that comes from the external environment, say that a boss says something to you, and it reminds you of a past experience, your body goes into fight, flight or freeze, and so there are these different coping mechanisms like people pleasing, perfectionism, fear of being seen, unworthiness that show up in our life that can lead to maladaptive patterns, essentially, so it could be like numbing out through food or alcohol or some of these more self-destructive behaviors, which that’s why I think it’s really important to look at kind of the root cause of disease and then seeing what’s happening as it manifests so that we can help that person to learn how to cope in different, more healthy ways.

Rob Oliver: Yep. So again, what I’m hearing you say is that the pharmacy idea is you’re looking at a problem and you’re trying to treat the symptoms, and then when it comes to the actual healing of the root cause, you’re not dealing with that, and now what you’re working on in your current role is to help people heal from the inside, not to necessarily deal with the symptoms per se, but to actually have the healing that goes on so that you’re no longer just treating symptoms, no longer addressing behaviors, but you’re fixing the root cause. So very, very interesting. Let me just kind of roll into this.

Your Definition of Quality Healthcare

Rob Oliver: What does quality healthcare mean to you?

Christina Fontana: To me, it is heart-centered healthcare. I think that a lot of what I have navigated myself even going through, I’m pregnant right now, I’m seven months pregnant and my husband and I had to go through some fertility testing and even in those experiences with some of the doctors that we encountered, there wasn’t that level of empathy and understanding and validation that I think there can be in the healthcare system. And so that’s part of what I want to speak to other healthcare professionals about is trauma-informed care. I understand that everybody’s busy and I don’t expect to be like, oh, you’re special and so we’re going to treat you this way, but I think that there’s an element of empathy and compassion that we can have with our patients so that they can truly feel seen, heard, witnessed and valued. So that to me is quality care.

Rob Oliver: You said trauma-informed care. Can you tell me more about that?

Christina Fontana: So as an example with someone like me, I’ve had eating disorders in the past. I’ve had trauma and so whenever I am now a fertility patient or even going into, I have my OB appointments now every other week because I’m in my third trimester, having, and I share this with some of my providers. When they have the context of, okay, this person’s experienced this traumatic event, they’re going to see, they can approach it differently rather than someone who maybe has not had that experience before. So realizing what’s happening in this cascade within someone’s body, because there’s a whole trauma cascade that happens when you experience something like abuse or, you know, I got kicked out of my house when I was 23 years old and had a very traumatic event. And so the body relates to stress chemistry, you know, you go into those fight, flight or freeze responses. And so really the base part of it is empathy and compassion and having a deeper understanding for, again, holistically looking at this person in front of you and not just looking at, okay, you’re another patient, these are the labs I’m going to look at, but really addressing them as, you know, patient centered and heart centered.

Rob Oliver: Okay. And one of the things that you said in there that I think like you’ve, you said something along the lines of you can’t treat every patient as though they’re special. And yet at the same time, if every patient was treated as being special, how, how amazing would the experience be across the board?

An Example of Quality Healthcare

Rob Oliver: So you’ve kind of done this already, but I’ll ask anyway, can you give me an example of quality healthcare?

Christina Fontana: Right. So I think it’s, you know, in pharmacy school, we learn coaching and motivational interviewing as an example. So I’m not, I’m going to take it away from myself and use a person who just got diagnosed with diabetes. Whenever someone gets diagnosed with an illness, that’s traumatic. Imagine you get a call from your doctor, oh, you have cancer. There’s a shock that happens. There’s a jolt in your nervous system, a release of stress chemistry, you know, everybody deals with it differently. And so for me, I would want a health coach or a pharmacist or somebody who is informed about you know, trauma to realize that that’s what this person’s experiencing. And so how can we support this patient and love this patient in validating their feelings, asking them, hey, how are you feeling? What resources can we provide for you here? Rather than just kind of saying to them, which I’ve heard so many times in the Western medical model, you know, here’s this medication, there’s no mention of lifestyle changes or that like adapting it to them and their schedule and their lifestyle. And again, I know doctors are limited and, you know, pharmacists are so busy as well. But I think that there’s an opportunity there to increase patient, you know, outcomes adherence to medication, all of these different things that will actually drive costs down, you know, in the healthcare system. So I think having that more holistic approach can actually benefit in the long run.

Rob Oliver: I had Nicholas Smith on very early in the podcast, and he is a psychology resident fellow down in Tampa who works with kids who have been diagnosed with diabetes. And one of the things that he was talking about, it’s not just patient centered care, it’s patient and family centered care, because you are looking at not just lifestyle change for the for the young person, but you’re looking at what is going to have to happen in their family dynamics. How is cooking going to be handled? Is everybody going to be on a diabetes friendly diet or like, how is how’s that all going to work? I think it all it goes both directions when you you bring it down. You look at every aspect of the patient in their life. But then when you broaden it out, you’re looking at the impact of it on the patient and the people around them as well. So very interesting.

Christina Fontana: You bring up a great point, because that’s part of support, right? So the patient, you know, they guess they can have that the doctor as their support, but also, like you said, who is helping them? Right? You know, if they have a chronic illness, and they can’t move, or like, how is what what different levels of support can that person have? And I think, you know, family is huge. So… Yeah.

Your Role in Healthcare

Rob Oliver: Good. So we’re doing very well, except for the fact that we’ve got five minutes left, and I’ve got three questions.

Christina Fontana: Oh, no. Speed through them. Let’s go.

Rob Oliver: No problem. What do you wish people understood about your role in healthcare?

Christina Fontana: I think that pharmacists specifically, I’m just going to give a shout out to pharmacists, they are so knowledgeable, and they, I really want to celebrate our profession, because I think that there’s so much growth happening right now, specifically within pharmacy, and a level of empowerment. And if you heard about in the news, there were like all these walkouts from some of the major chain stores, but pharmacists are really rising up into different roles. We’re focused more on value based care versus just fee for service. And I think that, you know, anybody listening to this lean on your pharmacist, they know so much. It’s not we’re not just back there, filling pills and putting labels on bottles. There’s so much that we get trained in over, you know, six years of pharmacy school.

Rob Oliver: I completely agree. Your pharmacist is a tremendous resource. And you can talk to them if you have questions, but they’re also doing things like looking at medical, medicine interactions and seeing that making sure that you what you’re on is not going to impact anything else that you’re on or cause any problems. So yeah, and it’s pharmacists, I feel bad because there is so much that’s required of them that they end up being behind the glass and busy all the time and you don’t have access to them. But definitely take the time, ask. And my experience has been that pharmacists are happy to answer questions and they have a tremendous amount of knowledge that can can benefit you.

The Future of Healthcare

Rob Oliver: So what excites you about the future of healthcare?

Christina Fontana: Like I said, you know, about a minute ago, I really think that we are entering a new paradigm in health care where not just pharmacy, but I believe that we’re moving more towards value based care of a lot of the concepts that I’m talking about here is, you know, looking at holistic medicine and lifestyle changes and helping people make those behavior changes so that they can feel better and reduce symptoms of their disease and improve their mental health. I love that there are so many different options, like listening to podcasts, that patients can go and get these these resources to feel empowered in their health. So I think that’s a huge thing that’s really exciting.

Rob Oliver: Yeah. Patients being empowered and patients having knowledge is is phenomenal. And I will throw out there, it’s interesting to hear you say from a pharmacy background talking about lifestyle change, because to me, this is just a commentary on society. We live in a society where it’s like, give me a pill that will solve my problem. And I don’t have to actually change anything that I do. I’ll just take this medication that will fix it, as opposed to the opportunity to change the way that you live, to change the way that you eat, the way that you sleep, the way that you handle stress, any number of those items will actually have the potential to make a greater impact than any pill that you could take. So our last question for you…

Christina Fontana: We did it five minutes.

A Strategy for Improving Healthcare Quality

Rob Oliver: What is one thing medical professionals can start doing today to improve the quality of health care?

Christina Fontana: So I would say to be open to because there are there are so many, like I said, even resources within the your own individual profession, to learn about motivational interviewing and empowering your patients or, you know, listening to podcasts. So I think like having that openness and that open mind to learning and absorbing. Oh, like, what’s, you know. How can I better help this patient? Or, you know, it could be adapting a new process in your practice that allows patients to feel like more safe when they come into the into your practice. So it could be something like putting some nice imagery on the wall. There’s been studies that have shown that, you know, when a patient feels safe, they actually have lowered stress chemistry when they come into the office. So things like that, just, I would say, keep an open mind to how how can I help this patient to get better? Who can I partner with? What resources can I invite into my practice? I think any of that would be really helpful.

Rob Oliver: Yeah, I think it’s having that open mind where you’re looking at, are there other what other options are there that can help this patient in the peeling process, in the process of getting back to what they love to do? And even I love what you’re saying, even the structure and the the decoration of the office being a part of the way that patients receive care, that fantastic.

Christina Fontana: That’s called supportive design. So I didn’t make that up. I actually taught that at my last healers in healthcare conference. But there’s an actual concept that they’ve done studies in different healthcare facilities that show that certain elements of walking into an office like that can help to decrease those stress hormones.

Rob Oliver: Fantastic. Listen, Christina, thank you so much for being with me today. I appreciate you taking the time. I appreciate your perspective and I respect your perspective on healthcare.

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed by guests on the Perspectives on Healthcare Podcast are solely the opinion of the guest. They are not to be misconstrued as medical diagnoses or medical advice. Please consult with a licensed medical professional before attempting any of the treatments suggested.

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