Board Profile: A Conversation with Stephanie Zarus, Pharm.D.

December 6, 2022

For this month’s Board Profile, HCIF had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Zarus, Pharm.D. Stephanie is the Managing Director of Healthcare Innovation for Avancer Group, Inc. and the outgoing Governance Committee Chair of HCIF’s Board of Directors. Her career in pharmacy and health care has helped thousands of patients access affordable and quality medication. Stephanie’s knowledge, expertise, and wit has guided her throughout her career and made her an inspiration for all who come in contact with her. She will be missed on our Board of Directors, but her impact will last for years to come. Read below to learn more about her.

Tell me about your professional history and your work experience.

I am a pharmacist by training, who has always leaned toward administration over clinical practice. In the early 1990’s, I was part of the founding team who started Hospice Pharmacia/ excelleRx, a technology-based medication management company. We focused initially on improving the cost and care and service for terminally ill patients in hospice programs. We were among the first pharmacists to push the envelope enabling patient “care without walls”. Meaning that medication could be accessed for patients wherever the patient was, without the barriers caused by having to procure and submit a paper prescription. Our mission was to ensure that every person in our care could access the medication they needed, when they needed it, at home or in a health care facility.

As a company founder, I was fortunate to be involved in setting the organization’s mission and vision. Over time, I had a hand in building teams, selling services, formalizing operations and insuring performance improvement.  It was the experiences I had in performance improvement and quality controls that lead me to crossing paths with other quality experts who served on HCIF’s board. In 2006, I was invited to serve on HCIF’s Board for the first time.  I have been fortunate to serve on the board for two full terms. My interest continues to be on health care quality, though HCIF has broadened my understanding and interests into the many nuanced areas that inform quality and care.

What drove you to pursue a career in healthcare?

I have old school parents who are the sweetest, most lovable, and wonderful people in the world. They instilled in their children that the world is our oyster.  College is a choice if we can get in, pay for it, do well, and have a job at the end. I thought my dream was to write children’s books.  What materialized for me happened when I met a pharmacy professor on the West Philadelphia campus of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (now part of St. Joe’s). He took me for a tour, told me about the school, gave me a stethoscope, and handed me an application. He convinced me that my interest in science would be a good fit and that a pharmacy profession welcomed women. Ultimately what drove me to pursue a career in healthcare was my interest in science and the promise of a career.

What is something you’ve learned being a part of the HCIF Board of Directors?

So many things. I continue to learn about the depth of public health needs in our region and how these needs are addressed (for better or worse) in the clinical care systems available. I continue to learn how our systems improve clinical quality, whether through access barriers, informed care, literacy or minimizing/mitigating a cadre of other risks factors.  I also respect the process HCIF uses.  By convening people from different institutions, organizations, and health backgrounds HCIF can facilitate the exploration of a health issue and generate a resolution that incorporates system changes while keeping a focus on the needs of the people who are seeking improved health.

What has been the most rewarding part about serving on HCIF’s Board of Directors?

For me, the people. They’re kind, gifted, and willing to help you see health in different ways. HCIF has an excellent staff, and the board leadership is diverse and experienced. Together, the team is dedicated, driven, and smart.

What excites you most about the future of health care?

There is so much space for technology in health care. Everything from improving our use of artificial intelligence in diagnosing and prospective analysis regarding patient response, to the use of targeted molecular interventions. We have barely begun to dream of ways to use machine learning in health care.  Even with the excitement of technology, preserving the human touch in health care remains the most important to me.

What worries you about the future of health care?

The cost of care and the need for our systems to commercialize people’s health, is a primary concern. We are scheduling appointments and providing care around billing codes. How do we move away from this?  I am also concerned about the degree of anger in our region. Gun violence is a life threat in our region. There is a cultural problem when people turn to killing one another. How does the health system consider violence and aggression as a risk factor and how can we mitigate this?

When you’re not busy working to improve the lives of others, what do you like to do?

I like to bring people together. I organize events, do photography, participate in book clubs, do yoga, bike, ski, garden, and travel all over. I did just get back from the ultimate bucket list trip—cooking school in Italy! I do a lot of cooking because I love to host. Anything that keeps me learning and engaged with other people, building a strong community and giving back is where you will find me.

 

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