2008 Preceptor of the Year Award Winner: Albert Bajjoka
Clinical Specialist, Anticoagulation, Department of Pharmacy, Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital
“There are two things that I love in pharmacy,” says Dr. Albert Bajjoka, PharmD. “One is anticoagulation, and the second, which is inseparable, is teaching.” His skill in both have earned him the College’s 2008 Preceptor of the Year Award.
Bajjoka was a clinical coordinator for 20 years, first at St. John’s Macomb- Oakland Hospital, Macomb Center, in Warren, Mich., and then at Huron Valley- Sinai Hospital in Commerce Township, Mich., where he became clinical specialist, inpatient anticoagulation, a year ago. For most of that time, he has also been a preceptor for pharmacy students from both Michigan and Wayne State University, his alma mater.
“I really enjoy anticoagulation therapy because of the science and because there is so much need for improvement,” he says. “If you look at the drugs that cause the most harm in patients, the anticoagulants are usually among the top three.”
Bajjoka’s personal experience with that issue redirected his career path and served him well as a teacher.
“In the early 1990s, we noticed that we were having continuous challenges with the safety of anticoagulation therapy,” he says. “I took the challenge personally, that we really needed to improve what we were doing, and how we were doing it. It was painful to see patients being harmed, over and over, because we didn’t have adequate knowledge about the drugs we were administering. Initially, my knowledge of anticoagulation therapy was just like that of any other pharmacist, but I worked hard to improve my knowledge of the topic.”
Bajjoka enrolled in an ASHP anticoagulation therapy preceptorship which brought him into contact with people who were more knowledgeable about the topic than he was.
“I kept asking questions, kept expanding my therapeutic and scientific understanding, until I felt that I had acquired the skills that would enable me to make a difference,” Bajjoka remarks.
The program that resulted became a model for other hospitals. And one of his associates became a role model for his teaching.
“The director of the management team we had at St. John’s, Mary Burkhardt, was one of the finest people I ever worked for,” says Bajjoka. “She was not only a leader, but she was a true patient advocate, a real mentor to me. She’s the one who opened my eyes to problem-solving and being patientoriented.”
Above and beyond technical expertise, Bajjoka tries to impart the lessons he learned from Burkhardt in his approach to teaching future pharmacists. This style places an emphasis being both a communicator and a collaborator.
“While it is true that I am trying to make students ‘experts’ in anticoagulation therapy — or as close to experts as we can get in four weeks together — I also try to teach people skills. One of these skills is learning how to convince your customers what needs to be done, whether your customer is a patient, a nurse, a physician, or an administrator.”
Bajjoka accomplishes that by letting his actions speak for themselves.
“Students see how you conduct yourself as a professional,” Bajjoka remarks. “They learn not only how to manage time, but also how to accomplish goals by partnering with coworkers who have different needs.”
This means sharing with students his day-to-day interactions with coworkers — including those in which students did not participate.
“If I talk on the phone to someone from the lab, or one of our physicians or a dietitian, I’ll tell the students what the challenge was and what actions I took to help. It takes just a minute or two, but it demonstrates to them that I’m a team member and allows them to learn from my decision-making processes.”
In his view, that’s a core competency.
“Preceptors are an important link in the education of competent professionals,” he says. “When new graduates enter the real world, they’ll have to deal with people who may have differences of opinion or who just don’t understand the issue. As a professional pharmacist with a commitment to patient well-being, you have to do everything in your power to make a compelling case.”
When he left the St. John Health System, one of Bajjoka’s colleagues gave him an inspirational cardholder that sits on his desk to this day.
“It says, ‘Today has eternal consequences’, ” Bajjoka explains. “That’s my basic blueprint for teaching. What I do in the one month clinical rotation I have with a PharmD student may well have eternal consequences. Therefore, it is my responsibility to do the best I can.”