Karl Hess points to his postgraduate residency in community pharmacy practice as sparking his interest in travel health and medicine, and he has since made it part of both his pharmacy teaching and practice. Now the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) associate professor is becoming more deeply involved: Hess was recently named chair-elect of the Pharmacist Professional Group (PPG) for the International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM), the world’s largest interprofessional association of travel health practitioners.
“This is his passion. He’s going to bring his enthusiasm and deep knowledge of this specialty area to lead the group and bring it to the next level,” says Armen Simonian, assistant dean and chair of clinical and administrative services for KGI’s School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. “It is definitely a benefit to him in terms of establishing himself as an expert in the field of travel medicine. This gives him an international presence and identity.”
As chair-elect of the PPG, Hess will work with a membership of more than 500 pharmacists around the globe, providing them with educational and networking opportunities and promoting the exchange of ideas and best practices. He will also serve as the liaison to the ISTM’s Nursing Professional Group to maintain and increase collaborations with the PPG and plans to continue to work with the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) so that the two organizations can share knowledge.
“It’s important to reach out to the broader community,” says Hess, who will become chair of the PPG in 2021 after serving as chair-elect for two years.
“I want to give back, learn from others, and improve my own practice.”
Hess also hopes to engage students at KGI and elsewhere in the activities of the PPG, explaining, “They bring energy, excitement, and new ideas. I’d like to build a student association within the ISTM to serve as a pipeline for new members and future leaders, and hopefully have it in place when I start my term as president.”
Since joining the KGI faculty in 2016, Hess has taught an elective course on travel health that introduces students to the pharmacist’s role in the prevention and treatment of diseases associated with international travel.
“Travel health and medicine offers pharmacists an opportunity to do something different and stand out,” says Hess. “It’s a counseling- and cognitive-based patient-care service rather than being product-oriented. You need to understand where people are going, disease outbreaks, the risks involved, and how to minimize or eliminate these risks.”
Hess notes that only 12 percent of the 40 million people in the United States who travel internationally see a healthcare professional to learn about the health risks and receive necessary vaccines and medications before they leave. He believes pharmacists can help address the gap.
“Travel health and medicine is a value-added service that is a real benefit to the community,” he says.