Connecticut Hospice is a peaceful place. Nestled on the shore of Long Island Sound in Branford, Conn., the 52-bed in-patient palliative care facility includes family friendly meeting rooms, common areas filled with artwork, and a campus that invites reflection. Jim Prota has worked at Connecticut Hospice as Director of Pharmacy since 2006. During that time, he has served as a preceptor for students from the UConn School of Pharmacy, and others, introducing them to the particular issues a pharmacist faces when dealing with such a unique patient population.
“I ask students why they chose to come here for one of their rotations,” he says, “and they often say they are interested in pain management. Then they admit that they are a little uncomfortable, expecting that this might not be the happiest place to work. By the end of their time here, they have had a chance to see what a warm, actually happy, work environment this is.”
The goal of hospice is to give supportive care to people in the final phase of a terminal illness, helping them to focus on comfort and quality of life, rather than a cure. Connecticut Hospice was the first residential hospice facility in the country when it opened in 1974 on a nearby site in Branford, which is also Prota’s hometown.
After graduating from the UConn School of Pharmacy in 1986 with a B.S. in Pharmacy, Prota began working in community pharmacy and then moved on to home infusion and hospital outsourcing. For a time, he had worked for one of the original Connecticut Hospice pharmacists when she opened a home infusion business. One day, his former boss called. She knew of an opening at Hospice and thought Prota would be a great fit. At first, he wasn’t so sure.
He says, “I wasn’t totally convinced at first, because I liked doing hospital outsourcing and I wasn’t looking for a change. Plus, at the time, the pharmacy department here was not really well staffed. But I had been commuting to a job in Wallingford and I had young children I wanted to spend more time with, so I decided to accept the offer. I hired a second full-time pharmacist, and things began to fall into place. From then on, everything has been great.”
Danielle McPhearson ’19 (Pharm.D.) did a rotation with Prota in March of this year. She arrived at Connecticut Hospice when other plans didn’t materialize. She’s glad she did.
“Jim does a great job of being a preceptor,” she says, “because he gives me all the attention I need, but he also gives me a chance to work independently. Here, I get to interact with doctors and nurses, sit in on rounds, take part in admitting and discharge, and basically be a part of everything that goes on.”
This description describes Prota’s philosophy as a preceptor. He says he wants students to have the confidence to be acting independently by the end of their rotations. “All the students I’ve had have been wonderful, and that makes it easy to take them. My main objective is that I want them to feel comfortable about making decisions by the time they finish their month here.”
To prep them for that independence he says, “They go on rounds, they answer the questions clinicians have, they check all the orders. If my full-time pharmacist is off, I tell them they are going to be the staff pharmacist for the day. I’m always here to supervise and answer questions, but the goal is to have them acting as if they don’t need me,” he says with a smile.
As much as he enjoys instilling confidence in students in their fourth (P-4) professional year, Prota is also a willing mentor to younger pharmacy students. Earlier this spring, he was shadowed for a day by P-1 Madeleine DePinho who describes her experience when she and another member of the student chapter of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists paid him a visit.
DePinho says, “He was very welcoming and made sure we knew each aspect of what his career entailed. He was quick to explain things that he knew we might not understand as P-1s, and this really helped us learn a lot about hospice care. Shadowing Jim was a wonderful experience and I’m thankful that he is so knowledgeable and a great teacher.”
Prota was named Advanced Pharmacy Practice Adjunct Faculty Preceptor of the Year by the School of Pharmacy in 2016 and McPhearson and DePinho are but two examples of the many students he has helped through the years.
And, there’s more to his connection with UConn than the School of Pharmacy. His wife, Linda, is a 1985 graduate of the School of Nursing and their three children, James ‘14 (ENG), Daniel ‘15 (BUS) and Suzanne ‘22 (BUS) have all followed in their parents’ footsteps as proud members of UConn Nation.
Previous Preceptor Profiles: