Ask an expert: Chris Liston on bridging pharmacy and informatics

As IMO’s premiere PharmD on staff, Chris Liston shares his interesting career path from serving in the military to pharmacy and informatics.
AskExpert_Chris Liston

Chris Liston, PharmD, MBA, CPHIMS, didn’t always know he would end up in pharmacy – it kind of happened by accident. Luckily for IMO, his experience working as a medications expert is helping scale offerings and assist with AI-assisted systematic literature review. We sat down with Chris to discuss his journey and what has surprised him since joining the organization.

IMO: Thanks for chatting with us, Chris. How did your career in pharmacy begin?

Chris Liston: I ended up in pharmacy mostly by accident. I was working at a restaurant and wanted more hours than it could offer, so I thought I might pick up some extra hours at McDonald’s. My mom had seen a help wanted sign at CVS, so I went there instead. It turned out the manager was an Army veteran. I was between assignments, so he hired me to help unload trucks. A few years later, I became a pharmacy clerk and then a technician.

After my first tour with the US Army, I started college as a chemical education major. I had the opportunity to work with some pre-pharmacy students at CVS. I hadn’t considered pharmacy as a major, but I decided to change my major to pre-pharmacy, leading me to the Purdue School of Pharmacy. I was on the retail side for most of my career before licensure, and my first job as a pharmacist was at CVS. During clinical rotations, I made a name for myself as a reasonably technical person, which led to a position at a local hospital system in a dual clinical/informatics role. I have been on the technical side for 14 years now.

IMO: Can you talk a bit more about being a veteran?

CL: Yes! I was an air traffic controller in the Army National Guard. I started in high school and served for six years, roughly three of those years on active duty. I served two tours in Kuwait, one in 2000 and another in 2003, and I’ve worked with several different military organizations, including the US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as the Royal Air Force and Kuwaiti Air Force.

IMO: Tell us about your role at IMO.

CL: I am the first full-time PharmD at IMO. The organization already had an incredibly talented team of physicians, nurses, and lab scientists but no dedicated medication experts. So far, I have worked on several projects, some more and some less pharmacy related. IMO has an initiative around scaling our pharmacy terminology offerings, so when a product team needs that expertise, they bring me in. I am also helping with our AI-assisted systematic literature review, which has been very interesting.

IMO: Is there anything that surprised you since starting at IMO?

CL: I had no idea how much detail went into disease code mapping, which was really eye-opening when I started. I used IMO solutions as an end user in a previous role and created disease groupers for decision support tools. I didn’t fully understand how deeply IMO runs within the electronic health record (EHR), somewhat like a submarine (quiet and deep). The meticulous care that goes into dissecting one code and how to map it is a level of detail I didn’t appreciate until I was inside the company. The expertise, passion, and experience the other members of the clinical team have for this work is truly humbling.

IMO: What is some advice you would give someone getting into pharmacy?

CL: I have the privilege of lecturing annually at Purdue University in the medication safety and informatics course. I advise students interested in a more technical career path to volunteer for technical projects and become experts in Excel. Microsoft and healthcare are so closely integrated that any future projects that require analytics are guaranteed to require a thorough understanding of spreadsheets and formulae. I also recommend learning Python to expose them to basic functions and loops.

IMO: What do you like to do for fun?

CL: I am a geek by nature and am always into various technical projects. I am currently working on a project with a local state senator around daylight savings time in Indiana. Historically, Indiana did not change the time, and we are on a campaign to go back to that because summer days are far too long. I also have a general amateur radio (ham) license and enjoy learning how those technologies can be applied.

My 12-year-old daughter and I love backpacking trips. One goal we have is to hike at Isle Royale National Park, which requires a plane or ferry to get there. Every year, we learn new skills and equipment to prepare for that long trip. My four-year-old son is also starting to hike and will join us on his first overnight trip in 2024.

Additionally, our family lives on an aspiring homestead, and much of our free time is spent acquiring skills that modern convenience has made obsolete. We enjoy raising and preserving some of our own food and applying “appropriate use of technology” to traditional homesteading activities such as forestry, gardening, and raising livestock.

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