One of the goals of our eAntidote blog is to introduce you to the real poison experts who answer the phones at the Maryland Poison Center (MPC), as well as our staff members. In addition to being nurses and pharmacists, they are parents, grandparents, artists, athletes, sports fans, and more! Read the Q&A below to get to know one specialist: James (Jimmy) Leonard. Jimmy wrote a few of our blog posts as a fellow at the MPC, and we’re now happy to have him on our staff full-time.
Why did you go into the field of pharmacy?
Before college, I worked as a diesel mechanic. I had a friend who went to Washington State University (WSU). He always told me I should go to WSU and take pre-pharmacy classes, because he thought I’d do well in pharmacy school. I applied and was accepted as an undergraduate. Another friend, who was a pharmacist, learned I was taking pre-pharmacy classes and told me about his job. He was working in a hospital and recommended that I continue with pharmacy as a career. While in school, I worked in the hospital pharmacy at the veterinary teaching hospital at WSU and enjoyed the patient education element of pharmacy. When I was finished my undergraduate education, it was a no brainer for me to continue in pharmacy.
How did you end up working at the poison center?
As a student pharmacist, I worked in the WSU drug information center. It was an interesting job, but I wanted a more short-term care setting. The past managing director of the Washington Poison Center came to talk at WSU, and I was interested. During my first-year pharmacy residency, I had a rotation at the Washington Poison Center, and that confirmed my desire to do a fellowship in toxicology. I applied to the MPC’s toxicology fellowship and was accepted. After my two-year fellowship, I accepted a job to continue working at the MPC.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I really enjoy teaching, research, and the pursuit of new knowledge. I’m a curious person, and find that I’m challenged every day by new questions from co-workers, students and residents, and patients.
Why are poison centers and poison specialists like you important?
Poison centers house the poison experts. An individual physician, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, nurse, or pharmacist may see a handful of common poisonings each year, but at the poison center, we see all types of cases. Poison centers are consulted by hospitals and the public, and are collectively involved with approximately two million human exposures per year. First time cases happen frequently for some health care providers, but the collective years of experience among the staff at many poison centers means that there is almost never a case that we haven’t seen before. We can guide the monitoring and care of any poisoning patient.
What’s an important message you want to share about poison safety?
Label all containers! Poison centers get calls multiple times per day about someone drinking a potentially harmful liquid that was stored in a water bottle. If you have to store something in a bottle, label it. And, when in doubt, throw it out.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
Playing racket sports, such as squash and racquetball; hiking; reading fantasy novels; listening to podcasts that focus on history, scandals, or conspiracy theories; and spending time with my wife and dog.