Linda Bernstein, PharmD ’77 : A pharmacist for all
Dr. Bernstein blazed a trail to give consumers the facts they needed about the medicines they were taking
Harnessing the power of the media to educate came naturally to Linda Bernstein, PharmD ’77, who carved out a career doing what it took to convey a lesson – dressing up as the tooth fairy, decorating a cereal box with health tips, or developing a film about Alzheimer’s disease.
A clinical professor on the UCSF School of Pharmacy's volunteer faculty and an expert in medication misuse, Dr. Bernstein knew what people did not know about taking medicine – and what they did not know was hurting them.
“I realized consumer education could become the thrust of my career,” says Dr. Bernstein, who founded Vita Media Corp. “As a media pharmacist, I could reach and teach millions about living healthier lives.”
Her decision was groundbreaking. The media turned to doctors to explain medical mysteries – but pharmacists? Not so much. Discussing her idea with an adviser gave her a preview of what she faced. “Oh, this will never work,” he told her. “Just do something else.”
“I laugh now, but it couldn't have been more discouraging,” she recalls. “Actually, though, that's the kind of thing that gets my juices running because I'm not only audacious, I'm also persistent.”
So the woman named as one of The Audacious began to prepare. She took acting lessons, learned to read a teleprompter, and practiced singing. Her inaugural project, “The Lub Dub Club,” about beating hearts, was a hit with children. TV vignettes for public television on poison prevention, healthy eating and exercise followed, featuring the Pickle Family Circus.
Next, she aimed her advice at adults. “In the Medicine Cabinet,” a Sunday radio program, ran for 10 years. Fifty-two segments of “Your Consumer Pharmacist” aired on KTVU. Her travel tips popped up on United Airlines’ in-flight monitors. Appearances on KRON, “Good Morning America,” and “CBS This Morning” followed. She was the media spokeswoman for Safeway Pharmacy; wrote articles for Newsweek, Woman’s Day, and Parenting; published a consumer guide, “Pay Less for Your Prescriptions”; and wrote a book, “The Family Vacation Health and Safety Guide.”
Eventually, Dr. Bernstein even taught fellow pharmacists. When “Pharmacy Education On The Air” broadcast on Christmas weekend 1987, more than 500 pharmacists called to receive continuing-education credit. “That’s when I knew I had struck a nerve,” she recalls.
More kudos followed. Her film “Alzheimer’s Disease: Current Concepts in Management,” won the C. Everett Koop, MD, Award for Best Professional Film in 1994. “Dr. Koop was actually there,” she remembers, calling the moment when the former US Surgeon General handed the award to her and series executive producer Eric T. Herfindal, PharmD, a highlight of her career.
It was never easy, but Dr. Bernstein believed in herself and her work. “Plenty of doors closed in my face,” she remembers. “But I knew these educational programs were of such value to patients and my profession that if I wanted to do it, I had to fight for it. It was as simple as that.”