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Canadian Pharmacists Association
Canadian Pharmacists Association
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Pharmacy is advancing...fast!

Expanded scope has significantly transformed the pharmacy profession. But what does it mean to pharmacy students?

By Flora Gao, Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) Candidate, University of Waterloo

“Pharmacists are lifelong learners.” This is a statement heard by all pharmacy students at the University of Waterloo (UW) quite often. As a current pharmacy student, I feel like this is especially true right now, as the profession of pharmacy is advancing rapidly.

Five years ago, when I was applying for UW’s Conditional Admission to Pharmacy (CAP) program, my perspective on pharmacy was simple: "Pharmacy is a career that can make a difference in people's lives and contribute to a higher standard of well-being." In fact, this was my answer to the question: “Why pharmacy?” on my application. Although at the time, I didn’t really have an answer for the subsequent question: "How?"

Curious to find out how, I started to volunteer at a local community pharmacy in Mississauga, Ontario. While observing the pharmacists working, I learned about the unseen process behind the counter before a prescription is dispensed to a patient, such as assessing the medication’s safety and efficacy to minimize the risk of side effects, drug interactions, and allergic reactions. To ensure the medication regimen is personalized to patients, they must make sure the dose and drug is appropriate, make sure the patient receives the correct medication and counsel the patient on how to take the medication properly, as well as answering any questions the patient may have. My perspective on pharmacy at that time was: “Pharmacy is much more complex than what the general public is aware of.”

At the pharmacy I volunteered and later worked at, a topic that seemed to come up quite often was the expanding scope of pharmacy practice. Canadian pharmacists’ role is expanding from the traditional dispensing role to advanced pharmacy practice, which includes prescribing and adapting prescriptions, smoking cessation services, injections and vaccinations, ordering and interpreting lab tests, as well as medication and chronic disease management services. This trend across Canada in recent years gave me a new perspective on pharmacy: “Pharmacists are capable of doing more than ever before.”

To keep up with the demands of expanded scope, UW introduced its new PharmD program in 2012. I’m lucky to be in this program as I entered pharmacy school to learn more about the complexity of medicine. Comparing with the previous Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy (B.Sc. (Pharm.)) program, the PharmD program includes more study terms to provide graduates the knowledge to apply the expanded scope of practice. After my first year of pharmacy school, I developed a new perspective on pharmacy: “Pharmacists nowadays need to know more than ever before.”

Simply knowing more isn’t enough though, as knowledge can only be consolidated in practice. UW is known for its co-op program, which acts as an excellent bridge between future work and current study. I just started my first co-op term here at the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) a few weeks ago, but I’m already learning so much! It’s an amazing organization that speaks as the national voice of pharmacists in Canada. Every day, the staff are busy conducting research, planning continuing professional development conferences, meeting with Members of Parliament and more. I am so thrilled to be able to participate in this behind-the-scenes work of pharmacy. This experience is shaping my new perspective on pharmacy: “Pharmacy is one of the most rapidly changing health care professions and, as the profession advances, pharmacists will need to keep up with the rapid pace so that they can be utilized to their fullest potential.”

Having seen so many dramatic changes regarding pharmacy in recent years, if you ask me what my perspective on pharmacy is as a student now, my answer would be: “It’s an exciting time for pharmacy students, because the profession is advancing rapidly.” And I’m sure that my perspective will continue to grow as I move forward in my pharmacy career. After all, pharmacists are lifelong learners.