Think about as a patient, what are the gaps right now in the healthcare system? And how can we just as general citizens improve upon them? What can we do? Being part of the conversation, and being aware of the issues is half the battle, engaging with all of the different partners and, and getting that knowledge of what’s out there can help with solutioning as well.
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva, from PH SPOT.
Hi, Adrian, and welcome to the PH SPOT podcast. So wonderful to have you here. I’m really excited to talk about a topic I don’t think I’ve talked about on the podcast. So yeah, welcome.
Oh, thank you. I’m really glad to be here.
Yeah, I think the topic that we’re going to talk about, it’s going to be helpful for any of our listeners who may be you know, they’re considering pharmacy as a potential career path. But they kind of like see themselves not really working in a setting a role. That’s like frontline. And I think you have some some great experience of not only working in the frontline, and doing some of those traditional pharmacist roles, but also kind of exploring some other areas. So super excited to get into all of that. So I thought maybe we can start not at the very beginning. But perhaps you know why you decided to go into pharmacy. And then you worked for a number of years in those traditional pharmacist roles upon graduation. But then in 2021, you decide to like enter the health department, and we’ll kind of like talk about that. But maybe we can talk about the very beginning kind of what interested you about pharmacy and how that part of your, your life was like.
Sure, yeah, happy to share. I actually fell into pharmacy by happenstance. It wasn’t premeditated. I knew from high school, I wanted to enter a field that is generally more collaborative, rather than competitive. So something like law or business where while we’re appealing, I want it to try science and healthcare, where we’re all working towards a common goal. And really, you know, working for the benefit of the patient. And so I kept my options open going into university and studied basic sciences. And it was actually my sister who sort of inspired me to try pharmacy she was trying to get in herself, but she, she actually ended up in law. So it’s kind of a twist. And I tried and I got in, and I like to think I have some sort of inspirational backstory that it’s not really, it’s more kind of happened by coincidence, everything sort of aligned. And yeah, so I got in and tried it out and it was a great experience.
Yeah. I love the clarity that you had. And- And I’m curious to know if you had it worded in such a way back before you even entered like pharmacy because you said I wanted something more collaborative, not competitive. And I wanted a profession where everyone was working towards a common goal. So that’s why I entered the sciences. Like, did you have that level of clarity at such a young age?
Yes, and no, maybe not articulated in such a clear fashion?
But I think just doing school projects and whatnot, I think it’s always been sort of my personality, in wanting to work collaboratively rather than competitively. I’m not saying that I’m anti competition, but it’s just really aligned with my personality. And my and my mantra, I guess. So. Yeah, I wish I had elaboration on that.
Yeah, no, I think it’s yeah, we recognize these kind of themes in our lives. And, you know, it probably takes a number of years and life experiences to really put words to it. And sounds like that’s what kind of happened in your- in your case. So okay, you you enter pharmacy school, during that period, did you come across this idea of public health? Or did you kind of discover public health much later on in your career?
Much later on in my career, and I almost wish if I looked back that I found out about public health earlier.
And it also speaks to sort of our current landscape of pharmacy where it’s still operating very much in silo away from public health and the rest of the healthcare system. And I mean that in the most affectionate way.
It’s just based on their current business and payment models, where, you know, pharmacy community pharmacies are so accessible to the public, internally, it’s not very well connected to the rest of the healthcare system. And so in school really the options, at least back in my cohort for us students, we really saw only hospital and community as our career options. So I’m really glad to see nowadays that with the new transition to the to the entry level PharmD program, there’s a lot more thought in going to industry or some non traditional route like regulatory. So I’m really happy to see that development in the pharmacy school.
Okay, are they kind of like, just speaking about it more? Do they have courses or opportunities for like the students to like, learn about it?
I think it’s both. I think it’s both alumni. Coming back to the school and sharing, you know, their paths. A lot of them are quite trailblazers, and also just students trying to explore beyond the hospital versus community, traditional paths in patient care and non patient care roles. So it’s both I will say, both coming from the students and from alumni and faculty looking at, you know, what are the different ways that pharmacy training can contribute and the value that the pharmacist can contribute to the system.
Yeah, and I think, you know, there’s a similar transition in like public health as well, where we are exploring other opportunities outside, like the traditional work done in- in the public health departments, like what we’re seeing people exploring careers in, like, startups and not for profit organizations, I think they those were popular, but I’m seeing more and more people kind of going into consulting, or startups or industry and things like that, even in public health. And those career paths are being explored a lot more talked about a lot more considered by even like, you know, students from bachelor’s degree all the way to a PhD degree. And I think it’s great that we can really start putting ourselves out there, like in all all sectors and industries. So I think that’s great.
Yeah, agree, agree. And I think there’s a lot more opportunities to work collaboratively between disciplines with that common goal of improving health.
Exactly. And I think it was interesting when you kind of talked about how just the area of pharmacy is kind of operating in silos, but there’s just so much more opportunity. And I when I think about it, just even speaking to a pharmacist, there’s just so little barrier there, right? Like, if you were to speak to a physician, you’d have to make an appointment, you’d have to show up to the appointment, then you get to speak to your physician, but then a pharmacist, you can just walk right up to them at the counter, and like ask them all sorts of questions. And I think that’s such a great opportunity to really like get them trained in public health, have them be the first point of contact for our populations.
Agree, agree. And I mean, it’s both a blessing and a curse. And I almost feel like I’m on my calling attention. But I agree that pharmacists are very accessible healthcare resources, especially to communities that are traditionally under resourced. On the flip side of the coin, I think there’s also new ways of thinking in pharmacy practice, to steer more towards a more comprehensive approach with appointments. So I think a mix of both would be beneficial for the pharmacy.
Yeah, no, absolutely. Okay. So you graduated from your pharmacy program, still with the mindset of okay, I’m going to I’m going to take on some of these traditional roles, which are frontline health care provider, and I think you had a number of roles as a pharmacist. Tell us about, you know, some of those experiences.
Yeah, for sure. I did my internship in community pharmacy, and had my students chips in both hospital and community, thinking that those really were the two paths of a pharmacist. But then when I graduated, I met my first manager. And he’s actually a source of many of my inspirations, still to this day. And he recruited me into long term care, which I didn’t even know existed. Long Term Care was sort of this hybrid between community and hospital.
We have one centralized pharmacy is serving multiple long term care homes. So we provide both medication services so the the physical services of providing the actual medications and equipment, as well as medication consulting services, where we send clinical consultant pharmacists to work with the physicians and the nurses to make sure that the medication regimens are appropriate for the resident current status. I held a series of progressive roles in that sector and highly enjoyed the exciting work that it brings on both on the clinical and the operational side. So I learned a lot about the technology, dispensing robots, automated verification systems, how they connect, and help provide a robust and stable medication right measurement system for both the pharmacy within the pharmacy walls but also outside of the pharmacy walls in the long term care setting. So we’re looking at Med cards, digital prescribing, sometimes even TVs and fax machines and whatnot. So looking at the entire cycle of medication, prescribing, dispensing and management, so that was pretty exciting.
aMybe I’ll just pause there, because I feel like I’m gonna go on a tangent.
So how long did you kind of spend in that environment? Like within long term care?
Around eight years.
Oh, wow. Okay. What kind of like prompted you to say, Okay, I’m going to wrap up my time here, and then move on to maybe exploring a different area.
Yeah, so I decided to pursue my Master’s in Health Administration in 2019. I have to admit that it was half motivated by career development interest.
But also frustration, the other half. I mean, speaking to the Career Development, side, I, I felt at that point in time, I was very grateful for the experience that I’ve had so far. But I feel like I reached a point where I wasn’t really learning much. And I mean, like, I say that in a more generalized term, I realized that learning is continuous. And there’s always more to learn. But I hit sort of a plateau in the long term care field and wanted to see what’s out there, hearing a lot about all the other exciting work that’s happening out in the community, whether that be technology related, or just regulatory and quality related. And in terms of frustration, I’m going to be trying to be careful with my wording here has to do with sort of looking into the policy and the other factors that affect resident health beyond medications. And I mean, it could be medication related, such as formulary and reimbursement decisions, but also policy on when do residents get access to care? How do they get access to care? How are they cared for, and looking at a bit more upstream from service to that policy level, I think sparked some of that interest and frustration, I guess,
Aspiring to, you know, go back to school and get my masters. And that’s where my pivoting journey started.
And I think I hear that a lot from you know, anyone I speak to kind of on the front lines, it’s like, especially, you know, you having spent eight years it’s not a short amount of time you- you kind of like do the best you can with the tools and resources that you have. And you really want to like change things, and you feel kind of like stuck. And then you want to see what’s out there to not only, you know, inspire yourself and then motivate you to keep going in your career, but also like, How can I be part of the bigger solution? And it sounds like that’s the route that you were taking. Curious when you were going to pursue your master’s degree. Did you have you know, once I graduate, this is the type of role that I like to get into with the experience I have in this like new education I have or were you just thinking, Okay, let me go back to school, see what I learned there. And then we’ll kind of figure out where I want to go next.
Figure out where I want to go next, I would say.
But I did intentionally try to steer my learnings and experience and the opportunities I sought. I tried to steer them away from pharmacy, but not because I don’t like pharmacy, but moreso I wanted to try something completely new. So that’s kind of my intentions.
And so you go and get your Master’s of health science. And I guess you you specialize in like health administration. And I know that you then went into becoming a public health pharmacist at the local health department was that kind of right after graduation, you decided to kind of like make that leap away from community away from hospital and into public health department?
Actually, one thing led to another as part of the master’s program that we had to complete a residency term. And that was actually one of the draws of why I chose that particular program.
U of T, based on their connections, and also the depth and breadth of options that the program offers, both in terms of teaching and the residency options. So I did my residency at North York General. And it was tremendously transformative experience, and looking to see what happens in acute care and also be exposed to the new Ontario Health Team model and the innovative ways that that model brings different partners from the health system together to work collaboratively kind of speaking back to that whole collaboration piece, and the timing of the residency and I stayed on after the residency to help with a pandemic related initiative aimed at alleviating staffing crises in the long term care sector, so it was a mix of old and new. And as part of that pandemic initiative, one thing led to another, I started helping out with COVID-19 vaccination campaign. And then that sort of led to the opportunity to help out with a COVID-19 vaccination campaign in their local public health unit. And so I actually started working as a public health pharmacist before I officially graduated. And it was sort of one thing led to another type of- Type of scenario.
And I think, you know, when we kind of connected, it was around the time that you were like, in that role, and I remember telling you, like, I think this is the first time I’ve ever met a public health pharmacists. And I was personally curious to hear, you know, what does that role mean? What does a day in the life of a public health pharmacist within a health department kind of look like? And, and that’s how we kind of started chatting. And I’m sure any of our listeners who are like, Okay, this sounds like something I might be interested in. But I have no idea what this entails. Do you mind kind of sharing what that role looked like for you?
Sure, sure. So the the concept of having pharmacists in the local public health unit is quite novel, I guess, and at least in our region, it really came about from wanting to increase our capacity to be able to protect the viability and ensure that the publicly funded vaccines that we provide to our communities are safe and effective. And this stems with that storage and handling piece. And so a lot of credit goes out to to the local, like my local public health unit, for being so receptive to the idea of having pharmacists and pharmacy technicians contribute to the public health efforts. So as a public health pharmacist, I think that was the intention of having me on the team. The exciting part of my role, and my time there was they were also very receptive to evolving that role beyond the traditional sense of having a pharmaceutical expert beyond the team to help us, you know, ensure the whole effectiveness and safety of the products, but also going beyond that to help drive engagement with our omni channel COVID-19 vaccination strategy. So really helping to drive that those needle through throughput with our primary care physicians, helping troubleshoot, offering some clinical guidance, and producing documents assessing you know, when things go wrong, what to do, helping with some of the fees, assessments. And then later on in that role, it was a span of six months, but it was a very exciting six months, and helping with some of the vaccination planning, as well as capacity planning with our partners. So we were looking at, let’s say, towards the fall and seeing, hey, now we have COVID-19, as well as flu shots. So how can we best get those needles into arms? We formed a regional working group with our partners and help them analyze how can they support this strategy? How many needles can they can they put into arms, and then put together a more wholesome and fulsome vaccination strategy? We’re full.
It sounds like there’s like a little bit of you know, sitting at your desk, working through like documents, maybe thinking about what sort of policies you can roll out. But were you also quote unquote, in the field going into the hospitals and visiting the pharmacies? Or was most of it I guess, you know, during COVID so it’s a bit different. I’m assuming maybe it was all done virtually?
It depends on the role. We certainly did have vaccinating pharmacists as well, who was working at the frontlines, and they really make up the bulk and are fundamental to our vaccination in planning, especially in light of the shortage in HR. So traditionally, it would be really staffed by public health nurses. But I think throughout the pandemic, we realized we don’t have enough people to drive the campaign forward. So how do we involve different disciplines? And that’s where pharmacists really came in, and demonstrated that this profession can also make an impact in public health. So yeah, we definitely did have pharmacists on the vaccination teams working in those mass vaccination clinics, and mobile teams as well going into different settings, as you alluded to reach out to those more vulnerable communities that may not have the means to get to a mass vaccination center or may not have the means to get the information that they need. So there’s that team and my role really function as a supportive function to those teams. And so we work collaborative together and leverage their strengths and I mean, I have also supported our mass vaccination sites as well, in some capacity, but I will say the majority of my role was more desk based, if that sounds unglamorous.
And I remember chatting about this a tiny bit with you about kind of like the landscape of public health pharmacists, and I’m sure it varies, you know, across countries, and then even within the country really depends on like the provinces or the States or the cities. But I remember you kind of saying it’s not common to see public health pharmacists embedded into like all health departments. curious to hear if you’ve done any research around the role of public health pharmacists in Canada, or even like other countries. And if you’re able to comment a bit more around that.
Yeah, the local public health unit that I worked in was actually the first one in our province to introduce public health pharmacists, to their teams. And that was before the pandemic. And then later on during the pandemic, I think it really demonstrated the value that pharmacists can bring to the table. And so other public health units started picking up on the idea, I would say it’s still quite nascent from what I’m aware of. But it’s very encouraging to see how a global crisis has sort of accelerated people to think creatively, and to really bring those different areas of expertise together and leverage those knowledge and human power or human resources to solve an urgent crisis. And so I think the role is still very much evolving, sort of, as I alluded to, the intention of hiring for my position back in, in 2021, was to help with that pharmaceutical aspect. I was very grateful and fortunate in that the political unit was very receptive to new ideas. And we evolving the role beyond that to more of an engagement and supportive function. And so I think there’s still more ways that the role can evolve, and the engagement and beyond that planning to see how, how else, and I’m excited to see you know, I have colleagues who are still with that unit, as pharmacists and pharmacy technicians and excited to see how that team evolves over time and expand their offerings.
I’m super excited to see this as well, just like the intersection of public health and pharmacy, I think it’ll be super, super cool to see how that gets rolled out.
And it helps because when we formed a working group with our local pharmacy partners, and that involves all the major chains, the ones that you think of, you know, the cost goes and Walmart’s and shoppers and Brexit, it helps build that bridge between that traditional private sector, so to speak of the pharmacies, with the public health. And building that partnership that historically has sort of, as I said, had been working in silos. I think there’s real value in building that communication, both in terms of making sure that our frontline pharmacies are able to provide that information and services to the public in a timely manner, especially in this sometimes confusing campaign where who’s eligible who’s not who should get the needle, what kind of vaccine and evolving that beyond just vaccines and more into, you know, health conditions, preventions, and other measures that we can we can look at. So, there’s a lot of value, I think, that could be unlocked, in that sense.
And it was doing a tiny bit of research around this. And I also saw like, in the US, there’s a number of programs where there’s the combination of a PharmD degree, which is what you would get, or maybe it’s a, I think you were getting a Bachelors of Science in pharmacy. And the degrees differ, but there’s that dual degree of pharmacy and public health becoming more and more popular as well.
100%. Yeah, I was part of the vintage curriculum. So I got my bachelor’s and now in Canada, most programs offer the entry level PharmD, sort of following the footsteps of our colleagues in the US.
But yeah, I agree with you, 100%. There’s a lot more interest in public health for pharmacy schools of pharmacy students now. And I’m so so excited and glad to see that because I think, you know, there’s some missing link.
You bridged and, yeah.
Yeah, I think it was interesting, because when you said that collaboration between the private sector and public sector, and it took me a second to click it and go, Oh, yeah, like pharmacies are part of the private sector, like it never, you know, you walk up to a pharmacist and you treat them as another healthcare provider, just like you would with your doctor. And I think there’s just so much trust that can be built at the population level. And I think pharmacists can play such a huge role in our in our public health system.
Thank you for recognizing that and yeah, and this pandemic has really demonstrated pharmacists can make a big impact, especially looking at the numbers the pharmacy channel has made. I don’t have the percentages off the top of my head, but has been increasing only since the beginning of the pandemic. And, you know, the pharmacists have been doing a tremendous job doing a lot of the heavy lifting and making sure that communities are are vaccinated and informed.
Absolutely, yeah, exciting times ahead. I can’t wait to see where this goes. Okay, so it seems like you went ahead and kind of like pursued that interest in the world of tech, because the role that you’re currently in is touching on the area of digital health. What kind of led you to that area of work? Or maybe, you know, take us back as you wrap up that public health pharmacists role at the local health department and kind of what happened after that for you?
Sure. And yeah, so it sort of happened. But also coincidence, I think life is just a whole series of happenstance. It’s part of our residency in the hospital, my role involves helping with a digital health initiatives, and looking at how digital can be an enabler to healthcare delivery, and healthcare management for the patients. And that sort of piqued my interest in that field, as well as in public health, we leverage some technologies to enable our work, and especially working with epidemiologists, and seeing how they use statistics and data, and a lot of that to inform and drive their response and planning was really interesting. And so when this opportunity came up at the provincial agency, I applied and sort of it was a natural extension of hybrid between what experienced in acute care and public health and yeah, and then I was hired. And, yeah. So right now, I mean, there’s a lot of work happening as part of the Ontario Health Team model to integrate care, both with the all the different sectors of healthcare delivery, but also looking at population health management, and prevention. And so we’re infusing a lot of those concepts and all those teachings into our work. And I myself, I’m doing the same. Yeah, yeah. So I think it’s really speaking to that whole exploration experimenting that I’m still doing in my career. So personally speaking, it’s trying something new, while mixing some of the my past experience to see how can we make a contribution to this something new and so far, we are we’re looking at, you know, how do we best support our Ontario health teams, and helping them advance their digital maturity to deliver on their mission?
Yeah, I think you kind of alluded to this already, where you kind of said, it’s, it’s a way to, like the role you’re currently in is a way to tie in all the other experiences you’ve had to date. And I think that’s, you know, for you, I don’t know how when you sit back and reflect on the journey that you’ve taken, whether it seems like linear, it seems like kind of well thought out, one is building on the other, and you are kind of at this place that you are today, as a result of those experiences. Or if you feel like oh, I wish I had done a few things differently to get to where I am. Maybe I could have gotten here much, much sooner.
Yeah, that’s a question that I asked myself, from time to time.
You know, had I been more intentional what I have gotten to where I am today, sooner and potentially, to where I want to get in the future, that much faster. But then I’m not sure if I have regrets in the in that line of thought. Because I think every little bit of experience really built how I approach problem solving and my character, piece by piece. And so I’m grateful for everything that I’ve experienced so far. And looking back, I really wouldn’t change any of it.
Yeah, I think it’s, it’s hard to predict what’s ahead. And especially, you know, what sort of opportunities lie ahead for us. So I mean, as much as you would have loved to plan every single bit of your career, it’s almost impossible to do so, like we couldn’t have predicted the pandemic, we couldn’t have predicted how much tech has advanced and so all these opportunities and kind of like new areas to explore. They kind of just land in our laps, and then we have to take the jump and try it out and see where that takes us. And I think like in the moment that can feel a bit scary or you can feel frustrated, but I think just listening to yourself similar to how you did when you had that like moment of frustration and decided to pursue a year grad school degree, and kind of you know, just told yourself, let me see where this takes me. I think those moments are important to just like, reflect and listen to our bodies, listen to the emotions that we’re having and take action. And that actually is going to lead you somewhere.
I agree. I mean, so far my career journey hasn’t been completely intentionally planned everything sort of, you know, it sort of speaks to the carpe diem. I mean, in a general sense, I know, I want to work collaboratively in the work that I do, whether that will be healthcare related or adjacent. But yeah, when you said really speaks to me in that I just data time and see where things lead to, I sometimes need to surprising and exciting opportunities.
Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I’m a huge planner. And as much as I would love to plan everything. In my career, I know, it’s almost impossible. But I think it’s, it’s good to have goals, right? Kind of, you know, aspirations and things that you’re working towards, and how you get there is a whole different story. So I think that’s also important, like having goals, having aspirations, having some sort of a direction, and then and kind of like letting opportunities come your way and seeing how that path kind of unfolds.
Agree, agree. Maybe in a few years time we can do it. Where are they now?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. I love that. Yeah, I should, like do a like a an episode where I compile a whole bunch of guests and do like little snippets of like, where are they now? That’d be fun. Okay, Adrian, when you think about the experiences, you’ve had the learnings and everything. And if you were speaking with a student, starting off their career, or even just like exploring the different parts that exists, curious what sort of advice you would have for them. And I know that you’re also an instructor, or you have been an instructor at the university that you graduated from, for about like seven years, I’m sure you get a lot of questions from early career professionals. But, you know, if you were to sum up some of the learnings that you’ve had to date, what are some top tips that come to mind?
I think first and foremost, don’t be afraid to try new things will be what I would say.
And think beyond healthcare, think beyond pharmacy, especially I will say to my pharmacy colleagues out there, there is a lot of value that pharmacists can provide. But at the same time, think beyond pharmacy and think about health care more holistically. And not through that just the pharmacy lens, I’m I’m really speaking to think about as a patient, what are the gaps right now in the healthcare system? And how can we just as general citizens, improve upon them? What can we do? Being part of the conversation, and being aware of the issues is half the battle. And I mean, engaging with all the different partners and, and getting that knowledge of what’s out there can help with a solutioning as well. So I would say, talk to different people explore different paths, try new things, don’t be afraid to break things and, and fail. Because from those events, you really get lessons learned. And then you stand right back up, right, I had a lot of brick walls and recursion so far. But it was- it’s those learnings that that inform how I navigate in the future, right? So we’re trying new things. I’m going right back, I’m repeating myself, but you know, just don’t be afraid and try new things.
I love it. Thanks so much, Adrian. And this has been such a wonderful chat. I know I enjoyed it quite a bit. And I love, you know, speaking about ways that our field of public health just keeps improving and the new opportunities that lie ahead. So thanks for joining me on this conversation.
Thank you for this opportunity.
Hey, I hope you enjoyed that episode. And if you want to get the links or information mentioned in today’s episode, you can head over to pHspot.org/podcast. And we’ll have everything there for you. And before you go, I want to tell you about the public health career club. So if you’ve been looking for a place to connect and build meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, from all around the world, you should join us in the public health career club. We launched the club with the vision of becoming the number one hangout spot dedicated to building and growing your dream public health career. And in addition to being able to connect and build those meaningful relationships with other public health professionals, the club also offers other great resources for your career growth and success, like mindset coaching, job preparation, clinics, and career growth strategy sessions in the form of trainings and talks, all delivered by experts and inspiring individuals in these areas. So if you want to learn more or want to join the club, you can visit our page at pHspot.org/club. And we’ll have all the information there. And you know as a space that’s being intentionally curated to bring together like minded public health professionals who are not only there to push themselves to become the best versions of themselves, but also each other. And with that, I can’t wait to see how it this is going to have a ripple effect in the world as we all work together to better the health of our populations and just have immense impact in the world. And I hope you’ll be joining us in the public health career club.