Jacob Curtis, PharmD Student, Class of 2023, Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto
Despite the antiquated stereotypes of pharmacy, those most familiar with the contemporary aspects of the profession rarely describe it as “predictable” or “straightforward”. Combine this with working in the most readily accessible healthcare profession amidst perhaps the most infamous global pandemic of all time, and the numerous associated challenges along the way, the past 20 months have been undeniably gruelling for pharmacy staff. Nonetheless, the resiliency and versatility of pharmacy professionals have triumphed, and pharmacy has once again stepped up to the plate and delivered.
Throughout the volatile public health landscape that has been COVID-19 in Ontario, OPA has remained dedicated to their mission to support, innovate and advocate on behalf of the profession. By the time I had joined the Department of Professional Affairs in June 2021, the staff were already in full swing of days packed with Ministry of Health update meetings, scrambling to keep members informed with constant changes, and working nights and weekends in an attempt to tackle what seemed to be a never-ending to-do list. Each member of the team did this and more, all with a smile on their face. Witnessing this commitment to their work was inspiring but I wondered how I could contribute without derailing the workflow they had already established before I had joined the team.
I was fortunate to work on several different projects allowing me to find my groove and sample the diverse work that OPA conducts. The main projects I assisted with included developing a return to work guide for fully vaccinated pharmacy staff exposed to COVID-19, compiling mental health resources for pharmacy professionals, making updates to OPA’s Suggested Fee Guide for Uninsured Clinical and Professional Pharmacy Services, as well as working on projects for the Professional Development and Medical Writing Departments. While these projects were stimulating and intriguing, by far, I spent most of my time working on a time-and-motion study to determine the true costs associated with pharmacy vaccination programs. And thus, my first Advocacy Baby was conceived.
By way of a comprehensive literature review, we sought to collect information about publicly funded pharmacy vaccination programs across Canada, as well as primary research on the economic ramifications, immunization rates and public perspectives of these programs. I was shocked to learn about the pronounced disparity in not only the scope of practice of pharmacists in Ontario compared to other provinces, but also the marked inequality in government remuneration for immunization services provided by pharmacy professionals. Furthermore, primary research literature throughout the past decade has supported pharmacy immunization programs, demonstrating increases in vaccination rates, patient satisfaction and even net government cost savings with publicly funded programs. Therefore, it was clear that enabling pharmacists to offer all routine publicly funded vaccines in Ontario could build upon the success of the Universal Influenza Immunization Program (UIIP) and COVID-19 vaccination programs, and thereby expand cost-free preventative care to patients. However, it was clear that fair reimbursement would be required to sustain and expand pharmacy programs. My Advocacy Baby was born.
In the wake of widespread cancellation of non-essential medical appointments due to COVID-19, community pharmacies became an exclusive point of in-person contact with the healthcare system for many individuals. This concept fully resonated with me during my time working in community pharmacy throughout the summer. I was able to witness first-hand the amount of effort, strategy, equipment, supplies and personnel required to successfully carry out a pharmacy COVID-19 vaccination program—not to mention the additional time required to dispel misinformation and address questions and confusion. This experience combined with feedback to OPA from members with respect to remuneration highlighted the potential disparity between funding and true operational costs which needed to be addressed. My Advocacy Baby began to mature.
But anecdotal evidence alone wasn’t enough to support our advocacy ask for fair compensation to sustain current and future pharmacy vaccination programs. The culmination of my work on this project was a survey of pharmacy professionals in Ontario to collect data that would allow calculation of more accurate pharmacy costs associated with providing pharmacy vaccination programs. This was no small feat, as our survey would have to simultaneously address the costs associated with influenza, COVID-19 and potentially other publicly funded vaccines, without overwhelming the respondents. Through a collective team effort—including instrumental feedback from current pharmacy owners—the survey was finalized and sent out to collect the voice of the profession. And so, my Advocacy Baby was all grown up.
My time at OPA has been an invaluable learning experience and has helped me to gain a greater appreciation for the profession while simultaneously exploring a potential career path in non-direct patient care which has the potential to significantly impact healthcare efficiency through regulatory and policy changes. This experience has been unforgettable and one which will be instrumental in shaping my future career as a pharmacist. Although my crash course in Professional Affairs has officially concluded (and I am now an empty nester), my advocacy journey has only just begun.
Certainly, the profession of pharmacy will continue to grow and evolve, and the next several years in the aftermath of COVID-19 will be crucial in shaping the direction of the profession, but with OPA leading the way, I have little doubt that the profession is in great hands.