It was without hesitation that Kevin Wang, BSc(Pharm)’14 applied for a pharmacy job in Lillooet, BC upon graduation from the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of British Columbia.
The Fraser River town has a year-round community of 2,300 people – a small fraction of UBC’s 60,000+ campus population.
For Wang, it was the ideal place to begin his career.
Wang was inspired to pursue rural pharmacy practice by overwhelmingly positive experiences during his fourth-year experiential education placements at Saanich Peninsula Hospital on Vancouver Island, and Downtown Ganges Pharmasave on Salt Spring Island.
“My interest in taking on a rural rotation was piqued when a practice educator I worked with in the Lower Mainland spoke about his pharmacy in Princeton, and the benefits of working in a smaller town.”
In Saanich, Wang worked alongside three other hospital pharmacists. The trio provided in-patient medication histories and medication reviews for long-term care cases. Patients in need of more complex care were transferred to secondary or tertiary sites.
“My time at Saanich Peninsula Hospital allowed me to experience the hospital system without the ‘shock’ of a fast-paced and demanding specialty ward,” says Wang.
“I felt I could assimilate and acquire knowledge much faster as the learning curve was not as pronounced.”
Fulfilling lifestyle and career goals in the Kootenays
Unlike Wang, Brooke Caruth, BSc(Pharm)’16 aspired to a career in rural pharmacy practice long before her admission into pharmacy school.
A competitive skier, Caruth knew her thirst for adventure and keen love of the outdoors could be satisfied by living and working in the Kootenay region of BC.
Caruth’s second-year experiential rotation at the sole pharmacy in Queen Charlotte City on Haida Gwaii, BC only solidified her goals.
A one-of-a-kind in the province, the pharmacy in Queen Charlotte City provides services to both the hospital and the wider community.
“The physician’s offices are housed in the same building as the pharmacy, and so we frequently collaborated,” Caruth explains.
“It was extremely rewarding to be involved in both a hospital and community setting all in one location.”
Caruth went on to complete additional rural rotations in Smithers and Gibsons in her third and fourth years.
A different kind of commute
Meanwhile, Colleen Hogg, BSc(Pharm)’95 recently celebrated 18 years of living and working in the Gulf Islands.
Hogg is the owner and pharmacist of Cove Pharmacy on Quadra Island, and Gold River Pharmacy in Gold River. Cove Pharmacy was the first pharmacy to be established in the rural community of Quadra Island, BC.
“I knew that I wanted to make a difference when I graduated and practicing pharmacy on Quadra has allowed me to do so,” says Hogg.
“Every day I engage with my patients one-on-one, some on a weekly basis. I work in a highly integrated environment where I frequently connect with fellow health care professionals for the betterment of our patients’ lives.”
Mike Ortynsky, BSc(Pharm)‘80, opened the Fort St. John Pharmacy and Wellness Centre with a vision to provide as much function and benefit to patients in the region as possible.
“Having the opportunity to grow my business in the way I feel best has contributed to the exceptional care my colleagues and I provide to our patients, and to the invaluable relationships we have cultivated with fellow health care professionals in the city,” Ortynsky says.
Both Hogg and Ortynsky encourage students considering a rural placement to bring their ideas and ingenuity to the table.
“(In underserved communities) you need to look at what services are provided, what services are needed, and how you could meld the two. I encourage students to take on the challenge of what I feel is an extraordinary opportunity to contribute to health care in our province, alongside expanding on their own personal scope of practice,” Hogg says.
“Take the time to learn about the local community, culture, and events,” says Ortynsky. “Your rotation will be much more rewarding.”
Of course, there are other benefits to rural pharmacy practice too.
“My commute includes a ten-minute ferry ride during which I will often see humpback whales, orcas, and pods of dolphins!” laughs Hogg.
And while winter temperatures in Fort St. John can dip well below the double digits, Ortynsky notes it sure doesn’t feel as cold with the Northern Lights illuminating his walk home.
Promoting health care delivery across BC
UBC Pharm Sci undergraduate students complete a total of 44 weeks of unpaid experiential education over the course of the program.
The Introductory, and Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (IPPE & APPE) courses account for 25 percent of the four-year curriculum. Each is eight weeks in length and allows students to apply their classroom knowledge to real patient care cases. Practicums in rural and underserved communities are especially important in order to both broaden student skills and experiences, and foster health promotion and care delivery across the province.