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Watch & Learn — It’s time for pharmacists to step up!

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Our greatest asset as a profession advocating for change is our frontline pharmacists. These are the individuals who each and every day through their work connect with the public, with other health professionals, and with decision-makers.

 

By Billy Cheung

Region Director, Pharmacy & Strategic Initiatives, Pharmasave Ontario

Photo by Brandon Gray

 

Advocacy at this level, fortunately, is growing. It is, unfortunately, not growing fast enough.

In the last 10 years, advocacy efforts from the pharmacy profession have paid significant dividends. Medication reviews paid for by government, the legislative green light to prescribe medications, and the pharmacy as vaccination central are all advances that can be linked to advocacy. Without such efforts, we would not have witnessed the gains we take for granted today. And yet the number of frontline pharmacists engaged in advocacy remains small.

Two factors are at play. First, there is a misconception that advocacy only needs to occur when there is a crisis, when we need to rally the troops to address an imminent and serious issue. Nothing could be further from reality. Advocacy must be ongoing. It doesn’t just happen when you need something – nor should it.

Second, as pharmacists we often look to our professional associations to advocate on our behalf. Clearly, they play a key role. But pharmacists on the frontline have an equally vital role to play – and they are the only ones who can play it. In your day-to-day interactions with patients and customers, you have an opportunity to raise issues relevant to the profession openly and conversationally. Some of the people you speak with will be policy-makers, politicians, government leaders. Let them hear firsthand what is important to you as an important member of the health community.

I sometimes hear people say, “If the premier of your province were in front of you, what would you say?” The opportunity is much greater than a fortuitous meeting with a single politician. Ask yourself this: Why would you tell the premier anything different from what you would say to anyone else? The issues that affect us as pharmacists, that demand our attention, are issues we should be speaking with to everyone. We are all affected.

Advocacy on the frontlines must go beyond quick conversations at the pharmacy counter. As a profession, we would ask frontline pharmacists to take a leadership role. We recognize you are busy, that you have demanding jobs and active lives. Advocacy doesn’t have to be time-consuming nor expensive. Turning out a few times a year for the annual barbecue and other events hosted by your elected provincial government representative goes a long way to giving an expert voice and a human face to the issues.

Your engagement also speaks volumes to your colleagues. As pharmacists, we are not trained in advocacy or its importance. We learn to understand its essential role in our profession, and we must demonstrate this understanding through our own involvement and interest. Our professional associations can help by including government relations, public relations and advocacy education in their annual conferences. But they’re only successful if you show up, and bring a colleague with you.

Advocacy for many of us starts by being more fully engaged in our community. It expands from there to our commitment to speak with patients and others about the issues and our role in healthcare. It culminates with our presence on boards, in community round tables, and at local events. Advocacy pays off because we are part of the process.

Advocacy is an investment. Every issue and every decision will not go in the direction we’d like, but reaching our fullest potential as a profession only happens if our point of view is understood, respected, and weighed. For that, we must be at the table. When critical conversations occur, we must have the public face of pharmacy front and centre.