When Betty Golightly decided to add travel health services to her Calgary practice, she committed to offering the highest quality of care. “My goal when I started this program was to deliver the best possible pre-travel consultation provided by any healthcare professional.”
By Mike Boivin, BSc.Phm.
Photography by David Watt
Betty discovered the then-new area of travel health in the late ‘90s while working as a staff pharmacist in a medical building in Calgary. “We had 12 physicians in our building and one of them had a travel medicine practice. This introduced me to what travel health looks like in primary care. At first, I was only helping with vaccine procurement and storage, but my interest in this field rapidly increased. The physician could see that I was interested. He both encouraged me and supported my potential role in travel medicine.”
Betty became a member of the Alberta Association of Travel Health Professionals (AATHP) in 1999 shortly after it was founded (1996). “This was the very early stage of travel health in Canada, and until at least the mid-2000s, I was the only pharmacist that attended their conference,” she recalls.
Through networking with other travel health professionals, Betty joined several medical missions to developing parts of the world, which provided her with some incredible insight on the need for travel health. “These missions opened my eyes to the medical care provided abroad. They were intense and became a turning point in my career. It was through these experiences that I decided to drive my practice towards travel medicine. It was important for me to go on these missions, as I feel that I not only need to have the education, but also the travel experience to walk the walk and talk the talk.”
Betty researched what a pharmacist-led travel clinic would look like. “I felt that if I was going to practise travel health, I would develop something unique that I could run exactly the way I wanted.” Betty started by acquiring the necessary knowledge. In 2004, she attained a Foundation in Travel Medicine from the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons (Glasgow). This course provided an excellent base from which to deliver the quality of service she wanted to provide. She then prepared and challenged the International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM) Certificate in Travel Health exam in Portugal in 2005.
A model for travel healthcare
The next step was designing a business model for her practice. “I wanted to provide a one-stop experience for my patients. They should have their consultation, be prescribed their medications/vaccines, receive any necessary immunizations and purchase any OTC and travel supplies at one visit. The only problem is that in 2005, this could not happen due to scope of practice limitations.”
Everything changed in 2007, when the authorization to administer medications by injection and additional prescribing authority (APA) was introduced. “After I received my APA, I could assess, prescribe and inject at my clinic.” The ability to do everything she needed led to the development of her highly successful Go Travel Health Inc. business in Calgary.
She cautions, though, that pharmacists should not introduce a specialized service like travel health as a get-rich quick scheme. “First, you must have a passion for the topic and then develop the business model second. I started my investment in travel health not knowing how I was going to practise, but I knew that I had the desire to find a way to make it work.”
She feels that one of the biggest misconceptions among pharmacists is that performing these specialized services is easy. “There are two important things to remember. First, don’t expect any handholding when setting up this type of practice. I had to create everything and this took a tremendous amount of planning and effort. Second, remember that when you start a new service you are potentially stepping in another healthcare professional’s area of practice. Unless you provide as good or even better care, many will actively try to discount the service you provide.”
As new opportunities are introduced within her scope, Betty will evaluate how to include them in her practice. Her hope is that all provinces will allow pharmacists to have access to all publically funded vaccines (not just influenza).
Betty’s practice is testament to how pharmacists with the passion and desire can create a business model that makes the most of their expanding scope.