When pharmacists think of potential partners, thoughts often turn to pharmaceutical companies, professional associations and healthcare providers. More and more, however, pharmacists are forging long-lasting and productive partnerships with their academic counterparts.
By donalee Moulton
Photo by Brandon Gray
Unfortunately, this important partnership is often a well-kept secret, says Professor Zubin Austin, Murray B. Koffler Chair in Pharmacy Management at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto. “These collaborations are becoming so much more common in pharmacy, but we don’t talk about it. Yet there is an interdependency here. There are so many opportunities for growth and development.”
Those opportunities benefit patients and the profession today and in the future. The latter, in particular, is a primary focus for researchers and educators. “We are all about the future,” says Austin. “We train future practitioners; we conduct the research that will inform pharmacy practice; we provide the pipeline that will support a viable pharmacy profession.”
Those forward-focused initiatives are often successful because of partnerships with pharmacists on the frontline. Forecasting how the profession can be stronger and more successful starts with each new generation of pharmacists, says Austin, who is also Academic Director of the Centre for Practice Excellence, a unique initiative established by the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy to equip students and practitioners with the necessary skills to maximize their clinical expertise while enhancing quality of care and improving patient outcomes in a cost-effective manner. “Academics rely very heavily on community pharmacists. In university, one quarter of the curriculum in pharmacy programs is based on experiential learning.”
Pharmacists and their patients, in turn, benefit from the ideas, energy and hands-on assistance of pharmacists in training. “We provide community pharmacists with the best, most competent students to help them with their work. Without students the work of the profession would stop,” says Austin.
“Through students, community pharmacists have access to the latest in our profession’s thinking, understanding and insight. It’s about access to information,” Austin adds.
Partnerships between academia and frontline pharmacy extend beyond students to other mutually important endeavours, such as research. “Practice-based research is increasingly led by pharmacists on the frontlines,” notes Austin. “Academics support this. We bring the rigour of diverse methods. That is respected by policy-makers, healthcare professionals, and funders.”
Having university-based researchers as partners can enhance both the quality and the trustworthiness of the data. It can also help ensure that information is widely distributed so it can be both better understood and put into practice. “A typical community pharmacist doesn’t have access to these networks,” Austin says.
He points out that funders and payers, whether from the private or public sector, are increasingly demanding academic expertise and extensive distribution of information where appropriate. “We live in times where everything is under the microscope. It’s particularly important in healthcare where dollars are contracting and expectations are expanding.”
One recent and high-profile example of this is the OPEN project, a pharmacy research collaboration in Ontario that traces its roots directly to the expanding role of pharmacists and the call for greater accountability. The initiative has four main objectives including providing evidence of the quality, outcomes and value of recent and emerging medication management services provided by Ontario’s pharmacists and fostering knowledge translation and exchange among project members, professionals and the public.
Such partnerships are becoming more common – and essential. For pharmacists seeking their first working relationship with a researcher or academic, Austin recommends starting with a familiar face. “Students are connected to every corner of this profession. They open up opportunities to bring community pharmacy and the university together.”
Leaders in Pharmacy, including this independently written article, is supported by Pfizer Canada.