by Wilson Li, BSc.Phm.
After adjusting to my new role as a first-time dad, little did I know I was also returning to an entirely different world, bringing new significance to what it means to be a frontline pharmacist.
Following the end of my paternity leave, my son was only 3-months-old. Initially, safety for our newborn and ourselves was a big concern. As the only family member stepping outside the home to work, I promised my wife to take extra safety precautions, including religiously donning PPE and strict personal hygiene routines without exception right from day one.
As the state of emergency was declared in Ontario, it seemed like everything was put on hold. Our pharmacy and front store staff, like others, were regularly at work serving the entire community for their essential needs. Every morning going to work, it became very apparent, that the world had indeed changed. The world became silent, an eerie kind of silence; seeing the undriven roads and barren sidewalks during morning rush-hour reminded me of a post-apocalyptic movie scene.
Once at work, the mask and gloves are worn and frequent handwashing and surface sanitation begins.
The nature of my work has also significantly changed too. As a clinically-oriented pharmacist before the pandemic, I would regularly perform vaccinations, Medschecks, point-of-care testing and home visits as part of my patient care routine.
Many of these critical professional services that patients know to expect and often request were declared no longer possible, reverting to primarily dispensing and inventory management, which felt very limiting. Fortunately, soon after, virtual Medschecks were allowed, and patients with complex drug regimens or multiple changes to their therapy greatly appreciated a personal call from their pharmacist for an in-depth interview. This allowed an opportunity to resolve potential drug therapy problems and communicate any requests to their physician, especially as many patients were recommended not to leave their homes.
From my experience, many patients seem to prefer virtual Medschecks due to the increased privacy and convenience offered, having access to all their medications, and less time constraint. As work in many industries becomes more virtual, it would be a great benefit for the patient and pharmacists to have the option to be able to continue conducting Medschecks in this fashion post-pandemic.
Despite other logistical challenges faced by the pharmacy and imposed onto patients, such as the 30-day fill limit, 24-to-48 hour wait for refills, and drug shortages, patients are overall very understanding and grateful for the work we do. Our efforts of managing this pandemic have in fact helped the profession earn a new level of respect from many patients in spite of the temporary setbacks.
After a long day of work, sometimes 12-14 hours, because of staff shortages, I am exhausted, but in a satisfying way, like after a long workout at the gym. This is a serious health crisis we are facing, but by being one of the few frontline healthcare workers still serving the community, except for hospitals, we signify how vital we are to society and the potential impact we have on patients each day going to work.
I would like to thank all of my fellow pharmacists and support staff at my stores and those across the country for tirelessly serving your communities. Going through this pandemic shows the resiliency and adaptability of our profession and always striving to do what’s best for the public’s interest.
Wilson Li graduated in 2009 from UofT’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and began his pharmacy career at Shoppers Drug Mart. He became a CDE pharmacist in 2012 and organizes regular A1c clinics while collecting patient data for practice-based research. Most recently, Wilson and his team completed a national community-pharmacy-based A1c study with over 1,000 patients across the country. His team’s results were published in the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice (IJPP) as a proposed Canadian model for diabetes care. He has been invited as a speaker to many local and national conferences sharing his innovative practices in diabetes care, including UofT’s Self-Care Symposium in 2016.