Pharmacy U

“I want to be on YOUR team.” The patient takes centre stage at Pharmacy U Toronto

Lunch session 2

“I want to be on your team.”


By Jane Auster



Those simple words marked the beginning of a relationship that lasted throughout comedian, speaker and actor Robert Hawke’s recovery from thyroid cancer. They were spoken by a pharmacist when Hawke walked to his local drugstore after experiencing a night of excruciating pain after being discharged from the hospital.


“The pharmacist looked at me, and I was a mess,” Hawke recalls, reliving the experience. “I hadn’t washed, I was a wreck, I probably smelled. The pharmacist said – ‘I want to be on your team. You can call me anytime, leave me a message if I’m not there, and I will get back to you.’”


As patients, Hawke told the audience at a sold-out Pharmacy U in Toronto recently, we are really vulnerable. But pharmacists are in a position to help patients feel less helpless.


“A nameless, faceless giant institution is how most patients see healthcare. Pharmacists have an advantage in that you are accessible. And despite standing behind a wall of meds, wearing a white coat, and sometimes even standing on a raised platform, you still manage to beat the odds to offer meaningful interactions with patients. That’s hope to us.”


How can pharmacists have more positive patient interactions? What constitutes significant connections, Hawke asked? Empathy, listening, speaking their language, keeping patients’ considerations in mind, making eye contact were all ways that pharmacists mentioned of making all-important patient connections.


“There’s something else, which I call, ‘how’s your dog?’ You can say, ‘it’s good to see you again.’ This is a big deal to patients. You don’t just look at us as someone with a condition. We’re more than that. I moved to a new community recently and went to the local pharmacy. I’ll be on a med for life. I’m looking to you to be your open, generous selves. As patients we know you are skilled, but we need all of who you are.”


Hugh and Brandon Toner’s approach to patient care


Pharmacist Hugh Toner has experienced the potential of true patient-centred care from both sides of the fence. The owner of two Medicine Shoppe pharmacies in Sydney, Nova Scotia experienced debilitating depression in his 20s. His personal experiences have helped him to be a better pharmacist. Today he runs a caring pharmacy practice with his son Brandon, who graduated from Dalhousie’s school of pharmacy in 2015.


“I think the world’s waking up,” he says. “You see yoga and meditation on the front page of magazines. The world’s become so stressed out, so busy, we can’t leave our cellphone on the counter at home without driving back to get it. It’s your whole life, and since it’s been introduced in your life, you can’t do without it because your family’s looking for you, the world’s looking for you, you use it as a source of information. It’s a busy old world out there.

hugh 2

“Pharmacists and pharmacies – we need to mould with what people are looking at. We’re in a very complicated field. We’re the recipients of prescriptions. We modify prescriptions, there are all sorts of new biologics and biosimilars coming on the market. It’s an unending pipeline, and it’s becoming more complicated all the time. The irony of all that is that we need to demystify pharmacy, let the dust settle, and create a place of presence where we put the patient at the centre of care.”


The world of pharmacy is definitely changing – and changing rapidly – especially for younger pharmacists like Brandon Toner, who’s been out of pharmacy school less than three years.


“When I was going through school, the concept of patient care was a little bit like a unicorn, the ideal gold standard of practice,” says Brandon, “but you knew very well that it was going to be very challenging to incorporate that into your day-to-day practice when you graduated. It’s hard to blend that theoretical gold standard magical unicorn land with the realities of the constraints of business and practice. What I’m seeing now is strategies, techniques and tangible initiatives to breed a sense of community for ideas to come together, to bring things to actual fruition. I’m getting a sense of urgency and believability in the profession right now that things can be better and more professional.”


It’s a conversation that pharmacists across Canada are having every day as they explore new ways to put the patient front and centre. Pharmacists are ready to be on the patient’s team.