Pharmacy U

John Tse – Paying it forward


John Tse is responsible for two business units at London Drugs: pharmacy and cosmetics. In each, he oversees the development and implementation of planning and strategy as well as merchandising and staff. “It’s a demanding job – and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Tse.


Education: University of British Columbia (Pharmacy and M.B.A.)

Current role: Vice President of Pharmacy and Cosmetics at London Drugs

What has been a highlight of your career?

The ongoing evolution of the industry has amazed and inspired me. Pharmacy has grown from being primarily a paper-based delivery process to fully automatic. In BC, we were a pioneer in  using robotics to dispensing prescriptions. At London Drugs, our goal is to free up the pharmacist to work with the patient. Automated systems like this enable us to do that.

How does London Drugs go above and beyond to help pharmacists help patients?

We are the most automated chain in the country. Robots count pills, label bottles, and take photos of the prescription before pharmacists do a final check. Our system actually compares the product against the patient’s prescription. This lets the pharmacist do other things – important things like connecting with patients. We changed workflow more than 15 years ago to enable connections to happen more effectively; we created patient counselling booths that bring patients face to face with the pharmacist as a first step. This type of work – and thinking – is helping to pave the way for what is to come for pharmacists: our evolution from a product-based profession to a service-based profession.

What advice would you give new pharmacists to help them in the years ahead?

You need to innovate and anticipate the changes that are coming. In the near future, baby boomers will require more medications, and business will grow. But as this demographic passes, this reality will change. New pharmacists must think about how the demographic evolution will change their business and the profession.

Is advocacy an integral part of the work you do? How do you build it into your work?

Advocacy is extremely important. So is marketing. These functions complement one another. They’re often seen in a negative light, but advocacy and marketing can mean tooting your own horn or they can mean demonstrating your skillset and competency level. It takes time for people to understand the contribution our profession can make, but when they do, trust is built. And trust is essential.

A lot of conversations are occurring without pharmacists in the room. We need to be present and accounted for. A lot of advocacy work isn’t sexy. It’s about going to meeting after meeting. It’s not the most riveting way to spend time, but we need to speak on our own behalf. No one else can communicate how our profession can enhance the healthcare system.

Why is it critical that pharmacists and the sector act as advocates? Why not let other health professionals do this?

It’s important to pay it forward. The only way we will create change is to knock on doors ourselves. We function in the public and the private arena. People forget that, and we need to remind them of our role and our contribution. We stand apart, and this needs to be recognized. Where else can you ask a professional for advice and it’s free? Doctors don’t do that; accountants don’t do that.