Rocky Harbour Woman Recognized as Canada’s Pharmacist of the Year

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A pharmacist who started her own business in Rocky Harbour five years ago has received national recognition for how her practice became a health pub in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stephanie Burden established Complete Care Pharmassave in 2016 in Rocky Harbour, a coastal town surrounded by Gros Morne National Park.

Last year, Burden was selected as the province’s Bowl of Hygieia winner, an award that celebrates pharmacists who demonstrate community involvement.

Given her victory, the Pharmacist Association of Newfoundland and Labrador submitted her name alongside 11 other candidates for the Canadian Pharmacist of the Year.

“It’s just incredibly unbelievable winning the Canadian pharmacist of the year,” said Burden. “I really don’t have any other words to describe it, because I still feel like I’m pinching myself.”

For her, practicing pharmacy in a rural environment is an opportunity to centralize the often hazy elements of health care, diminishing barriers by positioning her business as what she termed a health-care hub.

“In rural [areas] the pharmacy is often the common denominator across many different professions, and patients have that touchpoint of the pharmacy,” said Burden.

“It’s a familiar face when they come in: they know us, they wave, they say hello. We get to be the center of care, and I really wanted to build on that as a practice, that health-care hub model.”

She said she wanted to be in a position where patients could seek answers regarding their medications but also discuss anxieties regarding forthcoming appointments or queries about their health.

Videos created to help rural residents

For other medical professionals, Burden’s health-care hub is placed to be a point of communication.

“Being able to be a point of reference for physicians and health-care providers and nurse practitioners, if they had a drug information question, or if they wanted to talk through the best next therapy for their patient,” said Burden. “I really felt that a community pharmacy could be the center of that rural health-care system and really help close up some of the gaps.”

Over the course of the pandemic, she rolled out some initiatives to try and maintain that close community connection, even when the precautions demanded social distance.

“I produced some videos, just in the pharmacy, helping patients remain calm and helping them understand COVID-19 from the rural perspective,” Burden said.

“A lot of the messaging that they’ve received is from across the country and across the world.”

As per Burden, even if they are offering services from nearly 2m away or over the phone, the reliability of pharmacists is crucial to the health of many across the province.

“Pharmacists on the front lines still provide an essential service to Canadians throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Burden said. “And sometimes that just means they were there and they were dependable, and that made all the difference.”

On top of remaining available for her patients, she additionally spent most of her time during the early pandemic helping others in the medical community.

“Sanitizer was a very hot commodity among other PPE at the onset of the pandemic, so I decided that I would make hand sanitizer for the community, and also for a local medical clinic that needed it to stay open,” said Burden.

“That was definitely a highlight, something I didn’t really anticipate doing when I graduated pharmacy school.”

An exciting time to be a pharmacist

Whereas Burden’s passion for her practice may have won her the sector’s accolades, her dedication to the career and assisting young pharmacy practitioners find their place within it, she said, has long been a driving force.

She said she always imagined being this person that other pharmacists look to for advice.

“I just wanted to be an open door for pharmacists as well, so that they could call me and I could talk through some stages that they may be at,” she said.

“I’ve probably already been there. I’ve been in business for five years; I’ve been on that roller coaster. I’ve seen the challenges and the opportunities.”

However, Burden added that the business side of the industry can be quite challenging.

“I really welcome any pharmacists that are interested in breaking into the world of pharmacy and learning about the business of pharmacy—because that’s a whole other facet— to contact me, get in touch,” she said. “I would absolutely love to speak with you and talk through some of the wins and then some of the challenges.”

Burden’s last word for aspiring pharmacists: There is never a right time, she said, but now is a good time to start.

“You’re never going to wake up one morning and feel completely ready to take on a new role, to start that business— it just doesn’t happen that way,” she said.

“But if you have something in your heart, if you see that there’s a better way to do things, if you have an innovative idea, really the time is now”.

“I’m just so proud of the profession of pharmacy in this province and across the country,” said Burden. “It really is an exciting time to be in pharmacy, and I’m just in awe of all of the pharmacists out there that are showing up day-in and day-out.”

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