Portrait of PharmD for Pharmacists student Stephanie Burden

Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy student Stephanie Burden recognized by the Canadian Pharmacist Association.

Stephanie Burden had been working as a community pharmacist in rural Newfoundland for several years when she began feeling uninspired with her career. She had earned a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy from Memorial University, but she was looking for new challenges and wanted to increase her clinical skills. She enrolled in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy’s (LDFP) PharmD for Pharmacists Program, and almost immediately the program opened her eyes to the varied career paths that pharmacists can have.

 “When I met the other students in my cohort, I was astounded that there were so many specialties and different types of pharmacists,” she says. “All of a sudden, it was like a light bulb moment for me.”

After that light bulb moment, while still studying at the LDFP, she opened her own pharmacy that would allow her to expand her practice while staying in rural Newfoundland. She began offering services that were uncommon in her community, such as compliance packaging and medication reviews, and focused on preventive health care, including blood pressure and blood glucose monitoring and immunizations.

“These services are new to my area, but they aren’t new in community pharmacy,” says Burden. “I want to make sure that my rural patients are not underserviced and that they receive the same level of care as anyone else in any other part of the country.”

These services, and her commitment to providing her patients with high quality care and advice before and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic are some of the reasons the Canadian Pharmacists Association selected her as the 2021 Pharmacist of the Year. The award is given to a pharmacist who demonstrates leadership and exemplifies the expansion of the pharmacist role in health care.

“For me, this award means that the small things done day-in and day-out really add up to the big things,” says Burden. “I’m doing what lots of pharmacists are doing, taking care of our patients every day, and that adds up over your career.”

Kathy Vu, director of the PharmD for Pharmacists program, says Burden epitomizes the vision of the program to train leaders in pharmaceutical care. “It is absolutely wonderful to see one of our students achieve personal success with this prestigious award while helping to advance health care in her community, especially through the COVID-19 pandemic,” Vu adds. “She has effectively combined clinical knowledge and skills with entrepreneurial skills, passion and social media experience to advance pharmacy practice for her patients.”

“Incredible opportunities out there” for pharmacists

Burden’s clinical and social media knowledge have been particularly important because of her rural practice, even more so during the pandemic. Some of her patients live far from the pharmacy and don’t come in person regularly; even before the pandemic, she would connect with these patients virtually and provide advice and education through video.

But her comfort with social media and in front of a camera became even more important when her contact with all patients was limited because of the pandemic. She used her knowledge and experience to create videos to explain public health guidelines to her patients, how to properly wear a mask, and how to stay safe and calm.

“I’m a problem-solver, and my patients like to come to me with questions. I was able to help them understand what to do for COVID, and it resonated with them because they trusted what I was saying,” says Burden. “When they were being bombarded with information, they could rely on me to help them understand what was most relevant to them.”

Burden says this role as an advisor and educator is an important one for pharmacists, especially in a rural community. She says that pharmacists are well positioned to offer more preventive health care, chronic disease management and play larger roles in the health care system, which benefits patients and provides pharmacists with exciting opportunities.

As she prepares to graduate this spring, Burden credits the PharmD for Pharmacists program for exposing her to wide possibilities for her practice and reinvigorating her passion for the profession.

“In pharmacy right now, we have incredible opportunities out there once you start looking for them,” she says. “And sometimes programs like these can be the eye opener that you need to see what you can do.”

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