How are pharmacists contributing to the COVID-19 response? We recently spoke to Stephanie Burden who was named Pharmacist of the Year by the Canadian Pharmacists’ Association

Stephanie Burden is a pharmacist and a pharmacy owner in Rocky Harbour, NL. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy from Memorial University and is a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) candidate at the University of Toronto graduating in June 2021. Five years ago, Stephanie built and opened Complete Care Pharmasave, a community pharmacy and healthcare hub with a vision of integrating pharmacy in the centre of the rural healthcare system.

Stephanie is an advocate for continuity of care and views the pharmacist’s scope as a toolbox to ensure her patients don’t slip through the cracks of healthcare. She and her team have built a culture of connecting patients to pharmacy services through conversations and caring.

Stephanie is an educator at heart – whether that be educating her patients through her social media platforms, educating the next generation of pharmacists as a preceptor, or educating veteran pharmacists on how to take action and create a fulfilling professional practice.

In 2021, Stephanie was named the Canadian Pharmacists’ Association Pharmacist of the Year, and in 2020 she was awarded the Bowl of Hygeia in Newfoundland & Labrador, as well as Memorial University’s Community Preceptor of the Year. When she’s not building her pharmacy business and connecting with her patients, Stephanie enjoys the beautiful landscape that rural Newfoundland has to offer and spends her time off hiking, paddling, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and relaxing with her husband Craig and their goldendoodle Lucy. 

How has the pandemic impacted your work? If you could get Canadians to understand one thing about your work during the pandemic, what would it be?

COVID-19 has forced me to be more disconnected from my patients than I have ever been before. We are a community pharmacy that is focused on the patient experience and that means a very hands-on approach to patient care with regular one-on-one discussions, blood pressure and blood sugar checks in the pharmacy, and assessing patient’s concerns on the spot. It’s not uncommon for a patient to come into the pharmacy to ask if I think their rash could be shingles! Pharmacists across the country have been forced to take a step back from their patients, but I would love for Canadians to know that we are still here, we are still the most accessible healthcare professional, we will still talk with you and discuss your medications in the safest way possible.

How has the pandemic impacted your personal life?

Certainly we’ve all endured the pressures of remaining physically distant from friends and family. Fortunately, living in rural Newfoundland means there’s lots of wide open space to explore. My husband and I are outdoor enthusiasts, so our activities of hiking, snowmobiling, backyard fires and walking our Goldendoodle Lucy have maintained our joie de vivre.

Have you been vaccinated? If so, how did you feel when you found out that you were scheduled to get the vaccine? If not, how has the wait impacted your mental health? 

I actually just received my first vaccination dose on April 20th! Pharmacists in Newfoundland and Labrador have been waiting for quite some time to be eligible for vaccinations and I had to wait a little longer as well due to our rural geography. The wait has certainly been arduous, for myself but also for my employees who are not pharmacists but have been here side by side with me since day one of the pandemic. I’ll be the happiest when my team finally gets scheduled for their vaccines. The vaccinating nurses here at our site are so grateful to be giving vaccinations, and everyone gets a cheerful “congratulations!” after their injection! It is so heartwarming.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to pharmacy students during this time?

Take a look around. Take a look at the commitment of pharmacists across the country. Pharmacy is a dedicated profession and I am so proud of my colleagues who have put service before self. Patients will always come first. I want you to be proud of the commitment that you are about to make to your future patients and your future communities. Trying times will come throughout your career, but you will never be alone. We are a group of professionals that have a common goal of serving this country and remaining accessible and trusted for our patients. If you’re the only pharmacist in your practice, don’t ever be afraid to reach out to a colleague with a phone call and ask for help, or advice, or “what would you do”. That’s what pharmacists do best. We’re  not only here for our patients,  we’re also for each other.

It has been a long and hard year. What keeps you going? Are there any hopeful stories that you can share with us?

It has been a long and hard year. Definitely my patients keep me going. Hearing stories that they are frustrated with virtual care and telephone visits, their reliance on the accessibility of the pharmacy team, and their gratitude and relief to know that they can still have a blood pressure check or get personalized health advice when they come into the pharmacy has been paramount to our perseverance. I think if pharmacy had been forced to move to virtual/phone care only it would have led to a great loss of professional satisfaction across the profession.

Also my team: I’m a pharmacist, but I’m also a pharmacy owner, and waking up everyday knowing that this team is depending on me to lead them through this, to keep steering the ship even during the stormiest of seas, is my greatest motivator. I may be the leader of the company, but there have been many days that other members of my team including pharmacy assistants, our pharmacy student, our front store team and the store manager have all stepped up when I was too tired to be the captain. When we finally see life and pharmacy return to a new normal I will be very proud to say that our team came through this together.

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