When we go to a pharmacy to fill a doctor’s prescription, the men and women – usually wearing white lab coats – behind the counter will duly take your prescription, ask you to come back a bit later, and hand over your medication in exchange for payment.
Traditionally, not much more has generally been expected of them by most people.
But it’s also become increasingly common in recent times for them to call you aside and have a brief conversation regarding the medication you’re getting. If important advice or caution needs to be given, they will give it
That’s an indication of the changing role of pharmacists in our healthcare system. The pharmacist of the near future will increasingly become more than just a prescription filler. He or she will become an important adviser and source of help for many of your health and medical-related issues.
In fact, Aaron Sihota sees a day when your local community pharmacist may be ACTUALLY prescribing medications, just like a doctor, for your minor ailments.
“As we move forward, you’re going to see specialized roles within pharmacy. Right now, as a community pharmacist, you’re already doing many different things, but the need for a pain pharmacist or a travel pharmacist, those kinds of specialities, you’ll see them grow quite a bit,” says Sihota.
And as the pharmacist profession grows and develops in B.C. and Canada, you can bet Sihota will be out front and center in that process. The recent graduate from the UBC Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences has already made his mark as an activist leader within his chosen field and is all set to continue advocating for causes relevant to his profession.
Sihota’s effective leadership role was recognized within the profession when he won the Commitment to Care & Service Award (CCSA) for Student Leadership last year. He was the only winner of the prestigious national award given out by Pharmacy Practice, the leading Canadian pharmacy publication.
“I was recognized for my work as a pharmacy student, and especially within the leadership aspects of pharmacy. I was nominated for the award. There was only one such award, and it was a real honor for me to be recognized for the contributions I had the opportunity to make,” says Sihota, who is now a licensed pharmacist.
Sihota was also a winner of the Future British Columbia Leader Award for 2014 given out by the British Columbia Pharmacy Association.
Sihota’s activist nature meant that he took a leadership role in UBC while he was a student there, and the award was a recognition of his efforts on behalf of the 800-odd students in his faculty. Not only did he get elected as the head of his faculty’s student body, but he also served two consecutive one-year terms as an elected student member of the UBC Senate.
The Senate is the highest academic governing body for UBC, and its 100-plus membership is a mix of academic and administrative staff, distinguished alumni, community representatives and student representatives for the various faculties.
The B.C.-born and raised Sihota says he was involved in advocating for his fellow students and his future profession from the time he entered university.
“I was really interested and involved with the issues on the academic side. When you have policies that affect the students, sometimes you feel your voice as a student is not really heard, so these kinds of things really interested me – how we can better put a student voice at the table. I ran on a platform of getting students really involved in the decision-making process,” he says.
Sihota’s leadership activities for his profession were by no means limited solely to the university context. He also spoke at an international digital health conference in September 2014, about how technology can help advance healthcare and “really enhance the patient-healthcare provider relationship.”
And he also got the opportunity to speak to B.C.’s legislators about the industry when he was part of a team that visited the B.C. Legislature in Victoria for Pharmacy Day last year. He says his conversations with various MLAs revolved around pharmacy issues as well as general healthcare issues.
Activism, it seems, is in Sihota’s blood. In high school, he was elected the Grade 12 representative to organize events for his high school year. And he was also involved when the City of Vancouver had an advisory committee on diversity issues.
“I sat on that committee. We talked about how the city could reduce barriers to access for different communities – the ethnic communities, the LGBT community. I was probably the youngest person there,” he says.
Which naturally brings up the question: Is there a possibility of him running for political office sometime in the future? After all, any election, whether at school, university or for political office, requires good campaigning, and his successes so far seem to indicate that he’s an effective campaigner.
Sihota is non-committal about any political plans.
“If you’re passionate about an issue, it is a big help. And you also must have a good team for a successful campaign. I was blessed to be working with a strong team who supported me. It’s also about your ability to communicate ideas with people. I enjoy that, especially if I’m really passionate about the issue,” he says.
Right now, Sihota’s passion continues to be his profession, and the role it can play in the overall healthcare system in the province.
“I definitely will continue to be involved, hopefully in advocacy on behalf of our profession and healthcare in general. I think if you look at the provincial budget, every single dollar we spend, about 42% is spent on healthcare, which is staggering.
“We have to create innovative solutions to make healthcare sustainable down the line, especially as the population ages. So I will absolutely want to be part of the debate and discussion around it, and I think that pharmacy is definitely going to be a big part of the solution to that problem.
“I don’t know about politics, but it has to be something that must make you really passionate about being engaged. I definitely want to be engaged with the issues. I don’t know what that will translate into in future.Right now, my focus is totally on being a very good pharmacist, on understanding the issues that are facing our profession and our healthcare system in the province,” he says.
One thing is certain. If Sihota does decide to throw his hat into the political arena, he will bring the kind of specialised expertise to the table that is so often missing among many whose political ambitions hang merely on being able to manipulate the candidate nomination process.
Coming back to the pharmacy profession, Sihota says he would definitely encourage young people to work towards becoming pharmacists.
“I say, very strongly consider it as a really good profession, and I absolutely encourage it. Some people say that in the Lower Mainland, there is presently an oversupply of pharmacists. But there is a shortage as you move further out to the island or to the north of the province.
“There are so many opportunities. You generally think of pharmacists as associated with retail settings, but there are hospital pharmacists, military pharmacists, other things you could be involved in – teaching, leadership and advocacy, even on the government side,” he says.
You need at least a minimum amount of undergraduate coursework before you can apply to do pharmacy at a university.
“This is my second degree, and about 30% of each class has a degree before coming to pharmacy. It’s a professional program because you have to write a licensing exam after getting your degree and before you can practise in B.C. or anywhere else in the country, depending on where you write your exam,” he says.
The pharmacist designation itself is changing.
“The program is moving towards something called the Pharm D., or Doctor of Pharmacy. Starting September this year, we are moving to a new model where you have to have a minimum of two years of prior undergraduate coursework (NOTE: Presently, you need just one year of such work). And when you come out of the program, you’ll be designated a doctor.
“This is already the case in the U.S.,” he says.
Whatever direction he decides to take, it seems like we’re going to be hearing a lot more from and about Aaron Sihota in the future.