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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

New trends in pharmacy improving patient care

By Lisa Fattori
Special to The Toronto Sun

These are exciting times for pharmacy students and working pharmacists across Ontario.

Increased demand for these health-care professionals is opening doors to new opportunities in both education and in the workplace.

"We have an aging population where people are living longer," says Lesley Lavack (B.Sc. Phm.) assistant dean, faculty of pharmacy, University of Toronto. "The increased demand for pharmacists is partly in response to the changing demographics, and the increased use and complexity of drug therapies."
"The increased demand for pharmacists is in response to changing demographics, and the increased use and complexity of drug therapies," says Lesley Lavack, assistant dean, faculty of pharmacy, University of Toronto.

To accommodate the growing need for more pharmacists, U of T's faculty of pharmacy is undergoing an ambitious expansion. The school has a mandate to double its faculty, and to increase enrolment to 240 from 180 placements a year. The expanded department will be housed in a new, $70-million state-of-the-art teaching facility -- the Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building -- scheduled to open in 2005.

In recent years, enrollment at the faculty of pharmacy has increased. Still, the acceptance of 180 students out of more than 700 applications annually is a disparity that does not meet the demands of students who want access to the program.

"As the only faculty of pharmacy in Ontario, we were admitting proportionately fewer students than faculties in other provinces," Lavack says.

"At 180 students, we're bursting at the seams. We will increase enrolment to our target of 240 when we are in our new facility."

Students of the new Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy can look forward to tripled space for research and practice laboratories and instruction. A year ago, the faculty introduced its MDIT (Molecular Design Information Technology Centre) which features a supercomputer and movie theatre-sized monitor for the examination of molecules. The tremendous computing and design capacity of the system allows for leading edge bioinformatics research programs.

The Faculty of Pharmacy offers an undergraduate (B.Sc. Phm.) program, a post baccalaureate Pharm. D. program, and graduate studies at the Masters and PhD. levels. The undergraduate degree is a four-year program that requires a minimum of one year of university (required core courses) for acceptance. A mix of academic and practical instruction prepares graduates for patient-centered pharmacy practice.

"Pharmacists today are not just dispensing medications," Lavack says. "We want caring pharmacists who interact with patients, and who work with other healthcare professionals, to ensure that medications are used safely and effectively to improve patients' quality of life."

The opportunity to be more involved in patient care is what attracted Steve Flexman, BS.Phm., to return home to Simcoe, Ont., a town of about 15,000 people on Lake Erie.

Flexman is a graduate of U of T's Faculty of Pharmacy, and has worked for three years at Clark's Pharmasave in Simcoe. Flexman chose this pharmacy because it fulfilled his criteria for work in specialty compounding, homecare pharmacy services and patient consultations.

"For the last few years, it's been very easy to get a job as a pharmacist and, because of the shortage, salaries are higher," Flexman says.

"You have your pick of where you want to work." In addition to regular dispensing services, some pharmacies offer cognitive services. These are in-depth consultations to help patients better manage their drug regimes, and to educate people about preventing illness. Because of the time involved and the expertise required, these services are offered for a fee.

Pharmasave, in Simcoe, also offers a number of programs that help people manage their diseases.

"We have a six month cholesterol program to help people lower their cholesterol to an appropriate level," Flexman says. "Once they receive the service, patients really appreciate it."

According to Flexman, subsidization of these services would give the public greater access to them. "Governments and insurance companies haven't caught on that this saves health-care costs in the long run," he says. "We need third party payers for these services to go mainstream."

More complex drug therapies, alternative medicines and lifestyle changes are all pushing pharmacists onto the front lines to address people's questions and concerns about their health. This trend is redefining the role of pharmacists who, increasingly, are seen as essential partners in the delivery of health-care services.

"We are all interested in preventing illness and in promoting wellness," Flexman says. "The expanding role of other healthcare professionals will help to alleviate the strain on family physicians."

(Lisa Fattori ( is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)

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