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Pharmacist Talk with Cassandra Woit
Cassandra Woit, MSc. Pharmacy Practice, BSc. Pharm, RPh., APA, has worked in a variety of settings and pharmacy practices since graduating from the University of Alberta in 2016. While completing her MSc in Pharmacy Practice she worked as pharmacist providing care to supportive living sites in and around Edmonton. In this role she collaborated with physicians, nursing staff and patients to quickly expand her practice and knowledge to provide comprehensive pharmacy services.
She has also worked at different independent community pharmacies where she gained valuable experience in community practice as each pharmacy had a different patient population, workflow, and work environment. Upon completion of her master’s at the end of 2019, she transitioned to a practice site in the inner city where she developed additional experience in the fields of addictions and mental health.
In 2021 a new opportunity presented itself, and she joined a community pharmacy in Southwest Edmonton where she has been able to focus on the community’s needs while advocating for the profession. In her spare time you can find Cassandra reading a mystery novel, dancing, or working on a new crochet project.
“Pandemic stress, increase in harassment and staffing challenges exact heavy toll on pharmacy professionals. National survey data shows pharmacy teams are at risk of burnout at unprecedented levels … Adding to the pressure is an increase in frequent abuse and harassment with almost half (48%) experiencing abuse or harassment from patients at least weekly.”
Community pharmacists and hospital pharmacists compound and dispense prescribed pharmaceuticals and provide consultative services to both clients and health care providers. They are employed in retail and health centre pharmacies, or they may be self-employed. Industrial pharmacists participate in the research, development, promotion and manufacture of pharmaceutical products. They are employed in pharmaceutical companies and government departments and agencies.
For Pharmacists, over the period 2019-2028, new job openings (arising from expansion demand and replacement demand) are expected to total 12,500 , while 16,600 new job seekers (arising from school leavers, immigration and mobility) are expected to be available to fill them.
Workers in this occupational group tend to retire at a later age than those in other occupations, limiting the number of positions that will be available due to retirement over the projection period. With regard to labour supply, due to the highly specialized nature of this occupation, school leavers are expected to account for the vast majority of job seekers. About one fifth of all job seekers are projected to be immigrants getting licensed through the provincial or territorial regulatory body for both community and hospital pharmacists. A sizeable number of workers are expected to seek opportunities in managerial positions in the health sector or as retail and wholesale trade managers (NOC 0621 – pharmacists opening their own drugstore).
A bachelor of science degree in pharmacy is required.
Pharmacists also require practical training under the supervision of a pharmacist.
Licensure is required in all provinces and territories for community and hospital pharmacists.
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Complete Episode Transcript
It really depends on on the individual.
So I know we’re looking or what you’re looking at is kind of that shift midlife.
Is this still something I could do if you’ve got the prereqs from a long time ago, it’s still something that if you’re passionate about it, I would encourage people to look into.
The Job Talk Podcast shares stories from people who are passionate and love what they do in their careers.
Through conversation, we explore their careers, past work experiences and the education that got them to where they are now.
We are putting together a Career Crisis Ultimate Interview series.
We are asking experts to give their best advice and guidance around work anxiety, career pressures, career goal setting, and ultimately career transformation.
To learn more about this special interview series and get notified when it’s available, please visit our web page at thejobtalk.com/help Today’s guest is Cassandra Woit.
Here’s our job talk with a Pharmacist.
When I was very young, I was told the story about how my great grandfather owned a pharmacy on Jasper AVE.
And I think this was 1915, 1920, and I didn’t know much, but I think I was just told that pharmacists make really good money and you get to wear a cool white lab coat.
I quickly discovered that I wasn’t and I’m not going to go into too much self-deprecation, but I wasn’t exactly scholarly.
Don’t let the books behind me.
Like you see, but I think a Harry Potter collection of there.
So I guess.
They’re mostly my kids books.
Did you have a family member that was a pharmacist or why did you choose to go into pharmacy? Yeah, so I did actually.
My dad is a pharmacist back in Ontario, so I’m from Thunder Bay.
Originally he owned his own pharmacy and so I saw what the practice was like.
I was some free manual labor for a while when I was younger and then transitioned into some paid labor kind of through high school and university.
But coming into the profession wasn’t my set game plan.
I originally have a degree in biochemistry with a minor in psych.
I was thinking I was going to go on to do bench work research, but you know, at that point I didn’t know if that’s where I wanted to go.
So I’m like, Well, what about pharmacy? I know.
I like the career.
I know it’s been a passion for my dad.
I’ve seen the great work that he’s been able to do with his patients and people around my town.
So that’s kind of what led me to apply to pharmacy, and that’s how I’m here today.
How old were you when you made the decision to look at pharmacy as as a career? So it would have been 23 because I my undergrad was a five year program with the co-op.
So it was in my last year of my five year undergrad after graduation to decide to look into applying to pharmacy.
At the time, I wasn’t eligible to apply to any of the schools in Ontario and there was an additional testing requirement that I wouldn’t have had time to do because it was a very late decision to look into applying.
So I was able to apply to three schools in Canada I got into to U of A and then U of S So in Saskatoon it was a really tough decision, but I chose UofA and I am super, super happy.
So can we talk about the specifics of the education that makes you a pharmacist? So you had a degree going into is it pharmacy school? Take us through the process.
There’s definitely been changes and growth and the requirements for pharmacy right now.
They’re sitting at a two year minimum in some science related program, I believe.
So there are prereqs that you need to have, but I was probably one of the older, older classmates in my cohort because I did have a full degree.
Some people had masters before getting into the program.
Others had one or two years of undergrad.
So it really it really depends on on the individual.
So I know we’re looking or what you’re looking at is kind of that shift midlife.
Is it still something I could do if you’ve got the prereqs from a long time ago, it’s still something that if you’re passionate about it, I would encourage people to look into.
But also right now it’s a two year requirement of an undergrad PhDs with the required prerequisite courses.
And then the program itself is four years and how it’s changed across all of the pharmacy schools in Canada is now it is an entry level pharm d program.
So I’m in a cohort where it’s still a B.S.
in pharmacy, where now it’s the entry level PHARM.D.
So graduates come out with the title of doctor.
So it’s, it’s a pretty neat time to be getting involved in pharmacy and seeing that transition just even from the classes and the coursework.
Yeah, I imagine the competition is quite high to get into pharmacy.
Do they just look at your grades or are they looking at other activities you might be involved in or volunteer work? Or do they just base it strictly on grade grades? They do give kind of a a range of where you’re more likely to be the successful candidate, but they really look at what makes you a good person to be a pharmacist.
So they’re looking at volunteer experience, extracurriculars, you know, other leadership qualities that you might have, experience that you have.
So while it is competitive, you know, it’s still a good class size, especially here at U of A and they’re really looking not just for the grades.
I think probably every program kind of has similar things.
But once you’re in, it’s like C’s get degrees.
That’s that’s where we’re at.
As long as you’re learning the material and you’re going to go and practice and really be focused on that, you’re like the patient base that you’re working with.
I wouldn’t say it’s just a GPA based requirement.
What’s the course load like when you’re going through the program is an intense did you have a part time job while you were going through it? Oh, they’ve definitely changed the coursework from when I was in Student, so I graduated in 2016, so I’ve been in practice for a while and I haven’t been seeing a lot with the transition to the Pharm D program.
When I was in school, there was a lot of overlapping course modules and you were trying to balance a lot of that.
So I think they’ve really streamline, changed the process.
And now for fourth year pharmacy students, it’s a full year of rotations.
So the first three years are you’re pretty course heavy learning all of the medications, the medical conditions, all of that.
And then your last year is four separate rotations, two months each.
So you get to see a good range of practice of pharmacy because it does really vary depending on where you’re practicing.
So I myself didn’t have a part time job during the school term.
I would work full time over the summers, whereas I had other friends who had almost full time jobs during the school year.
So I think it really depends on what your needs are and what you’re able to to do, but it’s definitely feasible both ways.
And what was your first experience when you left Post-Secondary? I didn’t know if I was going to have a job after graduating.
We were at a time where it was pretty competitive to find find work and I was ready to be an arbonne saleswoman.
Like that was where I was going to fall back to and keep looking for work.
I was really lucky to reconnect with a previous employer that I did the summer term with, and she was able to get me in to the company that it’s now changed names, but I was able to work with them for about two and a half years, which was great because from graduation I also rolled it right into a master’s in pharmacy practice.
So a bit of a different trajectory than a lot of pharmacy grads take.
But I was working in supportive living, so I wasn’t actually in a pharmacy setting, but I was working really closely with physicians and nursing teams and seeing my patients in their homes.
So it was a really great kind of entrance into the profession because I was really able to focus on building those patient flow like patient forward skills and working collaboratively with other health professionals.
So that was really great while also doing My Master’s.
So yeah, that’s really interesting to me.
So it’s not just the pharmacists you see in the pharmacy.
What other what other occupations can you do with the education that you receive when you go through it? So there’s kind of three pillars that I talk about with pharmacy practice.
You’ve got your community pharmacy, hospital pharmacy and then administrative pharmacy.
So that could be working with policies with Alberta Health Services or policies with Alberta Blue Cross.
So kind of more of the policy administration side of it.
Hospital pharmacy is something that I’ve never been a part of, but it’s its own kind of world in pharmacy as well.
So sometimes it’s difficult for us to all work on this or advocate together because we do have such different needs.
So it’s trying to find a common ground of how can we support all pharmacists, which I think is really interesting in a profession.
And then you have community pharmacy where you again you think of it’s the count and pills in your white coat behind the counter.
But there’s a cohort that are working in support of living in long term care.
So they’re not actually in a pharmacy either in the supportive living facilities or there’s compounding pharmacies and communities.
So they’re working on actually making up compounds.
And so it’s a really diverse group of professionals who all fall under the term pharmacist.
But we’re it’s it’s not just one activity that they could be doing.
Let’s let’s talk about your position now.
And can you take us through your day to day, what you’re doing throughout the day? the day to day.
It really it depends on what is kind of left over from the day before right now.
I mean, the things that pretty much any pharmacy or pharmacist will do is you get your order of all of the medications you need to process that you bought prescriptions pending from the day before that you have to look over faxes that have come in that you have to address people coming into the pharmacy with new prescriptions.
So a normal day, it is very patient facing, which is great for me.
So a lot of interaction with the people that we’re providing care to.
We’re not the busiest of pharmacies, so it gives us a lot of time to be able to really get to know who are, who our patients are and what their needs are.
And so we’re constantly checking up, seeing how they’re doing, making sure their medications are working well right now.
We also have a fourth year student.
So I’m a preceptor for rotations.
So it’s a great way to kind of give back and show them what we do and, you know, help facilitate their learning.
We’re also ramping right up into more of the Moderna bivalent vaccines, bookings and flu season.
So it’s really kind of preparing for all of that.
So you’re definitely catching us at a busy, busy time leading up to flu season.
And I was going to save it for a little later in the interview.
But you mentioned it now.
What was the COVID situation like for you, being a pharmacist and what do you think? What direction are we going in now that it seems like the pandemic is over now? Thankfully.
It’s it’s definitely been a lot.
It has been a lot.
And I think a lot of pharmacists would probably echo that the last two and a half, three years are just really catching up to us now.
There was a lot of requirements put on us.
There was a lot of more precautions that we would need to take.
Workload really expanded exponentially compared to, I think, what we were expecting.
And I think we did a really, really great job of picking up the slack and helping where we could, where, you know, with vaccinations and helping people get bookings for those, helping people with getting access to the rapid tests when they weren’t super available.
So I think there was a lot that was put on pharmacists shoulders during the pandemic.
And I do really think that we really stepped up as a profession to really support those in need.
But right now, I think we’re all feeling, feeling that.
And so if you if you want to be nice to your pharmacist, that would be great because we we everyone that I work with because we we everyone that I work with and my colleagues like we really love what we do.
And we were happy to be such an integral part of supporting people through this pandemic or a little tired.
Well, you you were on the front lines, so thank you.
Thank you for that.
And what a strange time in the world.
The two years I remember, I would do searches for vaccines like a month into into the pandemic.
And I was amazed at all of the misinformation and the anti-vaxxers.
I didn’t think they would be in the numbers that they were.
And maybe it just seemed like there were a lot of them because of social media.
Now, now people can put their crazy thoughts out into the world, but what an awful time.
So thank you for doing what you were doing.
You were definitely as well.
Yeah, thank you.
What is your job? Stressful.
What are what are some of the challenges that you experience? Are? I think it’s I don’t want to say it’s stressful, but there’s definitely stressful moments.
But overall, I really, really love this profession.
I love the work that I can do.
But there’s definitely stressful, stressful moments.
If people are frustrated with their insurance providers and they think that we have all the answers, we do not we do not have the answers a lot of the time from an insurance perspective.
So that can be stressful.
So that’s tough if we’re trying to clarify prescriptions with physicians and they’re super busy and they’re super swamped, trying to still make sure we’re providing care but safe care and explaining that.
So I think, you know, I’m very fortunate in my pharmacy for the speed and the number of prescriptions that we do compared to some of the ones pharmacies that are maybe doing two or three times the amount of work that we are.
So I think a lot of people would say it’s stressful just being able to manage the the workload of how many patients and prescriptions and making sure that we’re checking that everything is safe and indicated and, you know, kind of putting out fires as they come up.
Thank you for speaking to the stress about your day to day rather than the stress through the pandemic, which was an entirely different thing.
What are some of the misconceptions out there about pharmacy? Pharmacy are one of the really clichéd ones is that we just count pills all day.
I mean, to be fair, yeah, we really do count pills a lot of the time, but there’s a lot more that goes into it.
And I think partly it’s us not really explaining that on a broader scale to the public, you know, the amount of training that we do, it’s not just about learning what the medications are.
We do learn about the medical conditions and what are appropriate treatments for that.
There are extra courses to become, you know, certified educators in diabetes or Asthma, vaccines and travel med.
There’s a lot of additional qualifications that pharmacists can get.
So it can be difficult when we’re trying to explain we’re not double checking what your physician or nurse practitioner did.
We’re all trying to work together to make sure that nothing was missed.
And we do get kind of people not being happy with that, which I can completely understand.
And we would respect their wishes.
But we’re not just counting pills like there’s a lot of knowledge that we’ve got to make sure that all of this is correct, because I know that I make mistakes sometimes and I don’t think of everything that could go into a prescription sometimes.
So I would very much appreciate someone also having my back because the end is protecting our patients and making sure that they are safe.
So yeah, we’re not we’re not just counting.
We can count by more than just by five.
But yeah, so I think that’s one of the misconceptions that if we’re asking questions, maybe sometimes it doesn’t make sense as to why.
And that’s one of the things that I really tell students that I facilitate labs with or that I present.
If you’re going to be asking sensitive questions or something that may not make sense to someone other than a pharmacist, explain why you’re asking it before you ask it.
Yeah, because that gives people like I’m asking this question because this medication can do X, Y, Z.
They’ll be way more likely to be like, Oh, okay, that makes sense as a field as opposed to fire.
Why are they asking me that? So I think that’s something that I try and talk with my students about a lot, but I think us as pharmacists who are in practice should also do that.
Has email changed the fact that every doctor seems to have the messiest handwriting? Do you still have to read? And why do they do that? Why? Because throughout my existence on earth, whenever I get a prescription, I look at it and I cannot read it.
So how are you reading these notes and are you still having to read handwritten notes from from doctors? Yes, we definitely still have to read handwritten notes.
Um, some of them are like, I don’t know how I’ve got a bit of a superpower of reading some of the chicken scratch bugs.
If we have any questions.
And, you know, whoever’s bringing in the prescription can’t clarify it, we’ll usually just write back on the prescription, like, is this what you meant? Like, please just clarify.
Unclear if this is a nine or a Q like what is this word? Sometimes one thing that I would love for physicians, especially in a hospital setting, because they’re usually just really swamped in Emerge and they’re writing scripts.
I don’t know what your signature is, if it’s like that and your name’s nowhere on it, so then I have to call emergency or high who is the doctor? And that’s like Mrs.
M and like, oh, yeah, so-and-so.
Oh, my God.
Do you think they know they’re doing that to you? Is this a rivalry thing, do you think? I hope not.
Yeah, I hope not.
I don’t know.
It’s one of those funny ones that you’re like.
It says signature and then write your name.
But sometimes the written name looks even worse than the signature.
So, I mean, I have not the greatest penmanship, so I can definitely understand if you’re in a rush, but hopefully they get enough phone calls trying to clarify who it is.
And yeah, I’m sure they should keep track of that.
Who’s the messiest writer? What do you love about being a pharmacist? I love going into work and learning new things.
Like you think that, you know, you’ve been in practice? I have biochem degree, pharmacy degree in Masters.
I learn things every day and I think that is really great.
Some people beg to differ.
They’re like, I’m good where I’m at, but it’s an evolving field.
I get to learn from my students.
I get to learn from my patients.
I just love that aspect and being open to learning new things even.
You know, if I get a prescription that I haven’t seen before, I’m excited to be able to contact that physician and just say, I haven’t seen this.
Can you provide me some document or some evidence for this? Because this is really neat and I would like to further my practice.
So that’s something that I really, really appreciate.
I also really love the amount of change that you can make in a patient’s life by asking questions that, you know they may not think are going to really affect their future, but it ends up being this like a really beautiful outcome of them just, I don’t know, just the improvements that are not really improvements, but the changes and the positive change that you could make in a patient’s life.
From a health perspective, I think is really why I go to work.
How do you stay up on all of the new information coming out? Because it’s changing daily for you guys? Probably.
Especially with like coronavirus and COVID vaccines.
I thought that was a difficult one to stay up to date with.
Most of the time we would get the new updates from people calling in so we wouldn’t have got a communication.
We’ll check the website in the morning and then someone would call in and say, Oh, I’m eligible now and then we’ll refresh the website.
We’re like, Oh, yes, you are.
So that was difficult.
There are a lot of good resources that, you know, the Canadian Pharmacists Association puts together for pharmacists.
I’m also I love conferences and like lunch and learns and just different learning experiences.
And then also looking at other professions, the physicians have a really great conference that they put on.
So if I’m able to attend that virtually or in person, it’s just looking for some of those opportunities to continue your learning in the field because new medications come out, new medical conditions are coming to light, and so just being aware of what are out there from a resource perspective and then also from a learning experience.
I also work during my masters.
I work really closely with the faculty since I was there all the time.
And so working with the students, working in labs, doing their learning labs and then facilitating students is also a great way to keep my knowledge current and see where there’s gaps in knowledge and where do I need to do a bit more sleuthing to find what I’m missing? So those are kind of what I do to stay on top and stay current.
I never ask how much somebody makes, but is the compensation do you feel it’s it’s fair? Can you make a good life being a pharmacist? Definitely, yeah.
I think I think it’s fair.
You could make a good life being a pharmacist.
If we’re comparing it to 20 or 30 years ago, I think we missed the boat on some of that.
You know, my dad was way better off now.
But no, it is a great profession.
You can make a good living from it.
What kind of advice could you give somebody that’s thinking about studying to become a pharmacist.
Or people who are looking like, you know, if you have a background in sciences or in health care or you’re coming out of high school and you’re going into university, you’re thinking about it, I can speak from my experience of what I would be looking for.
If you’re someone who you know, you’re motivated, you like the medical field and you maybe don’t want to see the blood and guck of being a doctor, you may not avoid it being a pharmacist.
So to prepare yourself, a lot of times I have this rash and they’ll be so if you’re wanting to look into a field, that’s well, okay.
It depends on what type of pharmacist you want to be.
If you want to be a hospital pharmacist, are you looking into, you know, working with a specific medical condition? Because I think that’s really where hospital pharmacists find their niche.
And so if you’re really passionate about a certain condition and the medications that go along with it, you want to work in a hospital setting.
You like that kind of the feel of being in a hospital but not being a physician or a nurse in hospital, then pharmacy would be a great thing for you.
If you like customer service and being people facing you think you’ve got good problem solving skills you’re patient, then community pharmacy would be a great fit because you’ve got kind of all of those aspects where you can still be really clinically focused on the medications and helping people.
But there is that kind of person focus, so you got those type of skills that would be really great.
And then also, if you’re interested in policy and furthering health care, if you think that from a medication perspective, you’ve got skills that you can bring to the table.
Pharmacy would also be a program for you because you don’t have to work in a pharmacy.
You can use those skills in another setting as well.
So I think that was a really long winded and I don’t know if it actually answered the question, but I did actually.
And I was just sorry to interrupt you there.
You mentioned customer service.
How do you handle a customer who’s frustrated or angry? Because I think you would probably get the brunt of that because they’re facing you.
Can you answer that? You it’s a tough one.
It is actually a very tough thing to do.
And I think especially now where we’re at, there’s a switch, especially in community pharmacy, that we’re trying to really value our staff and our employees.
And so we’re still going to try the best we can to diffuse the situation.
If someone is upset and they’re, you know, they’ve got a good reason for it.
Still validating what they’re feeling is correct, but is what they’re saying displaced on to us because we’re the ones there.
So it’s definitely a tough skill to grow, one that I’ve definitely been working on.
I know a lot of companies are now doing training in this and really saying, you know, we’ve got zero tolerance for, you know, X, Y, Z against our staff members.
And so they’re putting that out not just from a pharmacy perspective, but if it’s in a grocery store, you know, just making sure that their employees feel protected.
So that’s something I didn’t think I was going to have to deal with as much as we probably do.
There is a study that like a survey that went out actually from the Canadian Pharmacists Association, specifically looking at kind of conflicts from a staff versus customer patient base.
And the numbers are staggering of that.
You know, I want to say three out of five or four out of five pharmacy staff members had experienced verbal harassment weekly for the last X amount of months.
And so I think it’s we have compassion, but there’s a limit to it as well, because we’ve also gone through this pandemic and we want to be there to support our patients.
But, you know, like any anyone who works in an environment, your own mental health and that is really important.
So I think a lot of places could do a bit better with training staff on how to diffuse those types of situations.
And I think we just get them a bit more than some other other groups just because it’s health care.
People are stressed, they’re learned all of these new things and they’re dealing with a lot.
Yeah, it’s definitely been an interesting time.
And I’m not going to end the this podcast on a negative like that.
So I’ll ask you this what has surprised you throughout your career? And if you could go back to when you were entering, you studied to become a pharmacist.
What do you think you wish you knew before going on that journey? Oh, well, it’s funny because when I told my dad that I was applying to pharmacy, he said, you seen the, you know, bleep I put up with? Why did you decide to do this? He’s very proud.
He is very proud.
But, you know, I think I was lucky to come into the profession with an expectation of what I was going to get out of it.
My dad owning his own pharmacy.
I saw, you know, the good and the bad.
I heard it from him.
I saw it firsthand.
So I kind of had that expectation.
But one of the things that he told me when I entered the profession, he said, just try and make one change for one person.
It doesn’t need to be every day.
It doesn’t need to be something big.
But if you’re able to do that, you should feel very proud.
So I think what’s what surprises me and what you really keeps me coming back is, is that you think you’re making one small change or one recommendation, or you ask someone to screen their blood pressure on the kiosk.
And it turns out that there is a lot of stuff that you need to now help them with and just I have a lot of really, really, really great, lovely patients.
So there’s that stuff that happens in any every job.
But the connections and the relationships that I’ve made with my patients, I know that they trust me.
They feel comfortable coming to ask me questions about their health, and they know that when I say that, I don’t know that I’m not just trying to brush them off like I’m saying, no, we’re going to work on this together.
We’re going to get your physician involved.
And so I think it’s it surprises me how much good you can do as a pharmacist, which I think I knew seeing my dad do it.
But it’s just great to see that that does translate, you know, years down down the road and that we’re still out there on the front that working to make those changes.
So that’s what gets me up every day.
I love to see, you know, if we’ve made a change, how is it working? You do.
How are you feeling? Being able to follow up and see people on their own journeys, knowing that I’m just kind of a little blip in that.
But to know that you’re there supporting them, I think it’s it’s great.
It is a really unique kind of touchpoint for pharmacists because we are more we’re super accessible.
So, yeah, well, your dad should be proud.
And by coming on and being a guest on this podcast, I’m sure you’re going to help at least one person.
I hope we have more than one viewer or listener, but you will help that person that’s considering a career as a pharmacist.
So Cassandra, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today and I really appreciate you helping me out.
I was happy to be here.
This is a great time.
Thank you for tuning in to The Job Talk Podcast For more information, please visit us at thejobtalk.com Our podcast music was created by our friend Mike Malone and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.