A pharmacist who put out her shingle in Rocky Harbour five years ago has received national recognition for how her practice became a community health hub during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stephanie Burden opened Complete Care Pharmasave in 2016 in Rocky Harbour, a coastal town surrounded by Gros Morne National Park.
In 2020 Burden was chosen as the province's Bowl of Hygieia winner, an award which celebrates pharmacists who demonstrate community involvement.
Given her win, the Pharmacist Association of Newfoundland and Labrador put her name forward alongside 11 other candidates for the Canadian Pharmacist of the Year. '
"It's just incredibly unbelievable winning the Canadian pharmacist of the year," said Burden. "I really don't have any other words to describe it, because I still feel like I'm pinching myself."
For Burden, practising pharmacy in a rural setting is an opportunity to centralize the often nebulous elements of health care, reducing barriers by establishing her practice as what she called a health-care hub.
"In rural [areas] the pharmacy is often the common denominator across many different professions, and patients have that touch point of the pharmacy," said Burden.
"It's a familiar face when they come in: they know us, they wave, they say hello. We get to be the centre of care, and I really wanted to build on that as a practice, that health-care hub model."
Burden said she wanted to be somewhere where patients could ask questions about their medications, but also discuss anxieties about upcoming appointments or questions about their health.
Videos made to help rural residents
For other medical professionals, Burden's health-care hub is positioned to be a point of communication.
"Being able to be a point of reference for physicians and health-care providers and nurse practitioners, if they had a drug information question, or if they wanted to talk through the best next therapy for their patient," said Burden. "I really felt that a community pharmacy could be the centre of that rural health-care system, and really help close up some of the gaps."
Over the course of the ongoing pandemic, Burden launched a number of initiatives to try and maintain that close community connection, even when the precautions necessitated distance.
"I produced some videos, just in the pharmacy, helping patients remain calm and helping them understand COVID-19 from the rural perspective," Burden said.
"A lot of the messaging that they've received is from across the country and across the world."
According to Burden, even if they're providing services from six feet away, or over the phone, the dependability of pharmacists is central to the health of many across the province.
"Pharmacists on the front lines still provide an essential service to Canadians throughout the COVID-19 pandemic," she said. "And sometimes that just means they were there and they were dependable, and that made all the difference."
In addition to remaining available for her patients, Burden also spent much of the early pandemic assisting others in the medical community who needed a helping hand.
"Sanitizer was a very hot commodity among other PPE at the onset of the pandemic, so I decided that I would make hand sanitizer for the community, and also for a local medical clinic that needed it to stay open," said Burden.
"That was definitely a highlight, something I didn't really anticipate doing when I graduated pharmacy school."
An exciting time to be a pharmacist
While Burden's passion for her practice may have won her the industry's accolades, her dedication to the profession and helping young pharmacists find their place within it, she said, has long been a driving force.
Burden said she always wanted to be someone that other pharmacists could look to for advice.
"I just wanted to be an open door for pharmacists as well, so that they could call me and I could talk through some stages that they may be at," she said.
"I've probably already been there. I've been in business for five years; I've been on that roller coaster. I've seen the challenges and the opportunities."
The business side of the industry can be especially challenging, said Burden.
"I really welcome any pharmacists that are interested in breaking into the world of pharmacy, and learning about the business of pharmacy—because that's a whole other facet— to contact me, get in touch," Burden said. "I would absolutely love to speak with you and talk through some of the wins and then some of the challenges."
Burden's overall advice for aspiring pharmacists: It's never going to be the right time, she said, but now is a good time to start.
"You're never going to wake up one morning and feel completely ready to take on a new role, to start that business— it just doesn't happen that way," she said.
"But if you have something in your heart, if you see that there's a better way to do things, if you have an innovative idea, really the time is now.
"I'm just so proud of the profession of pharmacy in this province and across the country," said Burden. "It really is an exciting time to be in pharmacy, and I'm just in awe of all of the pharmacists out there that are showing up day-in and day-out."