Alumnus Andrew Waschuk ’93 grew up working in a pharmacy and has been a pharmacist for over 20 years, but never in a million years did he ever imagine he would be working as a frontline worker during a pandemic.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Andrew, who works at one of Shoppers Drug Mart’s busiest stores in the country. “Although I work in an extremely busy store, this pandemic took ‘busy’ to the next level, especially during those first couple of weeks when everybody was scared and panic-buying.”
Andrew’s store looks like most others right now, with Plexiglas shields installed at the counters to separate and protect both the employees and the patients. They clean and disinfect all areas of the pharmacy several times a day, and employees maintain proper hand washing and/or hand sanitizing regularly throughout the day and are provided with face masks and gloves, if desired. There is also strict social distancing in place.
“Stickers have been placed on the floors to help customers maintain six-feet distance from others while standing in line,” said Andrew. “And like many other stores, we have security to help adhere to the recommended occupancy limits and to help remind people to stay six feet from other shoppers.”
COVID-19 has also changed the way pharmacists are working, including dealing with drug shortages.
“There has been a lot of inaccurate information regarding treatments that are reported in the media and supported by officials who have no real knowledge or understanding of these drugs, so we have seen an increase in demand and shortages of these and other medications,” said Andrew. “Also, because of the effects of COVID-19 on the respiratory system, we’ve seen a huge increase in demand for inhalers, many of which are now either backordered or are being rationed by manufacturers, distributors or the Ministry of Health. We do our best to supply everyone that needs something, which includes trying to find other pharmacies that may have stock or contacting prescribers to change medications to available alternatives.”
Andrew says that prescriptions are being limited to a one-month supply in an effort to avoid major drug shortages – a step that has been recommended by governments, regulatory bodies, insurance companies and drug manufacturers, but has been met with some resistance by the public.
“Also, on an extraordinary basis, pharmacists have been given special powers to renew or adapt prescriptions where appropriate, and in some cases without the need to contact doctors, who are overwhelmed at this point,” said Andrew. “This ability has been advocated by our colleges and associations for a very long time, and is something that pharmacists know how to do, and can do to help alleviate pressure in other parts of the health system.”
While Andrew says the new norms of the job can be stressful at times, he and all of the pharmacy employees are continuing to do the jobs that they have always been doing.
“Other than the new procedures (like disinfecting, social distancing, constant hand washing, etc.) we’re all helping our patients and customers with their health and medication needs, just as we did before,” he said. “A key difference is perhaps that pharmacists may now be among the most accessible health care workers, so we are more frequently sought after for medical advice, which we do our best to provide, if within our scope.”
And while Andrew is very appreciative of all of the support frontline workers have been receiving, he does find it disheartening that many people don’t consider pharmacists health care workers.
“Pharmacists are not going to save your life like an ER doctor or nurse. But, with people asked not to go to emergency rooms, to their family doctors or to walk-in clinics unless strictly necessary, and with telehealth lines overburdened, pharmacists have, as I said, become one of the most visible, accessible and soothing healthcare workers for the general public,” he said. “As medical professionals, we don’t need or ever expect to be thanked for doing our job. But, there is an ecosystem of support workers around us – assistants, front store staff, drivers, cleaners – everyone that is helping patients and customers get the things they need. They, too, deserve the same support as doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, and everyone else who is continuing to work at this time, and keeping society functioning. They’re all out there, potentially exposing themselves to the virus, putting their health and that of their families at risk, and I’d like them to get due recognition for their hard work.”
Thank you, Andrew, for all that you do!