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What was the impact of COVID-19 on front-line pharmacist roles?

Dr. Yazid Al Hamarneh

Reprinted with kind permission of the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy.

Dr. Yazid Al Hamarneh and his research team took a unique approach to determine how the recent pandemic influenced pharmacists’ roles and professional identity.

For the study, supported through a 2021 Innovation Fund grant from the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy, the team used “photovoice,” a visual research method in which participants supply photographs to articulate their experiences. Twenty-one front-line pharmacists in Alberta sent three to five photos each that reflected who they are or what they do as pharmacists. Researchers then used the photos to spark semi-structured interviews on Zoom.

For example, one pharmacist sent a photo of an elastic band to depict being pushed and pulled in so many directions, says Al Hamarneh, who is assistant professor, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry – Pharmacology Dept. at the University of Alberta. Another participant sent a photo of an unmade bed to show that there was no time to even make the bed.

“They say a picture’s worth 1,000 words,” says Al Hamarneh. “That was very true. By giving the pharmacists a platform to express themselves, the photos gave us a whole new dimension and brought everything to life.”

The team—which also consisted of University of Alberta’s Dr. Kaitlyn Watson, Dr. Ross Tsuyuki, Dr. Terri Schindel and PharmD student and research assistant Jonathan Chan—highlighted the work of community pharmacists responding to the pandemic through their information, public health, medication management and leadership roles. 

One of the major findings of the study, says Al Hamarneh, was pharmacists’ commitment to patient care during a crisis. “Pharmacists were thrown curveball after curveball and they just kept adapting,” he says. “The only thing they kept thinking about was how they could provide the best care to their patients,” who viewed the pharmacy as their safe haven. “Pharmacists showed leadership and they showed clinical courage. They led their communities by example.” But as the photos revealed, the pandemic had an “invisible impact” on pharmacists, indicating that their dedication to patient care came at a cost.

The findings of the study have been published in Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy Journal, and the abstract in Prehospital and Disaster Medicine Journal and Pharmacy Education Journal. Findings were also presented at national and international conferences. The abstract was one of only eight out of 80 chosen for an extended podium presentation at one conference, and the only one to be socialized at another.

As follow-up, some members of the team conducted an international study at the 2023 International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) World Congress of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences in Brisbane, Australia. They used the photos to compare and contrast pharmacy practice in different countries around the world to get an international portrait of the way in which pharmacists practice. Despite the hardships of the pandemic, the study underscored a “silver lining,” says Al Hamarneh, showing the world what pharmacists can do, and were doing, on a day-to-day basis that not many people were aware of. “Pharmacists were thrown into the line of fire, and they delivered,” he says.

Reprinted with kind permission of the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy

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