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Young Leader in Pharmacy Ajay Chahal: "I want to see pharmacists recognized for their full potential."

It's unfortunate but I still hear things like "pill pusher" or "pill counter" when referring to pharmacist skill sets. We are so much more than that and I will continue to advocate for pharmacists by creating systems where pharmacists can become leaders.
Ajay Chahal


Education: UofT PharmD graduate of 2018

Current role

  • Designated manager and co-owner of 3 independent pharmacies launching in the downtown core
  • Co-founder of Apothecare
  • Head of Education at Insalata Cannabis Market

What excites you about being a pharmacist?

Being a pharmacist allows me to be in a position to make meaningful, positive change in my patients' lives. I've worked in many different areas including hospital, community and consulting. What I've learned is that pharmacists have a unique set of skills that allow us to thrive in a number of different environments and contribute to better patient outcomes. Currently, I'm very excited to be involved in a project with Whole Health Pharmacy, Apothecare and Insalata Cannabis Market to address the gap in care for patients who use cannabis medicinally. 

As of right now most Canadians who want to use cannabis medicinally walk into a cannabis retailer and are completely overwhelmed with the options available. There is also no oversight by a healthcare professional in terms of assessing appropriate dose, contraindications, evaluating for medication interactions, side effects etc. Whole Health and Apothecare's solution to this gap in care involves 2 important parts. First is to train pharmacists to be more knowledgeable about cannabis via Apothecare's "Cannabis Care Program." The education platform contains several modules, from "cannabis essentials" to Apothecare's own inhouse algorithms that help pharmacists assess if cannabis is appropriate for patients. The second part of the solution is to work with Insalata Cannabis Market, a cannabis retailer that focuses on wellness and exclusively opens beside Whole Health pharmacies. The close proximity to the Whole Health pharmacy ensures that customers at Insalata can be directed to a knowledgeable pharmacist who can help provide guidance for any medicinal use related to cannabis. I'm thrilled to see the positive responses so far and excited to see us rollout the model to more Whole Health pharmacies. 

When you graduated, what did you envision for your future?

I graduated in 2018 when cannabis became legalized and noticed patients coming into the pharmacy asking about cannabis for medicinal use. Cannabis wasn't discussed in detail in pharmacy school and I noticed there was a huge gap in knowledge among healthcare professionals that needed to be addressed. So, I knew I would be involved in cannabis education, but never envisioned I would have the amazing opportunity to work with Whole Health and redefine how patients can access knowledgeable cannabis healthcare professionals. 

How has your career evolved since your graduation?

It's changed drastically over the last 4 years. When I graduated, I worked at about 5 Shoppers Drug Marts, piecing together shifts to make full time hours. That's when I noticed the urgent need to address cannabis education and founded Apothecare Inc. with my colleague Anushya Vijayaraghevan. The company was created to develop evidenced-based cannabis education for patients and healthcare professionals. Soon after founding Apothecare Inc. I transitioned to working as a hospital pharmacist at CAMH, where I became specialized in mental health and addictions. I continued operating Apothecare at the same time and eventually connected with Whole Health and Insalata and started working on our current project. Most recently, however, I left CAMH (it was a bittersweet farewell as I loved working there) to open 3 Whole Health pharmacies with my colleagues Anushya Vijayaraghevan and James Morrison. All three pharmacies will be opening in September. 

How important is mentoring in your career?

It's very important, whether I'm the mentee or the mentor. On the mentee side, I think it's important to seek mentorship not just from other pharmacists but other established professionals so that you can learn from their unique experiences that come from outside the world of pharmacy. It's helped me learn not only how to be a better pharmacist but also how to run a successful business. 

If you can accomplish just one thing in your career, what would it be?

I would love to be involved in a system change or legislation development that helps improve the lives of many Canadians. 

As a dynamic leader in the profession, what continues to drive you?

I want to see pharmacists recognized for their full potential. It's unfortunate but I still hear things like "pill pusher" or "pill counter" when referring to pharmacist skill sets. We are so much more than that and I will continue to advocate for pharmacists by creating systems where pharmacists can become leaders.  

How are young leaders paving the way for changes in the pharmacy profession?

We're in a transitional era of pharmacy where we are seeing significant changes, such as introduction of minor ailments prescribing for pharmacists. Young leaders are fresh eyes with fresh new ideas that can help shape how we adapt and optimize the pharmacy profession to these new changes. 

What advice would you give to new pharmacy graduates?

Don't be afraid to try new things and don't be afraid to fail. 




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