Color & Control:

The increasing role of the pharmacist

In recent years, the pressure on the healthcare system has been evident with wait lists, staffing shortages, the need to increase community health and homecare programs and, most recently, the pandemic. Pharmacists have been able to step up and fill some gaps recently. As some of the country’s most accessible health care professionals, pharmacists are graduates of the 4 year, PharmD program (3 years academic courses plus one year experiential) that follows two years of initial university study.  Recent changes to their practice include the ability to:
• administer flu and COVID vaccines
• renew prescriptions in quantities up to 1 year’s supply
• renew regular prescriptions until renewed by a doctor
• administer point-of-care tests in the pharmacy to diagnose and assist with medication management and treatment
• prescribe drugs for certain minor ailments including self-care or over-the-counter (OTC) remedies
• prescribe, dispense and administer medications
• order, receive, conduct and interpret health tests

Fast and convenient
Not only is care delivery available for extended hours in most locations, but changes to the pharmacist’s role have allowed for better patient care, greater efficiency and ultimately overall cost-savings.

Through education and management programs pharmacists are helping to improve community health outcomes through chronic disease management, as well as health promotion and prevention programs such as smoking cessation and diabetic care. They are also able to provide medication reviews, minor ailments assessments and product recommendations.

Reducing risk
Studies have shown that half of all Canadians do not take their prescription medications exactly as prescribed. Infact, every year thousands of people are admitted into hospitals because they did not follow the instructions on their medication container.

So, it’s good advice to read the supplied instructions and listen to the pharmacist’s advice before leaving the pharmacy. Experts suggest you don’t go home until you can answer these questions:
1)  Why am I taking this medication?
2) How and when should I take this medication?
3) Am I supposed to swallow my medicine with food or water?
4) Is there anything I should or should not eat or drink while I am taking this medication?
5) I have allergies—is it safe for me to take this medication?
6) Can I drink alcohol while I am taking this medication?
7) Will my medication interact with other drugs?
8) Will it be affected by over-the-counter medications like painkillers or antacids? Will it be affected by vitamins or herbal supplements?
9) When will I feel better? If I feel better can I stop taking it?

Let’s see some examples of how a pharmacist can help you and your family in a variety of ways:

Meet Catherine
Last month, Catherine, aged 55, was ready to get the most recent Covid booster. How could she ask friends, yet again, to drive her into the city for a clinic appointment?

She’d seen the news reports of long lineups and was losing sleep over how she could get her 5th shot. While running errands with a friend, she noticed a sign that the small local pharmacy advertising a weekend pop-up clinic for booster shots.

No need to go into the city again after all! At the pop-up she was simply asked for her health card, her certain personal information was confirmed and she got her shot. Afterwards Catherine was asked to wait on-site for 15 minutes in case she had any sort of reaction. She felt fine, picked up her free COVID test kit ‘just in case” and walked home. The whole process was stress-free and such a relief.

Meet George
As his kids will tell you, George is a bit of a hypochondriac. He consults several doctors and friends often, checks websites for more information and is a regular at the health-food store for herbal remedies.

Recently, complaints about nausea and dizziness led him to the pharmacy in his local mall where he was referred by an assistant to the pharmacist for a medication review. To his surprise, a few of the herbal and over-the-counter (OTC) remedies George was taking regularly and from time-to-time were causing side effects and, they were really not suitable or safe to take with his prescription medications.

His local pharmacist pulled together all the information and  whittled down the list of necessary medicines by 50%, with the advice of each doctor.

George’s medications and vitamins were prepared for him in a blister pack that could be delivered each week. George and his wife were greatly relieved and, surprise, surprise, he started to sleep better at night and feel more energetic during the days.

Meet Bria
Bria, 71, was not a fan of doctors or hospitals. She minded her own business, stayed close to home, went grocery shopping with her walker and talked to her daughter who lived out west every few days. Simply put, she lived a quiet life.

So, when a neighbour, Sjhoma, found Bria wandering in a nearby park, she knew something was very wrong. After taking her home she asked about her doctor’s information. Instead, Bria gave her the big-box pharmacists name.

The neighbour called and spoke to the pharmacist, a sympathetic young woman, who knew Bria and agreed to come and visit her at home. After meeting with Bria and seeing her somewhat messy surroundings, the pharmacist suspected a urinary tract infection, which can mimic the signs of dementia. She administered a urine test and prescribed antibiotics. In addition, the pharmacist removed a quantity of expired drugs, contacted the prescribing doctors and the daughter and got permission to set up a weekly delivery of a day-of-the-week pill box. The daughter asked her to help contact social services and promised to fly in for a visit in the coming weeks. Together, they initiated homecare services for meals, cleaning and regular bathing. Sjhoma agreed to make regular calls or drop in visits, as did the pharmacist and their time together is now the highlight of Bria’s week.

Pat M. Irwin, BA, AICB, CPCA, is the president of ElderCareCanada and a professor of distance learning at Centennial College.


The Indigenous Pharmacy Professionals of Canada (IPPC) is an Indigenous-led association that has been established to connect and support Indigenous pharmacy professionals and help all pharmacists provide better care to Indigenous patients they create and promote pharmacy practice models that respect the safety, equality, strengths and teachings of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada.



Pharmacists are university graduates who are regulated at both the federal and provincial level. Their governing bodies have the authority and responsibility to establish performance, technical, ethical and educational criteria to guide their profession, and to license individuals and their practice environments. For more information, here are the provincial pharmacy associations:

Alberta College of Pharmacy

Colle of Pharmacists of British Columbia

College of Pharmacists of Manitoba

Newfoundland and Labrador Pharmacy Board

Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists

Government of Northwest Territories


Ontario College of Pharmacists

Prince Edward Island College of Pharmacy

Ordre pharmaciens du Quebec

Saskatchewan College of Pharmacy Professionals


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