HealthPRO Pharmacist Profile Series, Part II: Margaret Murray
Q: What inspired you to become a hospital pharmacist?
A: I grew up in Springhill, NS, and, back in the day, there weren’t as many opportunities after high school. My cousin ran the local pharmacy—a pharmacy originally owned by Canadian singer Anne Murray’s father, Dr. Carson Murray—and I spent a lot of time there.
Everything about pharmacy seemed to be a good fit for me. I was a science buff who loved math. Plus, I had a friend applying to pharmacy. But, at the time, I really didn’t know much about it as a career but it appeared like a logical thing to do.
The opportunity to learn, to help people and work in the community appealed to me. In fact, when I graduated my main goal was to become a community pharmacist. I shifted my focus when my husband was transferred to Halifax. When I started as a hospital pharmacist, I thought it would be an interim thing. But I discovered I liked the challenge of the hospital environment. The IWK is a warm and welcoming place; working with kids is fun.
Q: How has the hospital pharmacy landscape changed since you began your career?
A: When I joined, we had a small staff of six or seven; we now have 67 pharmacists and pharmacy assistants. In the early days, they housed our very tight department in the basement. You’d rarely see a pharmacist on the floor. We did most things manually. We used typewriters; we had a still to make distilled water; we used label-makers. We created manual profiles for each patient—on card stock—some files were inches thick. Nurses prepared their own chemotherapy medications on the floors.
Automation has been the most dramatic change. Automation didn’t come easily and it’s taken a long time. We didn’t put a computerized patient information system in place until 1991. It wasn’t until 2004 that we acquired dispensing units on the floors. We started with the emergency department and are still working on it - it’s all a process. It takes a lot of training and adaptation and that part of the job is exciting. Change gives you something to look forward to. It’s all good.
Q: How has your role evolved?
A: I tend to be a very hands-on manager. Of late, because we are more automated, I have a manager that looks after those automated pieces. So, my role is much more strategic. As a director, my role now is more health centre wide. There are far more obligations and expectations with my current role and it involves more strategic thinking and collaboration. We have an integrated staff model and we are in a program management role. For example, on our oncology unit, three fulltime pharmacists and one assistant work totally on this unit. However, they report through pharmacy services. Expectations of the unit staff may be different than those for the pharmacy. So, part of my role is as an advocate for pharmacy services, and, in some cases, educate clinical managers about our role.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of being a hospital pharmacist?
A: At IWK, we are patient-focused. Making a difference for patients and their families is most rewarding. Many of our paediatric patients are here for a long time and we establish and build relationships with entire families. For example, patients with chronic conditions like Cystic Fibrosis we see from infants until age 16, alongside their parents and other close relatives.
Of late, IWK pharmacists have played key roles in looking after Syrian refugee patients. Some arrived with quite serious conditions or genetic disorders. Others require dialysis. It is satisfying to know you can help these newcomers to Canada. For me, and my staff, that’s why we come to work each day.
Q: What is most Interesting or exciting prospect you see on the horizon for hospital pharmacies?
A: On the clinical side, the expanded scope of practice for pharmacists is exciting. Including prescribing and immunizing within our practice—and increasing our collaboration with clinicians—adds an exciting dimension to our work. We expect these expanded scope of practice roles to be fully in place by year’s end.
Q: How does being part of a national GPO help you strengthen patient safety?