Dr. Danielle Paes is the Chief Pharmacist Officer (CPO) at the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA), where she is helping to advance the pharmacy profession with a special focus in the areas of engagement, wellness, diversity, equity and inclusion.
What sparked your interest in pharmacy?
Like many of my peers, I’ve always thought science was cool — especially chemistry. I studied pharmaceuticals in my first university degree because I thought it was a very valuable — and noble — application of science. Our ability to design molecules and create medicine to prevent and heal ourselves from illness is so fascinating. I started my career working in the lab, but the idea of making those precious human connections with patients is what drew me to pursue further studies in pharmacy. I invested in another six years of school to earn my Doctor of Pharmacy degree and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! The direct impact I’ve been able to make as a pharmacist and the fulfilment I get from helping others was well worth it. I’ve always known that I wanted a career where I could live my passion and make a meaningful contribution to the world. Pharmacy has offered me that opportunity — it’s the perfect blend of science and people.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the role of pharmacists?
The pandemic has accelerated the evolution of pharmacists’ role in our health care system. Pharmacists have filled the critical gaps in care and are playing a huge part in our national public health efforts to fight COVID-19. We’ve become the go-to health care provider for many patients — answering questions, providing vaccinations and screening services to combat the pandemic, and helping patients navigate our health system.
It’s important to note that the role of pharmacists has always been clinical — it’s a key aspect of everything we do — dispensing activities, medication reviews, professional opinions all require pharmacists to apply their skills and knowledge of medicine. We’ve also been administering vaccines and supporting point-of-care testing for a long time.
The difference now is the way we are being seen by our patients and governments: our role in public health is being accessed and utilized in a variety of ways and at a greater volume. Public awareness and expectations are finally starting to align with what we’ve been capable of offering for a long time.
In addition, new authorities have also helped remove barriers and allow pharmacists to expand the care they offer to support their patients and ensure uninterrupted treatment.
What does your new role as Chief Pharmacist Officer of the Canadian Pharmacists Association entail?
It is a true privilege to serve the profession of pharmacy in my position as CPO. In this role, I work to support and showcase the full potential of pharmacists and advocate on their behalf on the national stage. I help connect pharmacists from coast-to-coast, so we can share experiences, learn from each other, and address the emerging needs as we evolve as a profession. Part of that is acknowledging the toll these last two years have taken on us and helping to develop a collaborative plan to ensure a healthy and sustainable future for our workforce.
Every day, I show up to represent the profession I love — I share my passion and belief in our essential role and the value we add to health care. It’s important to me that pharmacists are recognized and celebrated for their dedication to the health and wellbeing of the patients we serve.
What do you envision the future of pharmacy in Canada looks like?
The bravery and dedication we saw from pharmacy teams — through all the uncertainty in those early days of the pandemic when many other primary care providers were closed — was instrumental in achieving the more than 17 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered by pharmacy professionals in Canada. It’s a testament to our commitment to our patients and we want to continue to be there for them beyond the pandemic.
I envision pharmacists in every corner of the country practising to their full scope. Currently, the care pharmacists can provide varies greatly across the country. I’ve said it before and will say it again, your postal code should not determine the level of care that your pharmacist can provide. Nationwide government support and funding for the full suite of pharmacist-led health services would help improve access to care in our communities.
I also see a future where pharmacists are fully integrated into health care spaces — leveraging technology, operating outside the walls of traditional brick-and-mortar settings, and working collaboratively with other health care providers to improve the lives of patients in Canada.
Diversity and inclusion are a large focus of the CPhA’s work. What advice can you share with aspiring pharmacy professionals from underrepresented groups?
My advice is to be bold and courageous and answer the call to make diversity, equity, and inclusion part of our everyday conversations. Lead and participate in these uncomfortable discussions so we can normalize the dialogue, increase awareness of our individual biases and collectively take action to break them. It’s not going to be easy — most things of consequence aren’t, but it’s necessary to get us closer to where we need to be. My hope is that you emerge as leaders in your communities. And know that I am here to support you any way I can. I encourage you to own your uniqueness and be proud of the valuable perspective and contributions you offer this profession. Not only does the pharmacy need you, but your patients need you. Your voice matters, your opinions matter and your representation matters. Our profession should be reflective of the diversity of our population, and pharmacies should be safe spaces where everyone feels welcomed and included regardless of race, culture, ability, gender or sexual identity. We’ve got a long way to go — so grab a torch and help me light the way!