Waterloo Pharmacy alumni provide healthcare in the North

Jenna and Chris with their baby bundled up in a snow landscape in the North
Jenna and Chris with their baby bundled up in a snow landscape in the North
In Northern Canada, where temperatures drop to -50 degrees Celsius during the winter with four hours of sunshine per day, healthcare looks a lot different.

Jenna Jenkins (PharmD ’19) and Christopher Voss (PharmD ’19) began their pharmacy careers in the Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island) Region in Nunavut. All of Qikiqtaaluk’s 13 communities are located on tidal water and around half live in Nunavut’s capital and only city, Iqaluit, a three-hour flight from Ottawa.

"Working somewhere so remote and isolated provides many additional complexities and challenges which make our pharmacy practices quite unique," Jenna says.

Jenna and Chris stress the importance of Waterloo’s co-op and rotations programs.

"With the hands-on experiences from the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy, we were more confident to jump into new experiences so we could continue to build and learn as pharmacists," they say.

Hospital pharmacy in the North

The hospital pharmacy role in remote and Northern areas is more diverse compared to hospital pharmacy roles in Ontario hospitals.

Jenna is the clinical pharmacist at Qikiqtani General Hospital and is responsible for the inpatient unit, which consists of medical, psychiatric, surgical, ER and clinics. She also provides remote support to health centres across the territory.

"I touch on all’aspects of patient care. You must be a generalist who is open and willing to take on anything that arises. We do what needs to be done no matter what that need is," Jenna says. "It’s stressful but it’s also very rewarding when you do help a patient, they learn from you, and you learn from them."

Community pharmacy in the North

Chris is the pharmacy manager at a busy NorthMart Pharmacy which services Iqaluit as well as all 13 communities on Baffin Island. He manages his time filling prescriptions and solving logistical problems. He also provides remote support to the nurses at health centres and works closely with health-care providers at the hospital.

"It was daunting to work up North at first, I was alone without other pharmacists to bounce ideas off of," Chris says. "But it made me grow as a pharmacist in ways I couldn’t have imagined. You’re not just filling prescriptions, you’re researching, you’re solving logistical challenges and you’re navigating unique medical issues. My top priority is to advocate for the patients with limited resources."

Future of healthcare in the North

Jenna and Chris are optimistic that with an expanded scope of practice pharmacists can make more of a positive impact within the communities.

"Pharmacists are known as the first line of access to healthcare across the country, but here in the North, pharmacists are even more connected to the patients. The discussions for an expanded scope have changed from ’it’ll never happen’ to ’we’re working on it’. We’re motivated to keep pushing for more," they say.

Jenna and Chris have grown as a family these past four years living in Nunavut, they got married, had two children and have moved into senior roles at their workplaces. They are hopeful for healthcare change in the North. It’ll take time to implement, but pharmacists are ready.
Milana Madzarac