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Connecting and supporting Indigenous pharmacy professionals

Indigenous pharmacy professionals | Jaris Swidrovich Headshot - Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy

Connecting and supporting Indigenous pharmacy professionals

The Indigenous Pharmacy Professionals of Canada (IPPC) launched in 2022, but the seeds for the organization were sown almost a decade earlier when Jaris Swidrovich was accepted into the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition at the University of Saskatchewan. His excitement at being accepted into the program was quickly dampened by the fact he could find no Indigenous organizations in his chosen field. “That stayed with me,” he says.

He went on to explore the issue of Indigenous Peoples’ experiences in pharmacy as part of the PhD program he is completing at the University of Saskatchewan. “Everyone had the same story and the key finding was an overall sense of isolation.”

Funding from the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy’s Wellspring Leadership Award in 2019 enabled Swidrovich to host a recruitment and mentorship event for Indigenous youth in Saskatchewan. He used this opportunity to develop leadership skills through community-­driven engagement and guidance from Indigenous Elders.

“I was very aware there was no home for Indigenous folks in pharmacy,” says Swidrovich, now an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy. Fortunately, there is now. After an informal meeting with potential leaders and members, IPPC was officially launched at the Canadian Pharmacists Association conference in 2023 with a mission to connect and support Indigenous pharmacy professionals.

The first in-person meeting of the 12-member board of directors and supporters was held last August to discuss next steps. “I don’t think anywhere in the world has there ever been as large a gathering of Indigenous pharmacy professionals,” says Swidrovich, Chair of the IPPC Board. Another CFP Wellspring winner, Amy Lamb, is IPPC’s Executive Director.

He notes that the organization, one of only three of its kind in the world, aims to create a supportive community for Indigenous pharmacy professionals. The Board is also working to encourage and support Indigenous youth to pursue pharmacy careers. Four individuals were awarded scholarships for 2023-24 and the first four-year IPPC Indigenous Pharmacy Scholarship was awarded this year.

“There is now a presence of Indigenous Peoples in this profession,” says Swidrovich. “There is something to aspire to.” Memberships are available for $20 a year to Indigenous pharmacy professionals. There are also another five categories of supporting membership, including individual pharmacy and government or industry member.

IPPC wants to help all pharmacists in Canada provide better care to Indigenous patients. This will entail addressing historical policies, practices, and racism contributing to health disparities in pharmacy, as well as developing resources, training, and education for all pharmacy professionals.

Indigenous Services Canada has given IPPC $380,000 to help address anti-Indigenous racism in the country’s healthcare systems. With this money, IPPC will be able to work with partners to provide education and training and help ensure Indigenous perspectives on research issues.

The organization’s outreach extends beyond the pharmacy profession, too. IPPC has already received a request from a national cardiovascular group of health professionals to create videos that will enable Indigenous people to learn about their medications in their language. IPPC is looking forward to many more such initiatives and partnerships. “I can’t wait for the day when we have more money and multiple staff,” says Swidrovich. “Our wish list is long.”

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