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Spotlight on Jake Thiessen: A pillar of pharmacy

Spotlight on Jake Thiessen: A pillar of pharmacy

August 2014 – What does it take to earn a Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy Pillar of Pharmacy award? As this year’s recipient confirms, it’s a life-long commitment to pharmacy education and a dedication to research that enhances patient care.

In addition to 33 years as a member of the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto, pharmacist Dr. Jake Thiessen was instrumental in spearheading the creation of the first co-op pharmacy program in Canada at the University of Waterloo.

“The University allowed me carte blanch in many ways. I gave them an inventory of what would be needed to create a first-rate academic health sciences campus and one feature was building a primary care clinic to deliver leading-edge care,” he says, noting that in such a setting, students would experience the real-life integration of theory and practice. “Pharmacy and Medicine clinicians would also collaborate by melding their skills for the purpose advancing optimal treatments.” Dr. Thiessen says he is “immensely grateful” to all the people throughout Kitchener and Waterloo who worked on the project.  “It was remarkable to see how everyone pulled together to make it happen.”

While he admits to having been an initial reluctant convert to the co-op educational concept, having come from a more traditional medical model of education himself, he eventually saw the light. “I certainly realized the immense potential such an education could provide and we decided to go for it. The students coming into this program seized the opportunity and to this day I’m amazed by how well the co-op piece has molded and influenced them and their employers,” he says. “These students are very adaptable, have acquired great skills that include the early ability to solve real-world problems, and can really go anywhere.”

On top of his lengthy accomplishments in academia, Dr. Thiessen has been an innovative force in health research, securing more than $16.5 million for research projects during his tenure at both universities. In 2013, he was tasked by the Ontario government to lead an independent review of quality assurance in the province’s cancer drug supply chain after problems emerged in chemotherapy underdosing. “When I got the call [from the government] I immediately sensed this was an opportunity to bring good to what appeared to be a tragic patient-related problem and hopefully make some transformative changes,” he says. During the review process, which he says consumed “at least four months of my life,” Dr. Thiessen came up with a series of recommendations that led to the creation of new legislation to strengthen the safety of the province’s hospital drug supply system and further enhance patient care.

“Jake has had a major impact on the profession of pharmacy and the use of medications in Canada,” noted Dr. David Edwards, Hallman Director of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Waterloo who nominated him for the award. “His lengthy and distinguished career in academic pharmacy makes him an ideal candidate for the 2014 Pillar of Pharmacy Award.”

Dr. Thiessen will be formally recognized at an awards gala on October 21 in Toronto.

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