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Susan’s lessons for pharmacy (and life)

Picture of Susan Lessard-Friesen holding her Lifetime Achievement Award - Canadian Foundation For Pharmacy

Susan’s lessons for pharmacy (and life)

FEBRUARY 2023 – All throughout her career, Susan Lessard-Friesen worked tirelessly to bring integrity and trust into pharmacy practice—supporting regulations and practice directions that have positively impacted patient safety.

As a 2022 recipient of the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy’s Lifetime Achievement Award, we asked her to reflect on her experiences in pharmacy and provide insight into what’s needed for this next generation of pharmacy leaders.

What makes an effective pharmacist?

You should always put the interests of the patient first and foremost. Plus, the learning doesn’t end when you finish your degree. As in any health profession, expect that you are constantly learning and should always be looking for ways to improve your practice. Always remember that those pharmacists that practise in collaboration with patients and other healthcare professionals can provide the best care. Understand your scope of practice, but also respect that there are others who have their own expertise. Patient errors occur when people operate in silos.

Speaking of patient safety, why has this been such a key focus for you?

I realized early on in my career that errors that occur in pharmacy that can harm patients are often due to healthcare system issues not pharmacist incompetence. I was fortunate to work with the College of Pharmacists of Manitoba for 27 years where the mandate is public protection. So, they were very supportive of my working with the Manitoba Institute of Patient Safety on various initiatives that have helped to improve issues contributing to medication errors. In Manitoba, we recently implemented an initiative called Safety IQ which allows us to share learnings around medication errors with other across the country, and vice-versa. If an error happened in one pharmacy, it’s very likely it could happen in another so this is a pro-active approach to reducing system errors that I’m very excited about.

How have you handled setbacks in your career?

I see them as disappointments but also as learning opportunities that force me to figure out why things failed and what I can do differently next time. I really don’t regret anything that’s happened in my career.

As a former registrar and CEO, what qualities are important to be a leader?

Some people have this misconception that a good leader has all the answers. In all situations, it’s important to go in with the understanding that you don’t. It’s about consensus building and being able to figure out collectively what the issues are and then what are the best ways to tackle them. Remember that the perspectives of others are valuable so you have to be a good listener. Be thoughtful and respectful in your approach with everyone you work with.

How do you hope pharmacy will evolve in the future?

During COVID-19, pharmacists really rose to the challenge to address healthcare gaps and go the extra mile to take care of patients. But at the same time, we’re now left with so many stresses in the system, especially as more and more pharmacists retire and those left behind face burnout. My hope is that future pharmacists will achieve security and confidence in their scope of practice within the healthcare system. I hope changes to legislation or remuneration will be implemented so pharmacists can provide optimal pharmaceutical care, including those services needed in the community to cover gaps in care. For example, we need to put more effort into regulating pharmacy technicians who can offload and support pharmacist services.

Read more about Lessard-Friesen’s career and involvement in patient safety initiatives.

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