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Optimal learning

Doctor of pharmacy fall graduate gets out of comfort zone

The Gazette’s latest special feature celebrates Memorial’s newest alumni.

By Marcia Porter

When Jessica Biggin spent six weeks working with patients who’d undergone kidney transplants, she was a little outside her comfort zone.

And that’s exactly what the Eastern Health pharmacist wanted.

“I’ve always been interested in transplants, and the medications were so foreign to me,” said Ms. Biggin, a new fall graduate of the School of Pharmacy’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) for working professionals program (WPP), of the clinical rotation she did as part of her program.

“I learned in so many ways — through conversations with the nephrologist, the patients, the nurses, and other health-care professionals.”

Advanced practice

It was the first of two advanced pharmacy practice experiences (APPE) that all working professional students are required to complete in the final year of their PharmD program.

The students themselves are actively engaged in their planning, as well, based on their own areas of interest.

Hospital pharmacists are important members of health-care teams, often seeing patients at their most vulnerable and recommending medications to get them better and back into community.

“I wanted to make sure [patients] were on optimal therapy for their transplants.” — Jessica Biggin

Ms. Biggin traces her interest in transplants back to her time as a pharmacist with the Dialysis Centre in Mount Pearl, where she’d typically get dialysis-related questions and questions about transplant medications from patients, nurses and doctors.

She didn’t always have the answers, and wanted that to change.

Created own role

With no transplant pharmacists located in the province (because transplants aren’t done in Newfoundland and Labrador), she followed up with transplant pharmacists in Halifax, N.S., and created a role for herself in her APPE by accompanying a nephrologist to followup clinics for patients who’d received kidney transplants.

“Prior to clinic, I’d review the charts and come up with any potential drug-related issues and talk to the patients in clinic,” said Ms. Biggin, who hails from Marystown.

“It was great talking to them. They had a lot to deal with, and we’d discuss any issues they were having with pills, assess adherence to their medications and help manage their side effects. I wanted to make sure they were on optimal therapy for their transplants.”

In her spare time, she’d do medication reviews.

Following her placement, Ms. Biggin shared knowledge about medications and treatments with her Eastern Health colleagues working in dialysis pharmacy, who in turn spent time working with transplant patients.

Multiple levels

And along with learning about treatments that once seemed so foreign, she’s gained something else: the kind of knowledge and experience applicable to her current role as a hazardous sterile compounding supervisor, where she helps ensure that chemotherapy treatments for cancer patients meet national standards, and writes policy.

“I definitely learned a lot about leadership,” said Ms. Biggin, who first graduated from Memorial with her bachelor of science in pharmacy in 2015 and pursued a PharmD to stay competitive and to keep her knowledge and credentials up to date. She will collect her doctoral degree at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre on Friday, Oct. 22.

“Because I was the only pharmacist there, I kind of had to make the role myself and be a leader. In my current job I’m a supervisor, so it definitely broadened my leadership skills and built my confidence.”

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