Hong Kong pharmacy students motivated by rotation at U of T

Marco Ho and Alan Li at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy
From left: Marco Ho and Alan Li

In September, Alan Li and Marco Ho will begin the fourth and final year of their pharmacy degree at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Entering this pivotal time, they will bring with them experiences and new perspectives gained during their summer rotation at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

The five-week rotation provided Alan and Marco with the opportunity to learn about pharmacy practice in the Ontario and Canadian health care landscapes. Faculty Course Coordinators developed a diverse activity plan placing the students with different preceptors from week to week giving Alan and Marco the opportunity to take part in research, education, and clinical observation activities.

Each week had a different focus, including medication safety with time spent at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada (ISMP Canada); understanding recent shifts in the Canadian healthcare system; frontline clinical practice observation at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and sharing insights from pharmacy practice in Hong Kong with faculty, staff and students at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

Empathy in action

The clinical observation opportunity at CAMH, Canada’s largest mental health and addictions teaching hospital, was eye-opening for Alan. “We don’t have many chances to work with mental health patients, this was a first for me,” he says.

At one point, both students observed a pharmacist as she met with patients in the CAMH emergency department and were impressed by how she interacted with an agitated patient whose mental health problems were worsening because of diabetes complications.

“What she did was mind-blowing,” says Alan describing how she changed the patient’s mood from agitated to receptive and calm by having an empathetic approach and listening.

“At the end of the interview, the patient even thanked her and us for having someone to talk with about his medication concerns. He was very sincere. This flips my understanding toward patients with mental health disorders and I will be able to take that home.”

The power of qualitative research

For his part, Marco was inspired by a presentation delivered by Associate Professor Jamie Kellar who is exploring the evolution of pharmacists’ professional identity. “To be honest, I’ve been struggling to identify as a clinician and it was interesting to hear Professor Kellar question whether being a clinician is the only and ultimate goal,” says Marco who finds himself more drawn to pursuing research. “I think there has to be more discussion about what a pharmacist is,” he says. “Our work in Hong Kong is so focused on the clinical side, we may be missing out on other areas where pharmacists can contribute.”

Marco appreciated the opportunity to perform qualitative analysis on medication incident data using the Medication Safety Culture Indicator Matrix and the Multi-Incident Analysis methodologies developed by ISMP Canada. In Hong Kong, Marco is part of a hybrid research and outreach team called CU CHAMPION that provides services for the public and the elderly in Hong Kong to deepen their understanding of disease prevention and drug safety. “I’ve done a lot of survey with that group and now that I’ve had the qualitative analysis, this can help improve recommendations for medication safety.”

To give and receive

“The essence of participating in the exchange is to learn what is good on both sides, to learn from each other so we can each progress and improve faster,” Alan says. In Hong Kong, health providers and patients benefit from an advanced informatics system that provides a unified patient record and medication history, something that is underway but not fully complete in Ontario.

On the flip side, working in clinical environments in Toronto was the first time Marco and Alan saw medications being issued in secure vials and blister packs for patients who need it. “In Hong Kong, despite some of our advantages, we still dispense medication in plastic bags,” Alan says.

Marco Ho and Alan Li at Raptors Celebration
“It was incredible to see so many people out celebrating something positive together,” says Marco on taking part in the Toronto Raptors championship celebration.

“I was brought up in Hong Kong and received pharmacy education in Toronto,” says Certina Ho, Lecturer and Experiential Education Coordinator. “Having the opportunity to meet and work with Alan and Marco was something that I was looking forward to, even before their arrival. I was impressed by their curiosity and eagerness to learn and know more about not only the Canadian health care system, but also the expanded scope of pharmacy practice here. It is very rewarding to see collaboration between pharmacy students from Hong Kong and our students.”

Both Alan and Marco say that the ultimate aim of their rotation is to bring something meaningful back to their classmates in Hong Kong, and they are keen to share their experiences.

Exploring the culture of Toronto was equally exciting and they were lucky enough to be in the city the night the Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA Championship. They joined the spontaneous celebration on the streets and took the energy in mindful of recent protests back home. “It was incredible to see so many people out celebrating something positive together,” says Marco.