Wednesday, Dec 12, 2018
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Country’s first female pharmacist to be recognized

Gertrude Burnside, 97, is the first female pharmacist in The Bahamas and is credited with laying the foundation for the future of women in the pharmacy profession. Since Burnside’s early days when she battled to enter the then male-dominated pharmacists apprentice program, the tide has definitely changed — the country now boasts approximately 200 pharmacists, of whom 80 percent are female.

You can basically count on your hand the number of male pharmacists, according to Michelle Finlayson, president of the Bahamas Pharmaceutical Association (BPA). And Bahamians can now obtain pharmacology certification at The College of The Bahamas.

In 2003, in response to the ongoing shortage of pharmacists in the Bahamian healthcare system, the Ministry of Health (MOH), in collaboration with The College of The Bahamas and other stakeholders, undertook an initiative with an overall goal to increase human resource capacity and improve standards of practice within the pharmacy profession to upgrade pharmacists without a degree (certificate of competency, diploma and associate degree) to the BPharm degree level. In 2008, the MOH in partnership with COB signed an agreement with the University of Technology (UTech), Jamaica, to franchise its four-year undergraduate pharmacy degree program at COB. The UTech-COB franchise offered a two-plus-two arrangement for students to take the first two years of the professional pharmacy degree program at COB and complete the final two years at the UTech campus in Jamaica. With subsequent changes to the franchise agreement between the institutions, the entire four-year BPharm program can be undertaken at COB and has resulted in two cohorts being enrolled in 2012 and 2014. COB enrols students in the program every two years.

“Rather than go into teaching I wanted to go into the pharmacy,” recalled Burnside, and I told my parents [Edward and Mildred Fawkes]. When my dad inquired, they said they never took women into pharmacy to train. My dad decided to ask a cousin L. Walton-Young, who was a member of the House of Assembly, and he said he would bring it up in the House.”

Walton-Young took up Burnside’s cause and advocated for her to be enrolled in the pharmacist apprentice program, and for women in general to be taken into training to become pharmacists. Burnside said she trained for approximately three years. Upon instatement as a pharmacist she became the first registered female pharmacist in the country.

“The struggle [Burnside] had to become a pharmacist in a closed society that was very male-oriented… What she went through she actually opened the door for all us to be here,” said Finlayson.

Burt Strachan was the first male Bahamian pharmacist. He was followed by Pedro Roberts.

From a female trailblazer in Burnside to certification offered at the country’s premier tertiary institution, pharmacology has changed over the decades and today the industry is preparing for another paradigm shift, the focus of the industry professionals during Pharmacy Week, June 7-13, during which they will look at enhancing health through specialized pharmaceutical care.

During Pharmacy Week, industry stakeholders are provided with the opportunity to network, look at emerging trends and share best practices. It also affords pharmacists the opportunity to think outside the box and to look at other advantages and opportunities that may emerge.

“This event is timely, given the fact that the pharmaceutical industry in our country is at a stage of change,” said Finlayson. “We have NHI coming, which no doubt will inevitably bring changes in the current pharmacy practices. It is therefore imperative that pharmacists look at all the advantages and nuances which this plan may present.”

As NHI will technically change the way pharmacy operates, Finlayson said the association has done its research on NHI by looking at how it operates in several countries. The association’s aim once NHI is implemented is to make certain that small community pharmacies remain viable.

This year’s Pharmacy Week will conclude with a banquet during which 12 industry professionals will be recognized — Burnside will receive the honorary pharmacist award; Vivienne Lockhart will receive the lifetime leadership award; Carrol Sands will receive the pharmacist of distinction award; Olivia Curry will receive the technician of distinction award; Neville “Chappie” Knowles and AnnMariee “Mimi” Roberts will receive the community outreach award; Josephine Penasa and David Key will receive the patient care provider pharmacist award; Stephen Kemp will receive the rising star award; Tristan Gaime and Dr. Tamara Gibson-Dean will receive the specialty pharmacist award; and Sonya Phillips-Thompson will receive the patient care provider technician award.

“We’re pretty low-key professionals, but it’s time for recognition,” said Finlayson. “We have some pharmacists who are doing fabulous work.”

In spite of being able to boast a contingent of 200 pharmacists, Finlayson said that is not enough. Considering the population of The Bahamas at more than 350,000 coupled with growing chronic disease, she said there is room for growth in the profession as there is a small group of professionals doing a huge job.

“This is an area that has been deficient of professionals for sometime now, so we’re happy that COB affords the opportunity for Bahamians and they don’t have to go abroad. One of our [BPA] charges is to make certain pharmacy is available from high school. It’s a profession very few people knew existed. You knew you went in [to the pharmacy], somebody gave you your medicine, but the actual theory and practical behind it… We’re doing our best to get that information out now,” she said.

With an annual Pharmacy Week hosted for the past decade, Finlayson said that at the end of the week dedicated to pharmacists, it is their hope that industry professionals would be equipped with new ideas, methods and enlightenment, which would allow the community pharmacy business to remain viable.

And with the changing of the times, the president said that, as a body, the BPA needs to remain united in the direction they want to association and practice to go.

“We must remain united for whatever comes on the horizon whether NHI, or foreign competition. In unity there’s force and strength and we can grow the practice from one level to the next,” she said.


10 questions to ask your pharmacist

• What is this drug? What is the active ingredient?

• What are the brand names and generic names available, and what is their cost?

• What is this for, and how is it going to help me?

• How and when should I use it?

• How long should I use it? Can I stop using the medicine or use less

if I feel better?

• What should I do if I miss a dose or use too much?

• When will the medicine start working? How should I expect to feel?

• Should I avoid any other medicines, dietary supplements, drinks, foods, activities, or other things?

• Is there anything I should watch for, like allergic reactions or side

effects? What do I do if I get any?

• How and where should I keep this medicine?


Questions about generic medication


Prescription coverage: Does getting a generic brand save me money?

Equivalents: How do I know if my prescription is available in a generic?

Brand versus generics: What’s the difference between brand-name drugs

and generics?

Generic medications: What is a generic drug?

Levothyroxine or Warfarin: What is it, and are there differences between

the brand-name and generic versions?

Cost: Why are generic medications cheaper than brand-name medications?


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