Summer Experiential Learning: Fifteen weeks at the BC Cancer Agency

This past summer, I had the pleasure of being part of BC Cancer’s Provincial Pharmacy student internship program. As this was my first experience in a non-dispensing pharmacy, my 15-week internship enveloped me in an exciting, yet intimidating new environment filled with many learning opportunities. I gained valuable insight and an appreciation for this field of pharmacy, while learning some life lessons along the way. Here are three of the many lessons that I have learned:

1. Learning opportunities that come with being in uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations

I will admit that I didn’t know what to expect when I first started. I have yet to learn oncology in my studies and I was now going to work with pharmacists who specialize in this field. As I expected, my first project submerged me under all the oncological jargon. However, being thrown into the deep end turned out to be one of the best ways for me to understand my limits and learn how to handle unfamiliar territory. The Provincial Pharmacy team supervises many sectors ranging from research studies, to efficacy and effectiveness of patient care, to optimizing front-line safety and accuracy. This meant my projects often exposed me to new learning opportunities. With each project, I received guidance from the Provincial Pharmacy team and time to work through any challenges on my own. As I became more comfortable with navigating through these projects, I was less intimidated and more focused on how to achieve my goals.

2.The value of interprofessionalism. 

Part of the first year PharmD curriculum is participating in professional education activities day (PEAD). PEAD facilitates student interaction with other health professionals by promoting discussion on health care situations. My time with the BC Cancer Provincial Pharmacy team allowed me to understand the practical application of interprofessional education. During my internship I was given the opportunity to shadow a BC Cancer resident on his gynecological rotation, as well as a clinical pharmacist in the Pain and Symptom Management Clinic. In both cases I was able to observe the patient consultation, followed by the discussion with other health professionals, such as the oncologist or nurse, to develop the patient care plan. This collaboration between healthcare professionals demonstrated the value of multidisciplinary care in optimizing patient outcome. 

3. Plan for the unexpected

Some of the many projects I worked on during my internship were pioneering projects. I was tasked to set the framework, determine what the challenges are and identify potential issues that may arise down the road. Being unfamiliar with pioneering projects, I, initially, moved forward along a more singular path without planning my work beforehand. This meant that I would often need to move backwards after facing an unexpected problem. As I gained more experience, I learned that taking the time to consider possible outcomes and plan for possible complications lead to a smoother and more efficient execution. 

Spending the summer under the guidance and mentorship of the BC Cancer Provincial
Pharmacy team has been an incredibly rewarding experience. In a nutshell, I have learned that becoming better begins with recognizing what I do not know. I look forward to continuing my education with a newfound passion and enthusiasm for the profession and a goal to work towards the high standard of practice demonstrated by my mentors at BC Cancer Provincial Pharmacy. 

Matthew Mah has completed his 1st year of Pharmacy at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Matthew has been working as a pharmacy assistant at Save-On Foods Pharmacy since 2012. In his free time, Matthew is a foodie who enjoys hiking, skiing and spending time with his family and friends.