Summer Experiential Learning: Three Months at the BC Cancer Agency

This past summer, I have interned in the Provincial Pharmacy department at the BC Cancer Agency. My excitement about this internship centered around two main attractions:
1) the opportunity to become involved at the forefront of oncology practice, and 2) the chance to interact and learn from leaders in the field. Upon reflecting on my time here, these are three of my takeaway points:
  1. Oncology is a unique field of practice that presents many unique challenges for pharmacists.
    There are so many new oncology drugs that are being developed, with novel mechanisms of action as well as complex administration and monitoring regimens. This is also a very fast-moving field and healthcare providers must stay at the “top of their game”, constantly keeping up with the newest literature. This is a very exciting time to be involved in oncology, as things are rapidly evolving and new advancements in treatment are constantly being developed. Gone are the days where a Halstead radical mastectomy was the only option for breast cancer, or when scores of patients would be subjected to multiple cycles of high-intensity, extremely toxic regimens in the hope that it would have benefit. Nowadays, there are targeted therapies that have the ability to completely revolutionize treatment (i.e. trastuzumab in HER2+ patients), prolonging patient survival by months to years and improving patient quality of life.
  2. The importance of a holistic approach to oncology practice. 
    The value of a pharmacist is in their ability to determine what is relevant from the vast amount of information available. Content is foundational, but where we can make the biggest impact is to analyze the information and help to create a specialized plan for each individual patient, combining health goals with the best evidence and making the necessary adjustments over time. We must remember that even though pharmacy school has taught us how to logically evaluate a patient case in a sequential order, we also need to incorporate emotions and the reflective parts of our brain. It would be prudent to involve patients in their treatments and not forget or dismiss their concerns, personal choices, and priorities. Conversely, from a clinical standpoint, it was enlightening to see where pharmacy could be helpful; our profession frequently helps with the transition of care between an oncologist and a general practitioner. We are often first to notice issues which may affect a patient’s other chronic conditions, and can help manage until the general practitioner takes over.
  3. Having an interdisciplinary approach to healthcare is crucial to providing the best care, especially in oncology.
    Patient cases presenting with complex issues require a multi-pronged approach. As the pharmacy profession becomes more integrated into the healthcare model, one can really see the value of incorporating perspectives from various health professions. Healthcare is a dynamic field and this is especially true of oncology practice. During my internship, I was able to shadow multiple oncology pharmacists and saw a multitude of health practitioners work together with a singular goal: to help the patient.  By incorporating perspectives from physicians, nursing, dieticians, psychologists and social workers, we can provide a comprehensive plan to ensure optimal patient care.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of what I have learned over the past three months. After each and every conversation and patient interaction that I have experienced, I walked away with more insight and knowledge. My experience has not only helped shape my professional development but also broadened my exposure and understanding of oncology pharmacy.
I am sad to leave the BCCA and all the wonderful people that I have met during my time here, but I am filled with a newfound energy and determination; there is no other field that I would rather be involved in. The Provincial Pharmacy team has shown me what exemplary oncology pharmacy practice looks like, and I will endeavor to try and live up to that standard.
 - Isabell Kang, Pharmacy Student at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy

Biography: Isabell is a pharmacy student in her third year at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy, who is originally from Vancouver, British Columbia. She enjoys travelling, volunteering, and spending time with friends and family.