St. Joseph's new residency program aims to expand how pharmacists treat chronic illnesses

A new healthcare residency program in London, Ont., is training clinical pharmacists to help treat pain and a growing number of chronic diseases among the aging population.

Healthcare experts say Canada will need more pharmacists do to an aging population

two women in hospital setting
Pharmacist Denise Kreutzwiser, left, created St. Joseph’s Health Care London’s pharmacy residency program. Sumani Vij, right, is the first, and so far only, resident in the program. (Provided by St. Joseph's Health Care London)

A new healthcare residency program at St. Joseph's Health Care London is focusing on training clinical pharmacists to treat pain and the growing number of chronic diseases among the country's aging population.

There is more need than ever for healthcare professionals to learn how to help patients deal with their chronic illnesses and pain beyond just prescribing drugs, said Denise Kreutzwiser, a pharmacist with St. Joseph's pain management program, who coordinated the pharmacy residency program.

"Chronic pain affects one in five Canadians and is very much intertwined with mental health and also many other chronic conditions and so it's really important that we focus on this," Kreutzwiser said.

Healthcare experts say alternative means of helping patients deal with pain is one of the keys to slowing the opioid epidemic that continues across the country, something Kreutzwiser said they're focusing on by expanding what pharmacists can do to help patients outside of just filling a prescription and forgetting about them.

Residents will also focus on how a patient's overall quality of life is impacted during treatment and how they can work with other healthcare providers to ensure the patient receives the best treatment possible, she said.

"The patient is going to be moving throughout the health system and there's many different people that are going to interact with them along the way," Kreutzwiser said. "So really looking at the big picture."

Residency in its infancy but looking to grow

St. Joseph's is only working with one resident right now, but Kreutzwiser said they are planning to bring on more in the near future thanks to a growing need for pharmacists.

Sumani Vij, the inaugural resident of the new pharmacist residency, said she's already learned valuable lessons about patient care.

"No one can really teach you about a patient's experience — that's something you learn as you speak to different patients," Vij said. "Chronic pain can be so incredibly complex and and the patients that come into the clinic have a wealth of knowledge and are still willing to share their experiences."

woman in pharmacy
Sumani Vij, is a graduate of the University of Waterloo pharmacy program. She is the inaugural resident of St. Joseph’s Health Care London’s pharmacy residency program and was attracted by its focus on outpatient care of chronic diseases. (Provided by St. Joseph's Health Care London)

By next year, Vij said she will have worked with the pain management program, rheumatology centre, palliative care unit, rehabilitation program, mental health care program, and the organization's outpatient community pharmacy. Experiences that she said will better equip her with the skills needed to help future patients dealing with chronic illnesses as they age.

"We just want to shine a light on what pharmacists do in an interdisciplinary team environment to deliver high-quality patient care," Kreutzwiser added.



Mike spent his early life in Northern Ontario and Quebec before making London his home. He is a graduate of Fanshawe's Broadcast Journalism program and lives in the city with his family and three cats.