Sheila Kelcher

By Kalyna Hennig (originally published in The Mortar & Pestle magazine, Winter 2021)

When Sheila Kelcher (BSc Pharm 1970) saw a job listing for a male pharmacist upon graduation, she didn’t hesitate to apply. Her successful application got her a job at Woodward’s Downtown Pharmacy, where she worked until the birth of her first child in 1974. Ahead of her time, she was asked back and continued to work at Woodward’s Southgate, part-time, after starting a family. Kelcher worked as a community pharmacist at Woodward’s Southgate until her retirement in 2012, even after it had closed in 1993 and transitioned to The Hudson's Bay Southgate Pharmacy.

But Woodward’s was just the beginning of a life-long career path full of impactful, and unexpected, positions. All the while, Kelcher had an ever-growing presence and impact within the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, humbly leading the profession of pharmacy into the future.

In 1982, Dean Dr. John Bachynsky, now Professor Emeritus, introduced Professional Practice courses to the curriculum to help students develop their dispensing, communication and patient counselling skills. Helen Radchuk, then Professional Practice Coordinator for third year students, invited Kelcher in her role as Chair of the Internship Committee to discuss recent curricular changes relating to pharmacy practice. Following the meeting, Radchuk asked Kelcher to step in at the last minute as a Teacher’s Assistant for a single class, and ended up offering her the position for the remainder of the year. The following year, Radchuk moved on to curriculum development for the first year class, and Kelcher took over teaching the third-year Pharmacy Practice class full-time. 

By 1991, the Faculty was under a new Dean, Dr. Richard Moskalyk, now Professor Emeritus, who asked Kelcher to sit on the Pharmaceutical Examining Board of Canada (PEBC) as the Alberta representative, and by 1995, she was President and leading the change from a paper exam to an additional practical exam --  the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) -- which is still administered to pharmacy students at the end of their degrees today. Kelcher helped run the OSCEs at the University of Alberta until her retirement in 2012.

In addition to transforming the pharmacy examinations, Kelcher was also fulfilling a joint position between Pharmacy and Family Medicine at the request of Dean Moskalyk. From 1991 through 2008, Kelcher worked as a clinical pharmacist alongside family physicians in the Family Medicine Clinics at the Misericordia and Grey Nuns hospitals. One of her roles in the position saw her take family medicine residents on home visits to discuss patients’ conditions, medications, and challenges. 

“It was a real eye opener for the residents, because many assumed any time a doctor wrote a prescription, the patients got it filled and they took the medication correctly,” says Kelcher. “As pharmacists know, that doesn't always happen.” On one home visit with a couple, Kelcher recalled a candy dish in the middle of the coffee table, full of multi-coloured pills of all shapes and sizes. The students were stunned.

“That position was a catalyst to ensure that physicians understood what an important role a pharmacist can play in patient care,” says Kelcher. “It was the first step into that new era.” 

As the program developed, Kelcher was invited to sit and consult on many committees that provided the groundwork for multi disciplinary teams in Alberta that now include pharmacists.

In 2001, Dr. Franco Pasutto, then Dean of the Faculty, now Professor Emeritus, spearheaded an update of the entire pharmacy curriculum, to include at least one full year of experiential education for students during their degree. He asked Kelcher to lead the curriculum planning process. In 2004, with Kelcher at the forefront, the new curriculum was approved, and the first pharmacy class of the new program began their studies. Kelcher says it is the proudest accomplishment of her career to date.

“It has been a wonderful career, it really has,” says Kelcher. “The funny thing is, I never applied for any of the jobs. I would get asked to do something, and say ‘sure, why not?’”

In 2008, Dean Pasutto had Kelcher take his place at convocation. It was the first class to graduate from the new curriculum she had been so instrumental in developing.

“I stood at the podium when that class convocated, and I shook hands with each graduand,” says Kelcher. “It was very special for me. I knew them so well. I could acknowledge each and every one of them by name.”

Years later, Kelcher says that her students are still at the heart of her career. 

“The most rewarding part of it all is meeting my pharmacy students that I’ve taught over the years, and having them remember me and be so kind. I feel like over time I did make a difference in a lot of people's lives.”

This year, Kelcher was the recipient of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences’ 2020 Outstanding Pharmacist Alumni Award, which was presented to her at the virtual White Coat & Awards Ceremony in January 2021.