Caring and contributing to patient care and well-being: Outstanding Pharmacy Alumnus Award recipient Ron Pohar

    By Bernie Poitras on April 19, 2017

    While he searched for a career in health care, Ron Pohar (B.Sc. Pharm Class of ’95) spent a day in a community pharmacy near his parents’ home in Edmonton.

    More than 20 years later, he still remembers the day.

    “I remember spending a day at a pharmacy when I was 19 years old to see if I wanted to go into the profession,” says Pohar. “It wasn’t very busy but the pharmacist took the time to explain to me what she was doing. So I was able to find out about all of the processes involved in filling a prescription, that I wouldn’t otherwise have been aware of.”

    It left enough of an impression on him to pursue pharmacy as a profession but rather than choose the retail or community pharmacy path, Pohar chose a decidedly different one.   

    For the past 20 years, Ron has practiced as a clinical pharmacist in Edmonton’s inner city specializing in the areas of addictions, smoking cessation and mental health. His commitment to helping the marginalized, underserviced and undercared for populations has helped him make significant contributions to patient care and well-being.

    Last fall, Ron was given the honour of receiving the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Outstanding Alumni Award at the Faculty’s Celebration of Excellence event.

    Ron’s interest in a pharmacy career was also influenced by his family. “My two brothers were already medical doctors, so the health-care field always interested me,” says Pohar.

    After two years of general sciences at university, Pohar started his pharmacy degree program. “My years in undergraduate pharmacy, those years were some of the best times of my life, the comraderie between students, the friendships I developed,” he says. “Third year is where is all came together for me and where I saw the value of my education and how it all fit together.”

    After graduating in 1995, he worked for an independent pharmacy providing facility-based care. “It was a pharmacy that didn’t cater to walk-in clientele and we provided medications for geriatric sites, assisted living facilities, long term care and addictions/mental health patients.” He worked at those sites as a clinical pharmacist.

    It was the work he did with addictions and mental health clients where his interest peaked in that topic. “One of the sites I went to was the Salvation Army’s Addiction Rehabilitation Centre in the inner city, where I worked with patients who had addictions, mental health, and substance abuse issues.”

    Pohar worked with staff to develop a medication adherence program to help facilitate appropriate medication use for this population. . Simple fixes like making individual blister packs for daily medications proved to help patients manage their own medications and adhere to treatment. He further expanded his role, providing intensive education on medication and chronic diseases and performing medication reviews. Often these patients had never previously been offered this level of counselling. “I saw clients that were admitted to the addictions program and that’s where my interest in helping mental health patients started.”

    Pohar would go on to do that for next eight years. He then moved to Myros Pharmacy, a long-standing pharmacy based in the inner city, where he practiced for the next 10 years working off-site with addictions, those with severe and persistent mental illness and geriatric patients at a number of different facilities.

    “I worked with various health care teams (family doctor, psychiatrist and nurses) and visited inner city addiction sites. It’s very rewarding work,” says Pohar. “I get to play a real significant role in helping people getting better each day.”

    “I think there’s a certain stigma with mental health but the facts are that one in five people will suffer from a mental illness in their lives. I think that pharmacists need to understand they have a role to play in helping the disenfranchised populations of our communities. This area (mental health) is very overlooked for pharmacists – we don’t typically have the skill set or expertise to deal with this area.”

    These days, Pohar works for Pharmacare Pharmacy where he has spent the last three years delivering facility-based care programs. “We have a back end dispensary to provide medications for institutions so I am part of clinical team that provides services under the pharmacy practice framework full time for them.”

    He says he provides a lot of in-house educational services to staff and residents on medications, in addition to developing care plans for residents. He also continues his work on helping people with addictions issues. “About 25 per cent of my current job is spent working with mental health and addictions patients on smoking cessation programs,” he says.

    Pohar’s work as an educator is also impressive – he is one of a handful of champions for tobacco control in the field of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences. He believes that pharmacists should have a major role in helping Canadians quit smoking.

    Ron provided the vision and led the development of a national program, CATALYST – Call to Action on Tobacco Reduction, a Model for the Busy Pharmacist – to educate thousands of pharmacists on smoking cessation counselling.

    “Working with a committee made up of one pharmacist from most of the provinces, we developed five modules to help train more than 5,000 pharmacists across Canada on how to deliver smoking cessation services in the community pharmacy setting,” he says.

    The toolkit uses a question-based model to develop personalized quit plans for each patient in a structured and efficient manner. “The toolkit we help develop is still in use today.”

    Ron is proud of his work-related accomplishments but when he’s not working, he and his wife are busy keeping up with their three children and their sports activities. 

    “People ask me why I work with people in the inner city. My answer is that everyone has a story and their situation comes from a variety of circumstances.”

    “I get to play a part in an effective health-care team,” says Pohar. “It’s the right thing to do.”

    Here are just some of the awards Ron has won during his career.

    - Alberta Pharmaceutical Association and Merck Frosst New Horizon Award (1997)
    - Alberta College of Pharmacists Award of Excellence (2002)
    - Alberta College of Pharmacists MJ Huston Pharmacist of the Year (2006)
    - Alberta Pharmacy Centennial Award of Distinction (2011)
    - Commitment to Care Award for Health Promotion (2012)