Community involvement key to a rewarding university experience, says Peter Lougheed Scholarship winner

Alyssa Hellman is in the midst of her fourth-year pharmacy rotations and looking forward to a bright future as a pharmacy professional

07 November 2022

alyssa-hellman.jpgAs Peter Lougheed Scholarship winner Alyssa Hellman heads into the home stretch of her pharmacy degree here at the University of Alberta, it’s not just the excellent education she’s received that she’s grateful for — it’s also the friendships, life lessons and leadership opportunities she gained along the way. 

We chatted with Hellman about her vision for the future, her favourite memories from school, and what it meant to receive the Peter Lougheed Scholarship — awarded each year to an undergraduate student in the final two years of their program who has demonstrated leadership through involvement and participation in university or community organizations, sports activities, or cultural activities and academic achievement. 

How did it feel to receive the Peter Lougheed Scholarship?
feel so honoured. This achievement is a reflection of everyone who has supported me over the years and I will forever be grateful for everything I have learned during my pharmacy school journey.

What inspired you to go into pharmacy?
I have always had a passion for health care and the opportunity it provides to make a difference in people’s lives. I was specifically interested in pharmacy because of its focus on evidence-based medicine and the science behind drug therapy. I am so excited to begin my career in a profession that involves lifelong learning, interprofessional collaboration and building relationships with patients.

What kinds of community involvement did you participate in during your degree?
During the 2021-22 school year, I had the honour of being the vice-president of student services for the Alberta Pharmacy Students’ Association (APSA). I was also the chair of APSA’s Space & Wellness Committee, where I helped support a team in planning events and initiatives to promote mental and physical health among pharmacy students. I have been a member of this committee for the past three years and have found it exceptionally rewarding. 

Why is it important as a pharmacy student to be actively involved?
Being actively involved as a student is a great opportunity to gain confidence in advocating for causes that are important to you. Involvement in student organizations also helps you gain valuable experience in working effectively with others and being a leader, both of which are critical skills for health-care professionals. 

Where do you see the future of pharmacy heading?
As demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacists are front-line health-care providers who have provided vital patient care, from vaccinating communities to being a trusted source of medical information. Pharmacists have such a great role to play in filling the gap in care many patients are currently experiencing due to the shortage of physicians. With pharmacists in Alberta now being able to prescribe and manage ongoing drug therapy, I foresee the profession focusing even more on providing clinical services to patients in the future.

What advice would you give students considering pharmacy?
Get involved as soon as you can — I know I wish I had earlier! Joining a club or committee can be a great experience and a chance to meet other students and faculty members. Pharmacy school is so much more than just classroom learning; it really is a time to step outside your comfort zone, try new things, meet new people and learn things about yourself. Taking on leadership roles is a great way to start developing your professional identity.

What has been a highlight of your academic program?
The highlight of my pharmacy school experience has been all of the connections and friendships I have made with my classmates and professors. It has been a privilege to get to know so many like-minded individuals who have been there to support me through every challenge. The friendships and memories I have made will last a lifetime.

What did you learn that surprised you?
While it can sometimes be challenging to make self-care a priority, I have learned that I won’t be able to help others if I don’t first focus on my own well-being. It has been a work in progress, but I have come a long way in prioritizing myself and putting my mental health first. This has shaped the way I view myself as a future pharmacist. If I don’t take care of myself I know I won’t be able to show up and care for my patients in the way they deserve. 

What’s next for you after graduation?
Although I am not entirely sure where I will end up, I currently have an interest in cardiology and would love to practise in an acute-care setting. I have also recently discovered a passion for teaching during my rotation in the pharmacy practice skills lab. Wherever I end up practising, my goal is to continuously challenge myself to learn new things and utilize my full scope of practice in order to be someone my patients can truly depend on and trust.