Mark Kunzli is not your traditional pharmacist. He doesn’t hold a single, permanent position and has spent as much time in academic research and project management as he has in clinical care.
But for dozens of pharmacy students and new practitioners, his candor and strong work ethic is their inspiration to fight through adversity and continue striving for excellence.
“It’s just nuts that people think of me as a mentor,” says Kunzli, who is quick to credit his own mentors for the role they played in his career. “I often think if I can do it, anybody can do it. I don’t forget what it was like to be a student. I didn’t think I would ever get through pharmacy school. I know all too well how challenging it can feel as a student, not only academically but also personally.”
Kunzli initially stumbled into the field, applying for the program on a recommendation from a friend. While he faced challenges throughout pharmacy school, the undergrad threw himself wholeheartedly into pharmacy social life, as a member of pharmacy fraternity Kappa Psi and highly decorated Skits Night performer – his self-professed “claim to fame.”
After graduation, he managed a pharmacy in Campbell River before calling upon his large social and professional network to pursue relief work throughout the province as he re-examined his career goals.
After attending an alumni event in 2009, he reconnected with pharmacy professor and researcher Dr. Ron Reid, who was pursuing the feasibility of utilizing pharmacogenomics within community pharmacy.
“I saw his vision and I wanted to be involved,” says Kunzli, who jumped on the opportunity to explore the field of study as an Executive MBA in Healthcare student at the UBC Sauder School of Business.
“His coursework during his MBA was devoted to implementing pharmacogenomics in clinical pharmacy practice, not because it was his job but because it was his passion,” says Reid. Kunzli worked with Reid, the UBC Sequencing Centre and the BC Pharmacy Association staff on the research project “Genomics for Precision Drug Therapy in Community Pharmacy.” It was funded by the Association and Genome BC.
The project's first phase involved 33 community pharmacists who volunteered to gather data from 200 patients across B.C. to test if community pharmacists could be the health-care provider for patients to access pharmacogenomic testing, no matter where they lived. It was an overwhelming success.
“He is a vocal advocate for the profession and consistently challenges the status quo to find novel approaches to clinical practice that will benefit both pharmacists and the society we practice within,” says Victoria pharmacist Andrea Silver.
Throughout his work within the UBC faculty, Kunzli continuously offered his skills, experience and perspective to a wide range of colleagues, students and fellow researchers, as a mentor with the Sauder School of Business’ Aboriginal Management Program, a founding member of the Vancouver Graduate Chapter of Kappa Psi, a volunteer recruiter on behalf of the pharmacy program at UBC and annual judge at Skits Night, among many other opportunities.
“He is always approachable, kind, and genuinely takes the time to talk to anyone that needs him,” says third year pharmacy student, and fellow BCPhA award winner Jerry Mejia.
While Kunzli may not consider a lot of what he does as mentorship, attributing much of his contact to social media, texting and faculty events, the vast number of support letters within his award nomination package stating his willingness to go out of his way to help, shape and mold his peers says otherwise.
“He gives so much of himself while asking for little in return in order to drive the practice of pharmacy further, encouraging students like myself to put forth the same amount of passion throughout our future careers,” adds 2016 pharmacy grad Jason Chan.
A recognized innovative leader in advancing the pharmacy profession and enhancing the public perception of pharmacists, Kunzli has most recently been lauded for the co-creation and coordination of the award-winning Innovation to Application Conference, which brings together a comprehensive network of practitioners, researchers and stakeholders to help bridge the gap between research and practice.
“My career has benefitted so much from the connections I’ve made. [Innovation to Application] is a way to make that happen on a broader scale,” Kunzli says. “You can have all of these great ideas, but if you don’t have the practitioners engaged, it will be a difficult time to get it going.”
Having recently stepped away as project manager of the pharmacogenomics study, Kunzli continues to work as a research associate and project manager on several ongoing studies within UBC, as well as a relief pharmacist.
“My underlying premise, in all of these projects, is I want to show what a pharmacist can do,” notes Kunzli. “I give the perspective of a pharmacist. I think it helps make our profession look better, that to me is why I do all of these things.”