New Practitioner Award 2021: Fairuz Siraj

December 2, 2021 The Tablet

Dr. Fairuz Siraj
New Practitioner Award
Pharmacist, Hillside Pharmasave.
Victoria, B.C.

The moment Fairuz Siraj walked into her store, Pharmasave owner Maria Kwari knew there was something different about the recent University of B.C. PharmD graduate.

“He walked in with his UBC pharmacy jacket on, very keen with a big smile on his face. I knew something was different and special about him,” Kwari said. “He was intelligent and he just had so much enthusiasm and that was really infectious for me. I felt he would be a really good member of my team.”

The first store Kwari appointed Siraj to was Pharmasave Esquimalt Plaza, where he worked as a pharmacist under the leadership of pharmacy manager Lisa Luu. Siraj left Luu an equally striking impression.

“He voiced his desire to help a clientele suffering from migraines within two weeks of starting at my store,” Luu said. “This is a real change from many of the new pharmacists that come out, because many of them can be scared in the beginning, but he was just really enthusiastic right from the get-go.”

Siraj started in January 2020, just months before the pandemic lockdowns would begin in British Columbia. At first, Kwari was worried that there wouldn’t be enough patient interaction to excite her new hire due to pandemic restrictions keeping people at home, but that didn’t stop Siraj.

Soon, Kwari provided space at her Hillside Pharmasave location in Victoria to open a migraine consultation clinic room.

“It all originated during my third year when I had a good opportunity to do an elective project through the UBC Pharmacists Clinic, which had a collaborative model with the Headache Clinic, where the pharmacist saw patients with migraine before these patients saw neurologists,” Siraj recalled.

“My job was to basically sift through the data and see if these patients who saw the pharmacist first had a difference. And of course they did.”

Fairuz Siraj

Within two weeks of starting out as a pharmacist, Fairuz Siraj proposed the idea of pharmacist-led consultation clinics for patients suffering from migraine.

Armed with this knowledge, Siraj sought to find out how pharmacists in the community could step in to help this group of patients who otherwise faced long wait-times to see neurologists.

“I got into it a little bit more,” Siraj said. “And actually, a lot more patients have migraine than diabetes, asthma and osteoarthritis all combined, so it’s huge.”

Siraj began consulting patients at the Hillside location, typically sitting down with each patient one on one to provide education about migraines, to review each patient’s medications and provide them with a list of options to treat their migraine. At the end of the consultation, a summary is sent to the patient’s physician or specialist with Siraj’s recommendation.

“In the beginning, a lot of physicians were just looking at my recommendation and not doing anything about it. But recently, because I’ve been doing so many migraine consultations, that they come up to me and they refer their patients to me,” Siraj said.

Siraj has already seen tremendous success among those he has helped.

“He was so personable, easy to talk to and very knowledgeable about everything migraine related. I learned he is a pharmacist who on much of his own time travels to different pharmacies to consult with migraine sufferers like myself,” wrote one patient, Annette Turnbull.

“His goal is to get awareness out about just how debilitating migraines can be on a sufferer's daily life and quality of life; as well as make recommendations that might help lower the number of migraines one suffers from and ideally find a way to stop them at their onset.”

Sandi, another migraine patient, said she discovered Siraj’s specialty when she was speaking with him about headache pills.

“He said, ‘I specialize in migraines.’ and I went, ‘OK!’ We tried a lot of different mediations until I finally found one that actually worked. He is my life-saver. He is the best. I recommend him to other people too,” Sandi said. “I’m a different person. When I have a headache now I know what to take … and the headache is gone. He’s just a breath of fresh air.”

Fairuz Siraj

Siraj currently works at Hillside Pharmasave in Victoria, where one of his duties is hosting migraine clinics.

So far, the service is not funded – though that is an area Siraj continues to work on by identifying external organizations to partner with, and investigating other jurisdictions in Canada where pharmacist-led migraine consultations may be funded.

“What I saw was that pharmacists had all this knowledge that they can use to make a huge difference, but they weren’t taking that extra step. It could be lack of time, lack of knowledge, lack of reimbursement models or lack of scope of practice,” Siraj said.

"As pharmacists, we need to start thinking more of clinical services. I think the dispensing model will be a thing of the past quite soon, so we need to get our expanded scope of practice and get compensation so we can sustain and have this. We can do this by working together and going to the regulatory colleges and say, ‘look, we’ve been stepping up all throughout this pandemic to help these patients that are falling through the gap. We can do this, so why not us? We can help.”

Dr. Walter Chow, a family physician in Victoria, wrote that he has personally referred challenging migraine patients to Siraj and patients have received valuable advice.

“I have found his assessments to be thorough and his recommendations to be well thought out and clinically relevant,” Chow wrote. “Patients have reported that they have gained valuable information on their condition as well as their prescribed treatment and they have gained valuable self-management skills.”

Luu, Siraj’s first pharmacy manager out of school, said Siraj’s enthusiasm extends well beyond just his work in migraine consultations. “His passion and his enthusiasm for the job really helps inspire the rest of us,” Luu said. “Most of us, when we first start out we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing to patients or saying something that’s not correct. Fairuz was just so confident. He is so comfortable with patients and is not afraid to talk to them.

“I think he was just born with this confidence, you either have it or you don’t. You can learn it to some extent, but a lot of it is just natural-born.”

Kwari also admits Siraj has the ability to make fellow team members equally as enthusiastic and motivated about their work.

“He’s fun to work with. He makes every day an interesting day. He’s always bringing information to us and challenging us to learn new things and be better versions of ourselves,” Kwari said.

“The patients feel it too. They know there is somebody who is so enthusiastic about their health-care and is willing to be there and to listen and provide information for them. That patients still come ack to see him to say, ‘hey, thank you so much for making a difference.’ That’s huge.”

Despite the accolades, Siraj emphasized that expanding the current scope of pharmacists in B.C. is not just his own journey.

“I try to do what I can but honestly, we have strength in unity. If everybody can do it together, we’ll be there for our patients.”