Growing up the son of a pharmacist, Ajit Johal was fairly certain he would follow in his father’s footsteps. As a teen, his father acquired an independent shop, Wilson Pharmacy, where Johal spent several high school summers as a pharmacy assistant.
Confident he would join his father in the family business, Johal sought out a different path to many aspiring BC pharmacists and attended pharmacy school at the University of Toronto. “I did my schooling through U of T, mainly because I wanted to live on my own,” says Johal. “That’s where I developed those life skills.”
Since graduating in 2012 and returning home to British Columbia, Johal has thrown himself into the business, expanding services and morphing the small, community shop into a juggernaut of primary care services. “It started as a mom and pop corner pharmacy and it still has that great community feel, but we really wanted to turn it into a big clinical services provider. We wanted to make huge inroads into primary care.”
Assessing opportunities for pharmacy care in the Lower Mainland, Johal identified a huge need within the area of mental health – patients who tend to have very complex medication regimens and high rates of comorbidity. Johal approached Coast Mental Health to provide services, and is now an integral member of primary care services for this vulnerable population.
As clinical pharmacist for the Coast Mental Health Medication Program, Johal provides medication administration and support services for more than 350 patients across the Lower Mainland.
“Patients in the program are complex in nature,” says Renay Bajkay, Coast Mental Health program director. “All have underlying mental illness and many have chronic diseases. Since Ajit came aboard, I have seen the role of pharmacy move beyond just drug distribution, to an essential clinical support service.”
In addition to comprehensive medication reviews at program locations across the Lower Mainland, Johal sends recommendation letters to various prescribers to optimize care and prevent drug therapy problems, provides training to staff in the form of workshops and presentations and offers on-site immunizations programs for both staff and clients.
“We’re fulfilling a need that was always there,” says Johal. “They don’t necessarily have the 24-hour clinical support that would be ideal, and they never had that pharmacy resource available. It feels great to have a big impact with the organization.”
As a passionate learner, Johal is certified in travel health as well as diabetes education, which he uses on a regular basis to provide health-care education awareness in several capacities – with community patients at Wilson Pharmacy, his primary care services with Coast Mental Health and also as a clinical instructor and course coordinator for pharmacy 450b, an elective in travel medicine for third and fourth-year pharmacy students at UBC.
Sourcing a community need and business opportunity, Johal stretched his travel medicine certification one step further, establishing Wilson Pharmacy as a key source for travel-related medicine awareness and clinical services. The service allows customers to book an appointment online at travelrx.ca for travel consultations and vaccinations at one of two participating pharmacies – Wilson and Laurel Prescriptions, in Vancouver.
While Johal has accomplished much in the last several years, he considers his path as only just beginning. “I like the quote from Nelson Mandela, ‘After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb,’” says Johal, of his future plans. “I’m looking to flesh out the programs more and move into results-oriented practice, collecting data and partnering with institutions like UBC to change the scope of practice and show the public what pharmacists can do.”
He recently began work in this area, as the only participant in the Tri-Cities area to partner in the BCPhA and Genome BC’s pharmacogenomics project, “Genomics for Precision Drug Therapy in Community Pharmacies.”
Overall, he hopes this award recognition will inspire other recent pharmacy graduates to aspire towards challenging roles, whatever their circumstances may be. “It’s a message to other new grads out there,” he says. “They can make a difference right out of the gates.”