Bowl of Hygeia Award 2024: Joy Que

Updated on May 31, 2024 (Originally posted on May 15, 2024) The Tablet

Joy (Lunia) Que
Bowl of Hygeia Award
Pharmacy Manager
Rise CHC Pharmacy
Vancouver, B.C.

What’s a pharmacy without profit? 

For 2019 UBC pharmacy graduate Joy Que, that would be her workplace, Rise CHC Pharmacy, located just steps away from the Joyce-Collingwood SkyTrain station in Vancouver. 

Que has always had a heart for community service. Growing up, she volunteered in the Downtown Eastside through her church group, and later, that passion for helping those less fortunate extended to volunteering with the Vancouver Coastal Health at a needle exchange. She also spent time volunteering on a First Nations reserve, which inspired her to enroll in an Indigenous studies course in post-secondary. 

“Mental health and addictions have always been important topics for me. People who suffer from mental health and substance use disorders are often marginalized, and in my family, because of our Asian culture and background, those are topics that aren’t really talked about in the open,” said Que, the recipient of the 2024 Bowl of Hygeia Award for community service. 

Upon becoming a pharmacist, her first place of employment was at a pharmacy in the Downtown Eastside that specialized in opioid agonist treatment, along with working closely with detox and transitional housing facilities. 

About two years later, an opportunity came up at Rise for a pharmacist working in a multidisciplinary community setting. 

RISE Community Health Centre opened in 2020, created as a response to the lower number of family doctors in the neighbourhood. The health centre itself is a part of Collingwood Neighbourhood House, a non-profit society that provides services and community development initiatives for residents in the Renfrew-Collingwood area in east Vancouver. RISE Community Health Centre includes a primary care clinic, a pharmacy, and employs staff ranging from nurses, dietitians, physiotherapists, counsellors to occupational therapists.

The name of the centre is actually an acronym, to mean: Resilient, Integrative, Socially Just and Equitable.

Joy Que

Joy Que, pharmacy manager at Rise CHC Pharmacy, has focused her career on helping those who are marginalized.

“I was drawn by the multidisciplinary setting. I find that when you have a patient who regularly works with multiple health professionals, this improves patient outcomes. Everyone in the health-care team knows what the patient’s goals are and together, we can prioritize their needs,” Que said. 

Many of the clinic’s clients are new immigrants to the area. Often, Que said, this means that patients are in the process of getting paperwork sorted, such as registering with Fair PharmaCare. 

“One of the biggest things you see, in terms of problems that patients are facing, is coverage for medications,” she said. “These are newcomers and often they can’t afford their medications without coverage, so if there’s no coverage, they likely won’t be taking their medications at all.”

The clinic itself only opened in 2020, with Que as its first pharmacist. Since then the pharmacy’s prescription count has been growing, though not quite at the point where revenues have broken even with expenses. For Que, it’s reassuring that the main motivation for the pharmacy isn’t revenue itself, but patient care. Once the pharmacy does generate a profit, the additional revenues will be put back into patient programs, she said. 

“In school, you hear about some of the corporate pharmacies and the pressures that owners or managers will put in place to drive up business. That’s not something that appeals to me,” Que said. 

Each day at RISE Community Health Centre starts with a 30-minute “morning huddle” with clinic staff, a sort of check in to review the past day and any emerging issues — whether professional or personal — that might have arisen. This helps build camaraderie and allows staff to split the work during busy days. Immunizations, for example, might be shared between the nurses and the pharmacy, depending on the day’s schedule. This time in the morning also encourages collaborative discussion on patient care. 

For Que, her priority is to help patients become more independent in their own care. This could mean taking the time to make sure a patient understands how to properly use a medical device by having the patient come in during a less busy time, or helping a patient understand what an immunization record is and why it’s important to keep up with vaccinations.

“The biggest one is often continuous glucose monitoring. I would take the time to help the patient learn how to apply those sensors on their own and to set it up so they can receive the information from the sensors on their phone,” she said. “If you try to do that when it’s busy, or when they come to pick up a prescription, they’re so bombarded with information that they’re not going to remember anything you say.”

This type of education is especially important for patients who live alone, Que said, such as seniors who are living alone or new immigrants, who may have the additional challenge of language issues. Other times, for those patients who do have family members who can help, it can mean bringing in the patient’s family and demonstrating the steps to the family member, so they can help the patient at home. 

Looking ahead, Que is looking forward to the day the pharmacy breaks even. Once the pharmacy is profitable, she would like to create a program where the extra money is reinvested into medications for patients without coverage, and who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford the costs. 

“Many patients who were previously on work or study permits have their coverage lapse when they apply for permanent residency, because they didn’t know they had to extend their previous visas to maintain coverage,” Que said.

“So, we would have some sort of fund, with criteria and ways to determine if someone meets the need, and they won’t have to go without their medications.”

This article is featured in The Tablet. The Tablet features pharmacy and industry news, profiles on B.C. pharmacists, information on research developments and new products.