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2009 M.J. Huston Pharmacist of the Year: Noreen Vanderburgh

Noreen VanderburghNoreen Vanderburgh
Home care pharmacist
northeast home care office, edmonton
alberta health services

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It’s hard to imagine Noreen Vanderburgh ever being down about pharmacy. Her face lights up as she talks about her work. Over her 30 years as a pharmacist, Noreen has been a positive, progressive role model for everyone around her. She is a lifelong learner and selflessly shares her knowledge with others. In her roles as employee, manager, colleague, instructor and health care provider, Noreen’s passion and skills shine through.

Noreen enjoyed the challenges of community pharmacy for the first 10 years of her career, but found it was not her niche. However, one of the things she has always appreciated about pharmacy is the choice of job opportunities it offers. “Pharmacists need to be clear about what they want to do. There’s lots of flexibility, but not everyone can do or needs to do everything.” With this in mind, Noreen set out to find her place in the profession. One of her previous jobs had given her an idea. She remembered making up the blister packs for seniors facilities and always wondering what happened with them at the other end. She never got to interact with those patients or their care providers and always found that frustrating. This was the beginning of her interest in geriatrics and providing comprehensive pharmaceutical care and it led to the path she has followed ever since.

Noreen has been a powerful advocate for seniors, an often overlooked and stereotyped group. Not only has she consistently provided outstanding patient care herself, she has taught and motivated others to do the same. She has shared her expertise with pharmacy students and residents, pharmacist colleagues, hospital staff, and, in 2008, with seniors and their instructors as the Pharmacist-in-Residence for the U of A Faculty of Extension/Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association (ELLA) courses. Noreen has also worked on multi-disciplinary committees to enhance patient safety in institutional and home environments whenever possible.

“I started teaching because it was just expected as part of the job. But then I got some positive feedback and kept going. Some of the most rewarding times I’ve had in my career are when students say to me, ‘Someday I want a job just like yours.’ When you receive a comment like that, you know you must be doing something right!”

Noreen designed and popularized systems for safer, more comprehensible seniors’ medication management. She created a tremendous legacy in her 20-plus years with the Northern Alberta Regional Geriatric Program (NARG) at the Edmonton General and Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospitals in Edmonton. Over a dozen years ago, she and Dr. H. Kammerer initiated the medication review process still in use in the geriatric units today. “Both Dr. Kammerer and I advocated for and demonstrated the benefit of these weekly structured collaborative meetings over the years.

Regular reviews are an essential service for the elderly. It is about being proactive and preventing drug-related problems before they happen.”

Dr. Kammerer agrees. “Throughout the years, Noreen’s expertise and pharmacy suggestions have improved the well being and care of many patients at the Glenrose. She has in all probability saved more than a few lives. Regular medication reviews with pharmacist and physician can and do result in improved patient care and quality of life.”

Noreen also worked tirelessly with Pharmacy and Information Services staff to develop the “autotext” format (minimizes typos and provides consistency) for Glenrose Pharmacy staff to use on medication labels and summaries. She found ways to improve medication order entry and verification. In her empowering way, she worked with all staff to agree on procedures related to electronic profile reviewing, addressing medication administration times, and clear computer documentation by pharmacists to provide continuity of care for patients. The process resulted in the Pharmaceutical Care Binder which is still used in the Glenrose dispensary. Through this work, Noreen modelled her conviction that when you’re a pharmacist, providing patient-focused pharmaceutical care is your responsibility no matter where in the hospital (or community) you are. “Yes, it is challenging, but it is about doing the right things right, enhancing the roles of pharmacy technicians so the pharmacists can be freed up to provide the care that only they can provide.”

Spending time with patients and collecting all the information needed at admission and discharge is a passion for Noreen. She practiced an early version of Medication Reconciliation before it became the recognized safety initiative it is today and then shared her procedures with her pharmacist colleagues. “I always tried to imagine the community pharmacist on the receiving end of the
discharge prescriptions and the patient trying to figure out what to do with the medications once they were at home.” And now that she has a new view of what actually happens in the home, Noreen is even more passionate about helping clients sort out their medication-related issues.

Noreen’s new view came about last year, when she left the Glenrose to become one of four pharmacists working in Alberta Health Services’ Home Care Program. Now known affectionately by co-workers as the “World Famous Home Care Pharmacists,” this dynamic team is breaking ground for a whole new type of pharmacist care.

As it has throughout her career, Noreen’s passion is guiding her steps. She seizes every opportunity to provide exemplary patient care and treat the whole person. And she continues to share that enthusiasm and skill throughout the community – one home visit at a time.