Why does ACP exist?
When Albertans visit their local pharmacy to seek health advice, refill a prescription, or get a vaccination, they have certain expectations of their pharmacy teams. Patients expect that their pharmacists will properly assess their drug therapy needs, their prescriptions will be accurately prepared with the proper labelling, and their personal health information will be secure. Overall, patients expect that their health and well-being is safe in the hands of pharmacy teams.
As Alberta’s college that regulates the practice of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians and the operation of licensed pharmacies, the Alberta College of Pharmacy (ACP) is committed to serving, supporting, and protecting the public’s health and well-being.
In Alberta, there are 29 regulatory colleges that govern health professions under the Health Professions Act (HPA). Each college is required to develop, maintain, and enforce professional regulations, standards of practice, and codes of ethics for the professions they regulate. All 29 regulatory colleges, from the College of Midwives of Alberta to the Alberta College of Optometrists to ACP, are required by the HPA to carry out their governance responsibilities in a way that protects and serves the public interest.
Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians (ACP’s regulated members) must also comply with federal legislation and other provincial legislation that relate to the practice of pharmacy. For example, the provincial Pharmacy and Drug Act and its regulation outline requirements for pharmacy licensing and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act addresses how substances scheduled under the Act are controlled.
“Alberta’s pharmacists have the broadest scope of practice across Canada,” said Irene. “The role of pharmacy is continuously evolving in Alberta, so ACP must consider how the health of Albertans is being looked after in an evolving environment.”
Pharmacists can, with the appropriate training, prescribe medications, manage existing prescriptions, inject drugs and vaccines, order and interpret lab tests, and more. It is crucial to have the appropriate oversight in place to effectively regulate these responsibilities.
How is ACP governed?
ACP is led by a Council that includes 14 members. ACP’s Council consists of 50 per cent regulated members (five pharmacists and two pharmacy technicians) elected by their peers, and 50 per cent public members, appointed by the Minister of Health. Council’s role is to govern and provide leadership. Their deliberations focus on healthy public policy, particularly, policy that supports safe, effective, and responsible pharmacy practices that result in patients’ health goals being met through the appropriate use of drug therapy.
Irene brings a valued perspective, as she is the first public member to serve as ACP’s president. Irene explained that ACP’s Council is accountable to Albertans.
“Council governs to support and protect the public’s health and well-being,” she said. “That is our primary focus and that is what we keep top of mind for decision making.”
ACP’s registrar, Greg Eberhart, explained that ACP’s governance and oversight role has changed over time.
“The concept of self-regulation has changed substantively, with a shift to equal representation of public members appointed by the government,” Greg said. “This shift emphasizes ACP’s mandate to serve, support, and protect the public. We operate in a model where members of the professions and members of the public work together to regulate pharmacy practices.”
Irene explained that all members of Council work together to fulfill their roles as leaders, approving policy and providing direction for the college consistent with its vision.
“Council works at the governance level providing strategic direction, setting priorities, and establishing policies that ACP’s leadership team put into action to fulfill our mandate,” Irene said. “Council is not designed to be involved in the day-to-day operations, so we’re lucky because we have such good people at the staff level – it is a good team effort between the two groups.”
What does ACP do?
“The role of Council is to reflect on the needs of patients and the health system and create policies and prioritize decisions about what needs to be done,” Greg said. “Administration will then develop and implement programs that are consistent with Council’s direction and achieve Council’s goals.”
The HPA identifies the four core programs that ACP and other colleges must administer, including registration, competence, professional practice, and complaints resolution. ACP’s team provides services through these four functional areas, which will be explored in depth in this issue of Full Scale.
Greg explains that, while each area has a distinct purpose, success requires constant collaboration between programs.
“The administrative team works to ensure these programs complement one another, providing as much consistency as possible between programs for regulated members and the public,” said Greg. “This is achieved through continuous communication, sharing, and learning together with a shared commitment to ongoing quality improvement.”
These teams work collaboratively to regulate the practice of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians and the operation of licensed pharmacies across Alberta. Overall, ACP
- participates in local, provincial, and national forums when health policy is discussed;
- promotes patient-centred, collaborative health care that best uses the skills and knowledge of all healthcare professionals;
- ensures that only qualified pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are registered, all pharmacists and pharmacy technicians maintain their knowledge and skills at the highest level possible, and all pharmacies provide a practice environment that supports quality practice and patient safety;
- supports continuing professional development amongst all registrants to ensure that practices remain current and relevant;
- develops and enforces pharmacy practice standards in context with ACP’s Code of Ethics; and,
- manages the complaints resolution process related to pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and pharmacies.
What doesn’t ACP do?
First and foremost, ACP is not an educational institution. With “college” in its name, this is, understandably, a common misconception. In fact, the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Alberta is the only Alberta institution accredited to educate pharmacists. There are four accredited pharmacy technician programs in Alberta at Bow Valley College, NorQuest College, Red Deer Polytechnic, and Robertson College.
There are also common misconceptions about advocacy. The HPA now prohibits regulatory colleges from carrying out the functions of a professional association, including advocacy work on behalf of registrants, to ensure regulatory colleges always put patients and the public interest first.
“Regulatory colleges do have a responsibility to advocate for the public; ACP advocates for public policy that will help patients achieve their health goals,” said Greg. “We pursue policies that allow individuals to benefit from the knowledge and skills of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, including policies that ensure these are performed in a manner that is appropriate and effective, ultimately in the interest of each patient served. In that context, we advocate for quality pharmacy practice. We focus on why quality pharmacy practice is important to patients and to the sustainability of Alberta’s health system and how patients can benefit from pharmacy services.”
In terms of advocacy for pharmacy professionals, there are different provincial and national associations to fulfill that function. One of the roles of associations is to work with government to set fees or to determine how pharmacy teams and pharmacies are compensated. ACP is not legally permitted to set professional fees, set guidelines for professional fees, or negotiate professional fees.
These distinct roles are in place to reduce the potential for conflicts of interest and to protect the integrity of colleges and the health system at large. For example, if ACP were to negotiate fees, this would require prioritizing the interests of pharmacy. That is contrary to ACP’s mandate to prioritize the health and well-being of Albertans as the college’s primary consideration.
Greg explains, “it is important that ACP clearly understands who its primary customer is: every Albertan who accesses or who may benefit from pharmacy services. This clarity allows us to ensure that our business and our priorities are appropriately focused.”
Why ACP’s work matters
Throughout the years, ACP has initiated a number of changes as a leader in improving pharmacy practice. ACP led the practice of pharmacy in Canada by being the first to implement mandatory continuing education and patient medication records, as well as gaining the authorization for pharmacists to administer drugs by injection and prescribe. ACP was also amongst the first colleges to regulate pharmacy technicians.
“Like registrants, ACP is continually learning and adapting to change,” said Greg. “Through continuous learning, ACP remains open to new and better ways of doing things to support quality patient care.”
Looking towards the future, Irene explained that ACP’s work is guided by the 2021-25 Strategic Plan, however, she also mentioned that the role of pharmacy teams and the healthcare landscape are both continually evolving.
“Council is always working towards achieving the goals outlined in our strategic plan,” Irene said. “At the same time, we remain nimble to adapt and respond to changing needs and conditions in Alberta’s healthcare landscape.”
Every Albertan should have access to quality pharmacy care. ACP will continue to work to support healthy Albertans through excellence in pharmacy practice.