On June 8, 2022, the Alberta College of Pharmacy (ACP) held its first Celebration of Leadership event since 2019. At the event, three University of Alberta students were presented with ACP Leadership Development Awards, including 2020 recipient Jessica (Jes) Buhler. These awards are presented to a third- or fourth-year student in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences who has demonstrated exemplary professionalism, leadership, and citizenship.
Jes is now a licensed pharmacist practising in Calgary; she entered the pharmacy world at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, completing a hospital residency in 2021. Being on the front lines during the pandemic presented challenges and learning opportunities that she did not anticipate.
“Graduating in 2020 and starting my career in a pandemic was not what I was expecting,” said Jes. “However, it highlighted the essential role pharmacy teams play and I had so many rewarding learning experiences.”
Jes has always appreciated new learning opportunities; she also has the ability to ask the tough questions when she needs to. Jes explained that her go-to question has always been “but why.” This curiosity has served her well as a student, a professional, an advocate, and a leader.
During her time as a student, Jes served as the Alberta Pharmacy Students’ Association (APSA) president. Her ability to ask the right questions brought important issues to the forefront. She asked why students felt isolated when they experienced mental health challenges, and that question led to a campaign where Jes, along with 80 per cent of her classmates, donned pins on their white coats saying, “you can talk with me about suicide.”
Jes explains her reasoning for this campaign with a question, asking, “How could we expect our patients to be vulnerable and open up if we were so unwilling to practice this ourselves?”
Jes led a number of initiatives and programs to support her peers and advance pharmacy practice during her time as a student. She encourages other students to take advantage of the learning and leadership opportunities they have in school and recommends thinking outside of the box to identify gaps and new opportunities.
“If you want to be involved with leadership, there are always plenty of opportunities, and if you identify a gap, you can create those opportunities for yourself,” she said. “There are so many capable individuals in this field that can take on new initiatives to make a difference.”
Jes adds that the connections she formed during her time as a student through her leadership roles have served her well in her career.
“I am so grateful that now when I have questions in my practice, I have someone to call,” she said. “I feel integrated in the profession; finding other leaders was a huge benefit for me.”
As part of her Leadership Development Award, ACP will contribute $5,000 to allow Jes to attend a conference or symposium of her choice. Jes hopes to use the funds to continue learning about leadership with a focus on effectively communicating with broad demographics and changing policy and procedures at a large scale. As she continues in her career, Jes will continue asking the important questions to create change and improve pharmacy practice.