Waterloo Science Grad Finds Her Passion In Pharmacy School


The infamous “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question is one that gets us all thinkin’ at a young age.

However, your ambitions and career paths can change quickly (and repeatedly) once you’ve become immersed in post-secondary studies.

For University of Waterloo pharmacy student Sarah Johnson, this is exactly what happened. Initially planning to pursue a degree in dentistry, her first-year experience sparked a different passion in her: pharmaceutical studies.

I had the chance to get the pharmacy school low-down from her and “pharma-see” what it’s all about! (Get it?)

Getting started

“The pharmacy world today is very exciting and dynamic! The profession is expanding, along with many other healthcare professions.” —Sarah Johnson, pharmacy student, University of Waterloo

First of all, to start the process of becoming a licensed pharmacist in Canada, you need bachelor’s or doctor of pharmacy degree from one of 10 Canadian universities: Dalhousie University, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Université de Montréal, Université Laval, University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, University of Manitoba, University of Saskatchewan, University of Toronto or University of Waterloo.

Because you need at least two years of undergraduate study to even apply to a pharmacy program in Ontario, Sarah first graduated from the University of Waterloo with a science degree and proceeded to apply to the four-year professional co-op program at the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy.

Graduates of this program receive a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy (BScPhm), so if you dream of having a lot of letters after your name, I think you just found your calling.

“The application process to the program is quite extensive, looking for highly-skilled, motivated, passionate health care providers who make a difference in the world,” Sarah says.

Applications became available in August as the program starts each January. Requirements to apply include a cumulative grade point average of at least 75%, academic transcripts, various prerequisite courses, a Pharmacy Admission Profile, a reference letter from a healthcare professional, successful completion of a reading/writing comprehensive test and a panel-style interview.

A day in the life of a pharmacy student

In this program, Sarah experienced the co-op style learning environment that Waterloo is known for. “Experiential learning plays a key role in the training of future pharmacists,” she says. “We complete four paid co-op terms which are strategically placed between school terms, allowing us to practice what we are learning.”

The program can also be challenging, however. “The work load is extremely heavy, even compared to challenging undergraduate degrees,” Sarah says. “I would recommend students embrace this and enter the program with a positive attitude.”

She also notes that the program is a huge time commitment. “The program is jam packed with an overflowing school schedule and full-time co-op commitment. Students who are passionate about pharmacy will really enjoy this, however it is a serious time commitment.”

On the road to a career in pharmacy

Sarah, however, is happy to put her time into her pharmacy education as it is opening so many doors for her. “The pharmacy world today is very exciting and dynamic! The profession is expanding, along with many other healthcare professions,” Sarah says.

Contrary to popular belief (one that I myself am guilty of holding), pharmacists do much more than simply dispense medications – everything from conducting medication reviews and administering flu shots to prescribing medications to help someone quit smoking. For Sarah, she hopes to enter the specific niche of community pharmacy and continue her education to become a Certified Diabetes Educator. She plans on working in a rural setting and providing unique services to patients who cannot easily access healthcare in urban centres.

However, it took a lot of schooling and work placements to reach this decision. “I found my place in healthcare through experience, which I urge all students to do before they commit to a program,” Sarah says. “Find your passion. If your passion is providing quality patient care, consider pharmacy. Do not enter pharmacy school as an after though, back up or ‘for the money’ option.”

Given the time commitment, workload and intense course content, success in the program begins with a genuine interest in what you’re learning.

Sarah offers the following advice to aspiring “pharmies”: “The world of pharmacy is a small one. Take advantage of networking opportunities, such as conferences and joining organizations, as you never know what will pay off in the future.”

Learn more about careers in pharmacy:

Healthcare Week on TalentEgg, presented by Northern Health and featuring Rexall and Alberta Health Services

Photo credit: erix!