Pharmacy U

Billy Cheung – Stepping outside our comfort zone


Billy Cheung, who immigrated with his parents from Hong Kong to Toronto when he was three years old, has been with Pharmasave for 15 years. His job, he says, is broad and fundamental, but can be simply defined as: “My role is to help our pharmacy owners succeed in the things they do as pharmacists.”


Education: University of Toronto (Pharmacy)

Current role: Region Director, Pharmacy & Strategic Initiatives, Pharmasave Ontario

Please tell us about your current position. What is it that makes you want to get up each morning and head to the office?

In 15 years, I have not done the same thing. Today, my team and I have three key areas of responsibility: Internally, we support our stores to optimize their dispensary operations, help enhance the care they provide to patients, and we also look outside our operations by working with advocacy groups both within our pharmacy industry and including government relations.

It’s a role I relish – and it is a very different landscape from when I started with Pharmasave. At that time, I was the only pharmacist and the only employee in the department. Now, we have 230+ stores across the province, and there is a small team working directly with me. Yet, it still feels very much like a family. We work together – and we work collaboratively and considerately. There is a culture here that respects work/life balance.

If you could change one thing in the profession, what would it be?

We need to get our pharmacists out from the four walls they are used to working within. We need our pharmacists to be visible and engaged with patients and the community. Every year almost the same group of people show up at the conferences I attend. New faces and new ideas are essential. While pharmacists do great patient work one on one in the pharmacy, we must reach beyond this. We need to be our best marketers, and we need to be out there speaking up and speaking out on our behalf. It’s human nature to slide into a routine. We have to shake this off. We have to make time even if it is only a few hours a month.

What does advocacy mean to you?

Advocacy means getting involved and speaking out for a cause you believe in. It means doing what is best for pharmacies and the profession. Advocacy includes getting involved with stakeholders who are linked to your cause. It’s about doing, not sitting back and waiting for others to step up.

What can pharmacists do to become stronger advocates for the profession?

We need to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. Pharmacists need to look at doing things they are not used to doing or are familiar with. Get out there and talk to groups in your community. Talk about health. Talk about the pharmacist’s role. Talk about the issues that are current at the time. Let people see pharmacy in the flesh. Make our profession real – and really important to them.

We need to start younger – and we are. When I went to school, it was all clinical. It was about drugs and interactions. We weren’t trained to be engaged in our community. That is changing. Our new practitioners are much better informed and their scope is so different. But we all need to step outside our comfort zone. It’s how we learn.

What advice would you give to young pharmacists looking to make a difference in the lives of their patients?

Listen to your patients. Hear their concerns. Then ask, “What can I do to help?”