Friday, December 19, 2014

The New Face at mdBriefCase!

Hey there blog readers!

My name is Kristen Husack and I’ll be parachuting into mdBriefCase for the next few weeks! I’m excited to receive the torch that’s been passed along by previous students and experience a whole new non-direct-patient-care facet of pharmacy!

As this is now my second non-direct-patient-care rotation, I've already gained a glimpse of the value pharmacists can offer in non-traditional roles. Prior to this year, I was not aware of the various opportunities in which pharmacists can become engaged and exercise their expertise.  I am therefore eager to discover how pharmacists can contribute to the continuing education landscape at mdBriefCase!

Some things about me: I’m a bookish pharmacy student by day and ultra-artist extraordinaire by night. Ultimately I would love to find a way to combine these pursuits; I hope that a non-traditional role, such as the one I'm currently filling, will bring me closer to my goal. 

Stay tuned for more posts! Happy holidays J.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Tips and Tricks for Creating Continuing Education Content

I am at the tail end of my rotation at mdBriefCase and it has been an amazing experience. Developing content for the Pharmacy Student eNewsletter (sent to your inboxes last week!) and the Pharmacy Corner program on medSchool For You exposed me to the world of medical writing.

I learned that continuing education material can have important and relevant information, but if it is not created in a way that engages and appeals to the readers then the information can be lost. While still very far from being an expert, I did learn a couple of approaches and techniques that help engage a reader.

4 Tips and Tricks for Continuing Education 

Think like your reader
Make sure your reader can understand what you're writing by tailoring your language to the target audience. This is especially important when writing for patients as common medical terminology for you may be foreign to them.

Fluff is your enemy
Always remember that it’s quality over quantity and ensure that all text is relevant. If it doesn't add to the reader’s knowledge then feel free to toss it out the door.

Tables, lists, diagrams, oh my!
It's easy to get lost in a sea of words, adding tables, lists, or flowcharts will decrease the amount of text and reduce the chances of lengthy paragraphs. It will also organize content in a way that is visually pleasing and easy to follow for the reader.

You have likely heard of these acronyms before and they act as a great memorization aid. If you have a list of important risk factors or red-flag symptoms, consider creating an acronym. Readers find value in acronyms as it gives them an easy way to remember important, and sometimes lengthy, lists.

I have learned a lot at mdBriefCase. From how a program topic is selected to final tasks before a program goes live, I have a new found appreciation of all the work that goes into creating a continuing education program. At the end of the whole process, the result is a masterfully crafted program. Participate one of the programs on rxBriefCase to find out for yourself.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A quick update from mdBriefCase

I am now starting my 4th week at mdBriefCase – time sure flies! Many exciting things have happened during my stay here thus far, so here are some of the highlights.

Pharmacy Corner

As you may have read in earlier blog posts, each pharmacy student at rxBriefCase has been working on an e-learning module for the patient-facing website, medSchool For You. I am excited to say that the program has officially launched! Pharmacy Corner is a program which addresses frequently asked questions that patients have on various topics such as birth control, seasonal allergies and insomnia. 

It is a valuable resource for patients, as it will enable them to learn more about medical conditions, empowering them to take a more active role in their health. I am currently working on my own contribution to Pharmacy Corner, so stay tuned in the coming weeks!

Donating Blood

At the end of my first week, some of the mdBriefCase team went to donate blood. I decided to tag along as I thought it would be a great opportunity to donate blood for the first time and help save someone’s life.

While blood donations are always needed, it is even more crucial now. At the end of September, the Canadian Blood Services made an announcement that Canada’s blood supply was the lowest it has been since 2008.

This is quite scary as around 50% of Canadians will either need blood or know someone that will need blood within their lifetime.2 Donating blood only takes about an hour, and you even get snacks and juice afterwards! Also, if you don’t know your blood type, you can take this opportunity to learn more about yourself and obtain information on your blood type.

Unfortunately, when I went to the clinic I was actually unable to give blood due to low hemoglobin (just 1 g/L shy of the cut off!), but I will definitely go back in 56 days when I am eligible to try and give blood again.

Pharmacy Student eNewsletter

Besides creating content for Pharmacy Corner, I have also been working on an eNewsletter. Though it still needs some fine tuning, I'm excited to be at the tail end of the CE development process. From brainstorming potential topics to editing drafts, it has been a very enriching experience. I can also confirm that Vaneet's previous blog post is pretty accurate in conveying the roller coaster of emotions.

The topic for this month's eNewsletter will be, (drum roll please), fall risk and prevention in the elderly! Each year, more than one third of seniors aged 65 or older experience a fall.3 

This is particularly important as falls can lead to injuries, some of which can be fatal. Falls are preventable, and pharmacists can play an active role in fall prevention by identifying patients with fall risk factors and implementing fall prevention strategies. To learn more, check out the Pharmacy Student eNewsletter coming soon to your inbox!


  1. Canadian Blood Services. 2014. Blood Inventory in Critical Condition. [Online]. [Accessed 23 November 2014]. Available from:
  2. Canadian Blood Services. Blood. [Online]. [Accessed 23 November 2014]. Available from: 
  3. Al-Aama T. 2011. Falls in the elderly: spectrum and prevention. Canadian Family Physician, 57(7), 771-776.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Pharmacy Student Chronicles continue...

My name is Margaret Noriel and, like the previous bloggers, I am a fourth-year pharmacy student at the University of Toronto. I discovered rxBriefCase in my second year of pharmacy, and I have been a user ever since. 

When I found out I had an APPE rotation at mdBriefCase, I was excited for the chance to contribute to their various continuing education offerings.

I have experience in both community and hospital pharmacy settings, and I am interested in broadening my experience in other areas of pharmacy, such as consulting and ambulatory care. My therapeutic interests include mental health, neurology, and geriatrics.

During my time here, I will be focusing on rxBriefCase, rxPassport, and other pharmacy-focused continuing education tools. I will be responsible for critically appraising an existing eCE program, as well as creating continuing education content for an eNewsletter and a patient-education learning module.

Admittedly, writing has never been a strong suit of mine, so the task of medical writing may be a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, I love challenges and stepping out of my comfort zone, so I look forward to learning, growing, and hopefully mastering this challenge.

Stay tuned for future blog posts, as I take you along my journey at mdBriefCase!

If you have any questions, suggestions, comments, or thoughts, feel free to send them my way, I would love to hear from you!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Ups and Downs of Writing CE

I’m nearing the end of my rotation at rxBriefCase and it has been an eye-opening experience. Unsure of what to expect, I was surprised by the opportunities I received. As a science student, I never thought that I would write an eNewsletter, a patient module for medSchool For You (MSFY), and a blog - all within 5 weeks!

On my first day, my preceptors presented a task itinerary to help me stay on track. To be honest, as I flipped through the pages, I asked myself “why would this take 5 weeks?”.
It wasn't too long before it all made sense.  I clearly underestimated the amount of work it takes to successfully produce and present Continuing Education (CE) online.

As a result, it seems only fitting to describe my experiences writing these CE pieces. It was nothing short of a roller coaster of emotions. 

Emotion #1 - Excited: Yay! This will be fun!

As I read the descriptions of eNewsletter and MSFY in my task itinerary, I started to feel that "good kind" of nervousness. I looked forward to a change in work environment and style. I was excited to try something completely outside my comfort zone. 

Emotion # 2 - Afraid: What will I write about? How will I make this interesting?

During my first week, the search for an original and interesting topic became more and more difficult. My excitement started to fade and a fear of landing on a boring topic (or worse, no topic at all!) began sinking in. I wanted to write about a topic that could be covered within a limited word count yet keep the reader engaged. Most importantly, I wanted to talk about something that needed clarity, needed a bottom line.  

Emotion # 3 - Frustrated: Why can’t I find what I want! Where is all the reliable info?!

After discussion with my rotation mentor, I chose a topic. That was just the tip of the iceberg. I started searching for reliable sources of information. Since I was writing about a topic that was lacking universality and up-to-date clinical information, there was no single source that I could rely on to create my eNewsletter or MSFY program. This challenge was the most frustrating part of the process. 

Emotion # 4 - Anxious: Am I off-topic? Have I gone on a tangent?

Before I knew it, I was writing, and writing, and writing. As I found more and more articles, I had more and more ideas to incorporate in my eNewsletter and MSFY program. But as the number of pages grew, I realized that I may have steered away from the main topic. I was fortunate to have to an experienced writer to remind me of my original topic and guide my writing in the right direction. Working with a team definitely decreased the level of anxiety and stress.

Emotion # 5 - Eager: I’m almost done this draft! Eek!

At this point of the ride, I was happy with the content. I channeled my energy into focusing on how this content would be delivered. How would my peers want to read the material? When they scrolled down the article, what would they look for? 

Emotion # 6 - Overwhelmed: Delete this, add that, fix this, change that. It’s going to be a late night…

I received a revised version of my first draft and all I could think was "That is a lot of red ink." But, it was all constructive and very helpful feedback. That initial overwhelming feeling lessened and I became determined to make every draft better than last. 

Emotion # 7 - Joy: It’s ready for submission!!!

Finally, after multiple drafts, I clicked the "send" button and submitted my piece to the rxBriefCase team. 

Emotion # 8 - Relieved: It's out of my hands. It will go live.

This is self-explanatory.

Emotion # 9 - Proud: That’s MY piece online!  

It was a like a flashback to the pride I felt as a little kid when my artwork or well-written tests would be displayed on the kitchen fridge. I learned a lot from this experience and gained an appreciation for every person involved in producing CE. 

And, as cliche as "practice makes perfect" sounds, it is how I feel about writing CE pieces. Hopefully I receive an opportunity to write again, though it will hopefully be a smoother ride. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Keeping Up-to-Date

As a pharmacy student, I am continuously learning the art of educating patients about their medications, their medical conditions, and living a healthier lifestyle. And, of course, it won’t stop when I become a pharmacist. This is a concept that I have quickly discovered at rxBriefCase.

The key to being an effective member in providing patient care is to stay up-to-date, whether it is with the help of continuing education, discussion forums, or pharmaceutical updates.

As I approach the end of my second week at rxBriefCase, I have gained an appreciation for the different avenues of accredited information available to stay up-to-date. Now, there is tremendous accessibility to programs, certification courses, and notices.

Continuing Education

Online Programs

Continuing education has been the “traditional” method of staying up-to-date. It is an integral component to advancing pharmacy practice, and being an effective member in patient care.  However, when we think of live presentations, educational seminars, or didactic courses, there are challenges like time commitment and level of interest.

In response to these challenges, many CE sites provide online programs on specific topics that only require 1-3 hours of your time. Conversely, there are programs that can take 1-3 days. Fortunately, these are individualized programs that can be saved as you go, so you are able to work at your own pace.  In addition, most of the programs include short summaries, videos, interactive questionnaires, discussion forums, and practice cases that keep the participant engaged and interested in the material. There are a variety of topics to choose from. 

While at rxBriefCase, I have completed programs on topics that I otherwise wouldn't be too excited to complete, especially if they were in the form of a 200-page guideline. The information was to the point, practical, and up-to-date. And, I knew that the material was valid because it was accredited by the Canadian Council on Continuing Education in Pharmacy (CCCEP).

Certification Courses

There are also more in-depth courses that help prepare for competency exams. Courses which cover topics such as Immunization Competencies, Diabetes Education, or Smoking Cessation that can be found on sites such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and Advancing Practice. Although this form of continuing education requires more commitment, it is definitely a way to stay up-to-date in the pharmacist’s scope of practice.

Not-so-traditional ways to stay informed

Discussion Portals

Health care professional discussion portals or forums can be a helpful outlet to learn and exercise your knowledge of a topic with your peers.  Monitored sites, like DiabetesExchange, are a source to ask questions, discuss change in guidelines, and update your knowledge on various topics.

Pharmaceutical Notification Sources

After years of faxed notifications from pharmaceutical companies, there is a more convenient method to learn about new products, recalls, and formulary changes.  Instead of faxes and face-to-face interactions with representatives, there are online sources that will notify you via email or on their site so you are aware of any changes in the pharmaceutical industry. 

For example, there are sites such as PharmacyNow and RxNow that allow you to search their archive of updates at your convenience versus waiting on a fax or searching the internet for a reliable answer.  Although these online resources are reliable and helpful, there is room for improvement in the format to make them more user-friendly. Regardless, there are options to stay up-to-date efficiently.

These avenues may not be not be classified as “traditional” continuing education, but in order to stay up-to-date in all aspects of pharmacy, whether that be counselling, dispensing, or expanded scope of practice, we need to rely on multiple reliable sources of information.

The perfect fit for you!

The information sources I have mentioned are unique and highly applicable in pharmacy practice, but there are many more sources available that provide similar information in different formats and on different platforms to different healthcare professionals. Ultimately, the purpose is to apply the most current information to the care we provide. Therefore, it is just a matter of figuring out the perfect fit you. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Who's the new student at rxBriefCase?

Hi everyone!

My name is Vaneet Gill and I am a 4th year PharmD student at the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan faculty of Pharmacy. I just started my Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) rotation here at rxBriefCase.

I have been lucky enough to gain community experience in pharmacies with a great work environment, and amazing staff and preceptors. And while I’ve loved my four years working in community pharmacy, I welcome the chance to experience new environments.

My therapeutic interests include cardiology, mental health, and nephrology. My hospital rotations conveniently focus on the latter two, so it will be interesting! 

During the next 5 weeks, I will learn more about CE, work on a newsletter and patient education programs for

Feel free to send me comments and suggestions.

Stay tuned for blog posts about my experiences at rxBriefCase and pharmacy in general!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What is our value as pharmacists?

This is my last post before I move to my next rotation at an inpatient setting. I am excited to experience a hospital environment but also sad that I will be leaving rxBriefCase.  Before I leave, I’d like share on a topic that I feel very strongly about, and I’m sure many of you reading do too – how do we increase our value in the community?

How many times have you had patients walk up to you and say “Why do I have to wait so long for my meds? All you have to do is count pills and put it in a bottle”?

I have encountered this many times in the short 4 years of working and doing my studentship at several community pharmacies.  It is unfortunate that the general public still lack awareness on the critical role pharmacists play in their healthcare.  We are the representatives of our profession and must work harder to foster an appreciation and understanding of our roles and responsibilities.  Below are just a few ways we could make a difference in the pharmacy world.

Create awareness

There are many national and provincial campaigns such as Pharmacist Awareness Month (PAM) and Ask A Pharmacist where you can participate to promote your role. These campaigns occur annually and help reach a larger population. 

In addition to these large campaigns, there are simpler steps we can take to promote our role to patients.  For instance, putting up a poster in the waiting area that highlights the different steps taken to process and dispense medication. This will hopefully inform patients that there is more to just counting pills.

Medication reviews

Since its introduction in Ontario in 2007, there have been many variations and additions to the MedsCheck program such as annual MedsCheck, follow-up MedsCheck, diabetes MedsCheck, and many more.  Similar programs exist in provinces all across Canada such as Medication Management program in BC, Medication Management Assessment in Alberta, Medication Review Service in Nova Scotia, and PharmaCheck in New Brunswick. These programs are a great tool in improving patients’ healthcare but also allow patients to recognize pharmacists as an important healthcare provider. 

What’s more? You get reimbursed by the government for your time and effort (with the exception of YT, NU and NWT).  Therefore, every time you encounter eligible patients, be sure to inform them about Medication Review programs. 

Don’t sell yourself short

All across Canada, pharmacists’ scope of practice is expanding with the inclusion of prescription renewal and adaptation, ordering lab tests, prescribing for minor ailments, administering a drug by injection, and so on. However, the uptake of these new cognitive services by pharmacists has been limited, especially in Ontario in part because of the lack of government reimbursement. 1

Although lack of reimbursement is a setback, engaging in the expanded scopes of practice could open up opportunities for medication reviews or follow ups and hence generate revenues. Moreover, with the uptake of new practices you also improve patients’ experience, advocate for your profession, and take charge of the situation as an independent decision maker.

Following are some scenarios where pharmacists could consider shifting from old practices to newer ones:

Scenario 1: A patient walks in to the pharmacy and asks for an advance on her pills because her doctor is away and she is unable to get refills. Instead of simply advancing her the pills, you could take this opportunity to conduct a medication review, assess for appropriateness and accordingly refill her prescription.

Scenario 2: A patient brings in a prescription for drug XYZ in its tablet formulation. However, the patient is unable to swallow tablets. Instead of faxing back the prescription to the prescriber, you could assess the patient’s situation and adapt the prescription to a formulation that best suits his or her needs.

Leveraging the skills of pharmacy technicians
Regulation of pharmacy technicians is intended to relieve pharmacists of the more traditional dispensary role so that they may focus their attention on clinical services. As technicians expand their practice, pharmacists will find themselves with more time to do the same, thereby increasing patient well-being and establishing themselves as key players in the healthcare continuum.

Clinic days
Holding clinic days for chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and osteoporosis is an excellent approach to assess and educate patients. It is also a great way to showcase pharmacists’ extensive knowledge on disease states and treatment strategies. Moreover, clinic days give you an opportunity to empower your patients as they take charge of their health. 

According to the Ipsos Reid report, pharmacists are the most trusted healthcare professionals.2 In order to make pharmacists the most trusted and most valued healthcare professionals, we need to work together to highlight our skills and efforts.

1) Pojskic N. Expanded scope of practice: Ontario pharmacists’ early experiences and perceptions. Ontario Pharmacists. 2014;78(2):6-7
2) Cooper J. Changing pharmacy practice, enhancing patient care. Blueprint for Pharmacy. 2012. Available from

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Who and Why of CE

As you can imagine, the last thing a student wants to consider is more education, when all they really want is to be done the loads and loads of homework, studying and on-rotation learning.  

However, as I approach the end of my second week at rxBriefCase, I have found myself reconsidering the value of Continuing Education.

As pharmacists, we are some of the most trusted and accessible healthcare professionals. Many patients approach us when they have questions about their medications (both prescription and OTC!) or simply need guidance. It is therefore very important to be competent and up-to-date if we are to properly address patients’ concerns.

Why Do Continuing Education?

Stay current
Clinical trials are conducted regularly to identify new findings and information about medical conditions. Unless you are an avid fan of, it is challenging and time consuming to read all the primary literature required to keep current. CE courses are the easier way to stay informed about new changes and respond to patients appropriately.

Guidelines made easy
As you know, clinical practice guidelines are lengthy documents that provide extensive information on the management of medical conditions. Let’s just take an example of Canadian Diabetes Association Clinical Guidelines which is 227 pages long and contains some information that may not be relevant to pharmacy practice.  CE courses are designed to summarize relevant information from the guidelines in a concise and practical manner, which will then help you apply the information in real-world scenarios.

New developments in the pharma world
Pharmaceutical companies are constantly working to develop newer and more advanced medications for several disease states. For example, a recent advancement in the world of onychomycosis was made with the launch of  a new therapy. These advancements are often discussed by experts in the field, using a wide array of journal articles and supporting clinical trials to provide updates to their peers via CE courses. See the Onychomycosis program for an example of how new developments are addressed in CE.        

Memory refresher
Many of you may have graduated years ago and have forgotten key information on certain topics or are fresh grads and just don’t have enough knowledge about particular topics. Don’t worry, CE courses are here to your rescue! Based on self-assessment, you can determine what therapeutic topics are in need of a refresher and participate in a related CE to obtain key information on pathophysiology, treatment strategies, and dosing recommendations.  

Are you scrambling through therapeutic choices, lecture notes, patient self-care, and totally confused about specific topics? CE courses can be your go-to resource to help you prepare for your PEBC and OSCE exam. CE courses provide practical and concise information that can help you connect the dots.

Who Among Us Would Benefit from Continuing Education? 

  • Pharmacists: Both new pharmacists and pharmacists practising for a while can benefit from CE programs.

  • Pharmacy students: Students can strengthen their in-class learning with the help of CE programs as well as prepare for their licensing exams.

  • Pharmacy technicians: Can benefit from the CE programs for professional development.

Nationwide CE requirements for pharmacists  



Participation in CE is mandatory and pharmacists are required to report a minimum of 15 CE units annually.
No mandatory requirement but pharmacists are encouraged to identify their learning needs and participate in CE courses accordingly.
Pharmacists are required to complete a minimum of 15 hours of accredited learning activities annually.
Information not available
Pharmacists are required to document a minimum of 15 hours of learning annually.
Nova Scotia
Pharmacists are required to complete a minimum of 15 units of continued education each year.
Pharmacists are required to complete 15 CEUs between April 1 of the previous membership year and June 1 of the following year.
New Brunswick
Pharmacists are required to complete a minimum of 15 units annually to be qualified for licensing the following year.
Prince Edward Island
No mandatory requirements. Pharmacists should participate in continued education based on personal needs for professional development.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Pharmacists are required to complete a minimum of 15 CEUs with at least 7.5 CEUs must be accredited.  The CEUs should be complete between December 1st of the previous membership year and Nov 30th of the following year.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A new student, a new perspective!

Hello everyone,

My name is Nihal Abbas and I am a fourth-year PharmD student at University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan faculty of Pharmacy. I recently started my APPE rotation here at rxBriefCase and will be here for the next 5 weeks.  Prior to this I was doing my rotation at a Shoppers Drug Mart in downtown Toronto. In my spare time, I work part-time at a hospital as a pharmacy student technician.

Since I already have extensive community experience through my placements and employment, I am most looking forward to experiencing a pharmacist’s role in a hospital setting.  These rotations will hopefully provide insight and guide me in my decision between community and hospital practice. My therapeutic areas of interest are Diabetes Care, Mental Health, and Oncology. 

While at rxBriefCase, I will be working on different components of continued medical education such as developing an e-newsletter and a patient-focused learning module. I will also be critically appraising an existing eCE program on rxBriefCase and reviewing a draft of eCME that is in the works.  

I have to say this is going to be the most different experience I have had so far. I am looking forward to accomplishing my tasks successfully and learning the essential skills of medical writing.

Throughout my 5 weeks here I will be sharing all things that interest/intrigue me. So stay tuned and enjoy my posts!!  I promise to make it more colorful and less wordy! 

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to share them with me. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Final Look at Delivering Effective Continuing Education

This will be my last post as I finish up my time at rxBriefCase and transition to my first direct patient-care rotation next week.  Last week my preceptors brought me to the eLearning Alliance of Canadian Hospitals (eACH) conference. It was interesting because the content was quite different from the conferences I normally attend. Instead of being clinically-based, the sessions explored ways they have found to effectively teach clinical practitioners.

Three Things I Learned at the Conference:

  1. Healthcare providers may find themselves conforming to availability bias (or heuristic bias). This occurs when we have a tendency to rely on things that frequently occur and readily come to mind to make judgments. This may put patients at risk if thorough attention is not given to each individual case.

    • ISMP Canada regularly posts safety bulletins that contain key learning points that can give insight on common errors that compromise patient safety and how to prevent them from occurring.  

  1. Flat design is now trending. The world of internet was unveiled decades ago with a flashy design, but web design is going back to the basics, featuring bold, basic, and simple design with simple fonts and animations.

    • Flashy fonts and animations may take away attention from the content, which ultimately is the most important piece of a CE program.

  1. Innovation always remains a key component to keep users/participants interested and engaged to learn.

    • Finding innovative ways, such as the use of games to deliver the information can turn a dull process into more engaging learning experience.

Lessons learned

Overall, I have enjoyed and appreciated my rotation at rxBriefCase which challenged me to develop my practitioner and patient-focused writing skills. The experience has helped solidify existing therapeutic knowledge and taught me to convey thoughts succinctly - which is, by the way, much more difficult than speech. 

Throughout the process, I realized that regurgitating guidelines and recommendations is easy; the tough part is how to translate the text into clinically relevant information for your audience. And, that is the art of developing Continuing Education.