Indigenous Pharmacy Professionals of Canada

The Journey of an Indigenous Pharmacist

By Cory Baumgardner

Dr. Jaris Swidrovich (he/they) is a Saulteaux First Nations pharmacist, Assistant Professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto, and community builder and organizer. Before his appointment at the University of Toronto, He spent most of his life on Treaty 6 Territory and the ancestral homelands of the Métis in the city of Saskatoon. He identifies as First Nations, Two-Spirit, queer, and as a person living with a non-visible disability. As one of the SK-NEIHR Principal Investigators, Dr. Swidrovich engages in the socio-political spaces of equity, diversity, inclusion, anti-racism, and anti-oppression, and in the clinical areas of HIV, pain, substance use, mental health, and Indigenous People’s health.

Indigenous Pharmacy Professionals and Isolation

“I started pharmacy school in 2006 and then did a post Baccalaureate Doctor of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto from 2011-2013. Since 2006, I was looking for an Indigenous association in pharmacy; I felt quite isolated throughout my pharmacy learning and while working as a pharmacist,” states Dr. Swidrovich. The experience of isolation described by Dr. Swidrovich is something that would eventually serve as a call to action. Responding in kind, Dr. Swidrovich addressed this gap and the subsequent experience of isolation that both he and his cohort were facing, and he founded the Indigenous Pharmacy Professionals of Canada in 2022:

“Isolation is one of the chapters of my PhD dissertation because that was the biggest theme across all Indigenous pharmacy professionals who participated in my study. So, everybody, including myself, agreed that we needed some type of homebase; we wanted a homebase to build community within the pharmacy discipline. We wanted to ensure there was a space and place for Indigenous ways of knowing, thinking, being, and doing to come together with Western medicine and Western practices. And we also wanted prospective and current Indigenous pharmacy students in pharmacy programs, pharmacy assistant programs, and pharmacy technician programs across the country to see themselves reflected in the discipline of pharmacy.”

Challenges and Achievements as an Indigenous student and Pharmacist

It is through Dr. Swidrovich’s efforts, and through the efforts of those who have supported him along the way, that he has achieved success in beginning to reduce isolation for Indigenous students and practicing professionals in Pharmacy, and that he has begun to carve out space and craft a community that represents Indigenous Peoples and their ways of knowing, being, and doing inside of the broader pharmacy field and the discourse of Indigenous health and wellness in Canada and abroad.

“It was our very first AGM for the Indigenous Pharmacy Professionals of Canada and we did a bit of a roundtable, and every single person said, “I wish I had this around when I was thinking about pharmacy, and certainly throughout pharmacy school.”

The Indigenous Pharmacy Professionals of Canada consists of CEO Amy Lamb, COO Gezina Beahr, and 12 board members, all of whom are First Nations, Inuit, or Métis pharmacy professionals, including students.

“We have a lot on the go and we've been connected with what seems and feels like every pharmacy association, whether regulatory or advocacy, provincial or national, and I'm just so thankful people are truly engaged in truth and reconciliation and pharmacy. I think that our new organization will be a major conduit for us to achieve the calls to action within the pharmacy discipline,” says Dr. Swidrovich.

Future of Indigenous Health Outcomes and Pharmacy

Looking toward the future, Dr. Swidrovich acknowledges the important role that pharmacists have to play in improving the health and wellness outcomes of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people in Canada, and Indigenous people internationally. “We know that Indigenous Peoples in Canada experience poorer health outcomes than non-Indigenous peoples in this country. Pharmacists are the most accessible health professionals of any kind. You just can't access any other health professional in the same way that you can access pharmacists,” states Dr. Swidrovich. Occupying this position, he hopes that being guided by good knowledge, wisdom, information, and teachings, that pharmacists can provide health and healing and avoid (re)creating harm and trauma.

Advocating for the future of Indigenous Health

“We often get labeled with a bunch of different labels – things like being difficult, or being a complainer,” Dr. Swidrovich shared. With this work being “so closely linked to [his] identity, and [his] spirit,” he believes it is important to use one’s voice and create space and community when and where possible, which is no lighthearted endeavor:

“Because I'm teaching and working with and engaging in Indigenous content, it is so entirely personal that it can be a big challenge. But I've been reminded by folks like my mother, and many others, that so many people – the seven generations before me – they've made far more sacrifices and dealt with a lot more than I have for someone like me to even be in the spaces that I am in. So, I need to do my part and acknowledge where I'm at in the grand scheme of things, you know, in the universe, thinking about the next seven generations to come.”

Dr. Jaris Swidrovich, Saulteaux First Nations, Two-Spirit person, SK-NEIHR Principal Investigator, University of Toronto Assistant Professor, founder and chair of the Indigenous Pharmacy Professionals of Canada, and practicing pharmacist, has faced and overcome experiences of isolation while striving to uplift himself and others to new heights. By creating spaces for Indigenous pharmacists to access support and community, and to have their ways of knowing, being, and doing recognized, we all benefit. Looking forward seven generations we can see how the Indigenous Pharmacy Professionals of Canada is uniquely positioned to support those First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people who have yet to become pharmacy professionals, those who are currently studying to become pharmacy professionals, those who are already practicing, and all those who they care for along the way.