Pharmacy doctoral grad’s international experience gives him unique perspective

Damion Barnes wants to help patients from all backgrounds improve their health, one achievable goal at a time

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Damion Barnes is known for his empathetic way of dealing with his pharmacy patients – but make no mistake, he’s all about setting goals and meeting them. His approach is to help people identify small, achievable steps so they can work toward the bigger target of improving their health.

Damion Barnes
Damion Barnes

“The guidelines say, for example, 150 minutes of exercise for the week but, practically speaking, that might not be realistic for the patient between now and next week,” Barnes said. “I talk with them, let them know I understand that such a goal might be out of their reach, so how about meeting somewhere in the middle or a quarter way and slowly increase as time goes by until the 150 minutes each week is attained?”

“I think patients appreciate support to make a more grounded, more personalized decision.”

Barnes, who is graduating with his doctor of pharmacy degree (PharmD), credits his ability to focus on each individual to his experience caring for people from many different backgrounds during the years he worked as a pharmacist in Jamaica and the British Virgin Islands before coming to Canada.

“It’s not always easy to meet people on their level – and it can require a good deal of time – but in the end, it is truly rewarding.”

Barnes’ approach was just what was needed during his final experiential learning placement for the degree this winter, according to his preceptor, Ashley Davidson, associate owner of a Shoppers Drug Mart and a 2010 U of A grad. COVID-19 vaccines and testing had added pressure to an already busy practice, so Barnes’ calm demeanour was appreciated, especially while reviewing medications with seniors who were feeling anxious during the pandemic.

“In community pharmacy, you have to be able to connect with people,” Davidson said. “It’s about building trust so they can follow through on the recommendations that you’re making.

“Damion comes across with a lot of compassion and commitment, and the way in which he conducts himself is so genuine and caring.”

Barnes chose pharmacy as a career because it blends his passion for science with the joy he finds in teaching. He also knew it would please his mother.

“My mother came from humble beginnings, supporting my sister and me as an ancillary worker cleaning at a high school,” Barnes said. “She didn’t get a chance to go to college or university, but she pushed us as kids to aspire to be the best that we can be and to aim for the sky in our career decisions.”

His younger sister is now a physician in Jamaica.

“Mom would tell us that with God, all things are possible,” he said. “Having that faith, praying, trusting in God, putting in the work, studying and applying myself to situations, that’s what got me to where I am now.”

Barnes, now 34, graduated from the University of Technology in Jamaica in 2009 and worked for nearly seven years as a pharmacist before setting his sights on Canada. He chose Edmonton on the strength of the U of A’s doctoral program for practising pharmacists. He had to pass Canadian professional exams before he could start the program in 2018, working part-time throughout to support himself.

“The PharmD for Practicing Pharmacists program has strengthened my assessment skills in managing various disease conditions, which I can incorporate into both patient and student teaching,” Barnes said.

He has decided to stay in Alberta, working as a community pharmacist, in part because the province’s health-care system allows pharmacists to practise with an expanded scope, providing him with opportunities to improve patient care.

Doctorate in hand, Barnes said his ultimate goal is to teach at the college or university level. In the meantime, he intends to work as a preceptor for other pharmacy students.

“I want to help other international pharmacy grads and U of A pharmacy students make a smooth transition into the world of pharmacy here in Alberta.”

For Davidson, that’s a win for patients.

“Damion is a reminder for our profession to really value these international experiences and not discount them,” she said.

“As an international pharmacy graduate, he has a lot to offer by bringing a different perspective that we otherwise wouldn’t have.”

| By Gillian Rutherford


This article was submitted by the University of Alberta’s Folio online magazine. The University of Alberta is a Troy Media Editorial Content Provider Partner.

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Troy Media is an editorial content provider to media outlets and its own hosted community news outlets across Canada.

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