Pharmacy legends: Rosemary Bacovsky

December 16, 2021

Our series “Pharmacy legends" carries on the work Bill McLean began in "DSA corner,” his interviews with Distinguished Service Award winners. The mission of “Pharmacy legends” is to record and celebrate the stories of hospital pharmacy luminaries, and to share their insights with future generations of hospital pharmacists. Interview responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.  

Among her many achievements, Rosemary Bacovsky (DSA ‘97) is best known for advancing oncology pharmacy practice in Canada: She designed and implemented one of the first chemotherapy IV admixture programs in Canada, developed clinical oncology programs, and helped establish the International Society of Oncology Pharmacy Practice (ISOPP). After 10 years at the Cross Cancer Institute and 6 years in management positions at Alberta Health, Rosemary began her own consulting company in 1996, which she continues today, often serving as an expert witness in Federal Court. Before COVID-19, Rosemary was an avid traveler who explored the world in search of great food experiences. “I’ve signed off expert witness reports in India, Europe, Mexico, the US, and many parts of Canada,” Rosemary says. Looking back at a career marked by adventure and determination, Rosemary shares stories from her decades of pharmacy experience.  


Q&A with Rosemary Bacovsky  

How have you seen hospital pharmacy in Canada evolve over the course of your career?  

Scope of practice is a huge change. I’ve seen hospital pharmacy evolve from mainly dispensing in the basement to participating in rounds and consulting with patients, physicians, and other healthcare professionals. Today the scope of pharmacy practice in Alberta is the broadest and most complex in Canada, if not the world. We've been able to evolve from needing to be reactive to being much more proactive. I’ve also seen the evolution of pharmacists administering injections. In the 2000s, when we were trying to get consensus from pharmacists on what should be included in the scope of practice, there was more resistance to pharmacists injecting than to prescribing drugs. Now pharmacists in Alberta are the major provider of COVID-19 injections. Pharmacy technicians also evolved to broader and more accountable roles within the pharmacy, and this was crucial to the expanded role for pharmacists. 


What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career? 

In the l980s, administration at the Cross Cancer Institute was not willing to have a woman be Director of Pharmacy. I’d served as Acting Director for years and wanted to continue on as Director. The Institute held numerous competitions with qualified applicants, but they never gave the position to anybody, always with strange excuses. One of the people who’d applied was a woman several years older than me, and she told me, “They are just never going to hire a woman to be in this position.” Suddenly things clicked! I told administration that I resigned. Over a year later, they finally gave the position to a male pharmacist with no advanced degrees, no oncology background, and limited research experience.  But he could grow a beard! Years later, I ran into an executive assistant from those days. She said to me, “I just think you should know that they were never going to make you Director of Pharmacy because you are a woman. I sat in the meetings, I did the minutes, I heard it directly.” That was reality back then. I was glad that I left.  


After that setback, how did you move on? 

I took a Master’s in Health Services Administration, then worked for Alberta Health. After 6 years of commuting from Calgary to Edmonton, I was ready for a change! At that time my husband had the option to do a work project in Mexico for a couple of years. I'd always wanted to live in a foreign country, so we moved to Mexico. We went from Alberta winters to 50-degree weather with almost 100% humidity. It was like walking into a sauna! That’s when I started consulting. It's interesting work, and I’ve always been pleasantly busy.  


What  advice would you give to students or  new practitioners  starting out today?  

Treat your patients as you or your loved one would want to be treated. Believe in your capabilities and value, and demonstrate them in your work and your life.  And don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, or to walk away if you aren’t valued. It’s so important to recognize our own stars in the pharmacy world! We need to be willing to say that pharmacists can be heroes.  


What changes do you  feel  most urgently  need to happen to improve pharmacy practice and patient care  in Canada?  

Pharmacists must continue to proactively use their scope of practice to optimize patient care – otherwise, we’ll fall back into a reactive role. Pharmacists in provinces with limited scope of practice must continue to lobby for the broader scope. I believe that pharmacists should be integrated into all programs involving drugs, as core members of the team. We are the best healthcare professionals for drug therapy management, and we need to demonstrate our depth of knowledge.