Spotlight on Oncology Pharmacy with Suni Dunn
The Northern Health Pharmacy team is recruiting! Interested in joining a great team filled with respectful colleagues and working with multidiscipline team members? This group might be what you’re looking for! Pharmacy offers a great working schedule that allows excellent work/life balance.
I met with Regional Oncology Pharmacist Suni Dunn to talk shop and learn more about the pharmacy world. Here’s what she had to say...
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background!?
My husband and I graduated together from UBC in 1986. Right after graduating, we moved to Prince George where I started working at the hospital - back when the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia (UHNBC) was called the Prince George Regional Hospital (PGRH). At that time, there was really no oncology opportunities for pharmacists. It’s crazy to think that almost 37 years ago I started working at the hospital and I’m still here! I became very interested in oncology because of Terry Fox’s remarkable story - I always thought the field was fascinating!
When working at PGRH, the community had a shortage of pharmacists, and I didn't really know if I wanted to work in a hospital or if I wanted to work in a community. So, for some time, I worked community on a casual basis while still at PGRH, but ultimately made the decision to come back to the hospital full time.
Outside of work, my husband and I have three boys. I’ve always been very busy volunteering at their schools. Our middle child is special needs, which has given us the opportunity to become very involved with the Special Olympics. They all played multiple sports, and are very good athletes – hockey, swimming, basketball, volleyball, baseball, golf, and track and field.
What does a day in the life of a Regional Oncology Pharmacist look like?
Clinical pharmacy plays a very important role in the treatment of cancer and chemotherapy treatments involve a large multidisciplinary team. We're kind of at the mercy of all the NH Cancer Clinics’ schedules. Each clinic is independent from each other, and their schedules may depend on how much staffing they have, how many chairs they have for patients, and urgency of treatments. So, that means every day can be very different! Our typical routine type of work is: We receive written orders that come to us, and from there we make sure the orders are correct and clinically appropriate and ensure that the patient's labs are available and clinically appropriate to proceed with treatment. The challenge comes when adjustments need to be made.
We are also in contact with BC Cancer pharmacists as some patients are getting treatment here in Prince George. Sometimes they're getting radiation, sometimes they're here to see the medical oncologist, or sometimes they need to have a test that's not available in their home communities.
So, a day in the life means we could be in contact with all sorts of people. We chat to the medical secretaries often because you just never know what's going to come up. We're really in the mix of things!
It sounds like interacting with patients is a big part of your role. Is that aspect enjoyable?
That part is very, very, rewarding. For a lot of patients who are going through cancer treatment, you know they’re likely living remotely somewhere, and it’s a challenging time for them. We're reaching out and calling them at the comfort of their home at a mutually arranged time. Sometimes patients might not hear from people with regards to their cancer journey, so it’s comforting for them to talk with someone who understands their treatment. Patients often will reach out to us - we give them our phone numbers to call so they have another avenue of support. We may not be able to answer their questions all the time, but we make sure to direct them to someone who can.
Additionally, patients might not know what all is available to them service-wise, especially in the rural centres of Northern Health. It’s my hope that by chatting with people in positions like mine, we can help them learn more about what’s available to them.
What is your favourite part of your role at NH?
I really enjoy connecting with all the multi-disciplines in the oncology process. You learn a little bit about everybody’s responsibilities, and it helps us all work together better.
I find when the most challenging issues come up and things that require a little more work, those are the most rewarding situations because this is where I feel my contribution is most valued. I am always learning and will be able to contribute more during future scenarios. If everything was 100% straight forward all the time, my job would be super easy, but it would not be half as interesting or half as rewarding.
What’s your favourite thing to do in your community / region?
I love my own time, but I really love my family. What makes me happiest is when my kids are home and we just chill! Sometimes that means watching a movie, sometimes it means getting out for a snowshoe.
Sadly for me, my children aren't always together all the time. Another thing I really enjoy is helping with the Special Olympics. Giving people with disabilities an opportunity to participate in sports that they may not otherwise be able to do so and giving them a sense of togetherness is a very rewarding experience. Connecting with them and watching them be social and participate physically is so great. I just returned from Special Olympics Provincial Games where I co-coached the Prince George snowshoe team. I am very proud to announce that our four snowshoers received a combined 16 medals!
If you could show someone one thing about working at Northern Health that’s awesome, what would that be?
The Northern Health region is huge, and spectacular. You really must see it to understand and appreciate it. There are so many cool rural communities, and that’s another part of my job that is rewarding. Realizing that we are helping people get such vital treatment in their small communities so they can be at home, surrounded by their family members – that’s special. You get to help people who are going through a very tough time, and you're making their life a bit easier. I think that makes a big difference for a patient.
Any advice for someone looking to get into oncology?
If you’re brand new or interested in oncology, I would recommend going to a center (like the BC Cancer Center) to check out how things work. Nobody really knows about the oncology process and how everything works until you're actually in the mix of things.
Go speak to someone like me – someone who has been in the oncology process and can explain the components of the job. There are a lot of unique factors in the role, and the more you understand, the better you will be able to positively contribute to the process.
Suni Dunn recently received the Dr. Winston Bishop Community Cancer Care Award, an honour reserved for those who consistently demonstrate outstanding performance in Cancer Care. Outstanding Community Cancer Care is demonstrated by exceptional practice, leadership, and communication. Congrats Suni, and thank you for the great interview and the amazing work you do!
If you’re interested in Pharmacy at Northern Health, check out the opportunities available here: Pharmacy at NH.