Anthony Miller has put in many long days in the seven months since COVID-19 first hit Canada. He’s the experiential learning coordinator for Waterloo Pharmacy’s co-operative education program and along with the experiential team, particularly Sarah de Waal and Professor Nancy Waite, he’s overcome many hurdles to ensure Pharmacy students continue to experience safe co-op work terms.

COVID-19 has impacted 2020 co-op work terms in the winter, spring and Fall Terms, with some jobs being cancelled and others created on very short notice.

“I’ve been so impressed with how resilient our students have been,” Miller says. “All of our students on co-op in March were on their very first work term so were very junior students. Some were working in health-care institutions that were caring for COVID patients during those early outbreaks. Many others were in front-line positions in community pharmacies. Despite these challenges and the constant uncertainty, our students remained professional and adaptable.”

For some students, the pandemic caused a dramatic shift in job duties. In hospital sites, students were no longer allowed on patient floors and instead took on new roles in different parts of the hospital or worked remotely. In a few cases, work terms unfortunately came to an end a few weeks early. To navigate all these changes, the School’s experiential team connected with students, having one-on-one conversations to assess their situations and determine if additional actions were required. A “command center,” made up of everyone on the team and led by Waite, met daily to go over the previous day’s updates.

“Our co-op employers were fantastic partners through all of the chaos,” Miller says. “Logistically, many employers were spending more money to have all the right protective equipment which was in very short supply. Sites had to change processes, puts up barriers, add deliveries and more.”

Many pharmacies saw a decrease in customer traffic or faced uncertainty over what would happen next.

“Even still they kept students employed and commented on how helpful it was to have students at that time,” Miller says.

As the Winter Term came to an end, the experiential team was already ramping up for spring work terms. Twenty jobs were cancelled due to the pandemic at the last minute, leaving 20 students potentially without work. Miller and his team worked hard to connect with the students, seeing what their interests and preferences were for a job and then reached out to employers to see if they might be able to hire.

“It was a whirlwind, identifying 20 jobs again as we were also recruiting for the fall 2020 term. We had to do additional recruiting, application process, interviews and hiring at the last minute,” Miller says. “We typically have more jobs than students, but to fill roughly $200,000 of co-op jobs was indeed a task!”

The team was able to secure additional jobs within two weeks for all 20 students, with many faculty, community and hospital partners stepping up to hire.

Norah McRae, associate provost of Co-operative and Experiential Education at Waterloo, says the fact that the co-op program remained so strong is a testament to how appreciated this option is for students and their employers — especially since this is the only pharmacy co-op program in Canada.

“The efforts of the pharmacy team to secure Spring 2020 work terms demonstrate an outstanding level of care and dedication to our co-op students,” McRae says. “Waterloo students have skills that are especially relevant and applicable in this global pandemic, and we’re grateful for our employer partners who recognize and leverage their talents.”

Over the spring 2020 term, pharmacy students have been combatting COVID either on the front lines in community pharmacies and hospitals or supporting the health-care system through other organizations like the government, insurance and pharmacy industry.

“Both students and employers have dealt with new stresses — the need for personalized protective equipment (PPE), the fear of contracting the virus and infecting loved ones, the drastic ebbs and flows in workload,” Miller says. “But through collaboration, we’ve been able to ensure that our students gain valuable work experiences that very few pharmacy graduates will ever receive. We’re grateful to all our partners for their support in these challenging times.”

There has never been a better (or more affordable) time to hire a co-op student! We’ve increased our flexibility to help you tap into the best available talent from more 120 programs at Waterloo. And with unprecedented federal funding opportunities, you can subsidize and sometimes completely cover the cost of your hire, regardless of your business size. There’s still time to hire for the Fall 2020 work term —contact us today!