Pharmacy student and alumnus collaborate at Walmart head office

Monday, April 18, 2022

Sara and Sonam wearing masks at the vaccine clinic

Student Sara Elkoftangy (left) and alumnus Sonam Dhuna (right) reflect on bridging the corporate and community pharmacy worlds

Sara Elkoftangy didn’t plan to spend her birthday at a pediatric vaccine clinic.

But that’s exactly where the second-year pharmacy student found herself on a Saturday in January. The clinic was organized by Walmart Canada where Sara is currently a co-op student. Her supervisor Cait Woodcock offered her the opportunity to support the clinic, and Sara was thrilled to get involved.

“I’d never worked with children in this context,” she says. “I jumped at the opportunity to see how a pediatric-focused clinic runs, to help patients and to get experience working there.”

The clinic was offered for the families of Walmart employees and was held at the Walmart head office in Mississauga. Sara supported patient check-in and registration, meeting the patients, and reassuring them and their parents about the experience.

It was one of several unique opportunities on Sara’s co-op term which she split between working online with the Walmart head office team and working in person at a Milton Walmart. The blend allowed Sara to see projects move from the drawing board to the store pharmacy.

“The experience supporting Walmart’s head office is incredible – online, I have the opportunity to collaborate with whoever I want, to participate in meetings with hundreds of staff members from across Canada, and to connect broadly across the organization,” she says.

Sara smiling and wearing her white coatOn that team, Sara (above) supports projects that improve the overall workflow of Walmart pharmacies. She’s conducted educational presentations for pharmacy staff on Walmart’s appointment booking system and provided solutions to workflow issues in stores. For example, her team heard that pharmacy phone lines were bogged down with inquiries about rapid antigen COVID-19 testing. Sara’s team implemented changes to the recorded messages patients hear when calling in to help reduce the number of inquiries about testing staff received.

“It’s rewarding to contribute to the patient and pharmacy team experience at such a high-level,” says Sara. “We look at the challenges Walmart pharmacists face and design solutions.”

Sara then transitions to working in store a few days a week where she gets to see her projects in action.

“My role is the ideal blend of that corporate world experience combined with in-person pharmacy practice,” she says. “The teams in both environments are fantastic and I’ve been able to meet several pharmacists who graduated from Waterloo.”

Sonam Dhuna, Rx2020, is one of these alumni. Sonam is the Manager of Clinical Programs with Walmart Canada, and she is responsible for leading and implementing clinical projects in the field and for creating clinical educational content for Walmart’s pharmacists.

Sonam smiling

Sonam (above) was in Sara’s position just a few years ago; in 2019, she completed her third co-op work term with Walmart Canada. After graduation, she reached out to former coworkers and eventually was invited to apply for a management position.

“I knew I wanted a role in professional services or operations post-graduation,” Sonam says. “I was proud to accept a position with Walmart and be in a management role in professional services less than four months after becoming licensed as a pharmacist.”

Sonam was the point person for the pediatric vaccine clinic held on Sara’s birthday. She and her team put the clinic together in less than a week, leading everything from vaccine handling and storage, to scheduling training and security, to event planning, and decorations.

“It was important for us to make the environment comfortable for the children,” she says. “We had staff in costumes, yellow smiley balloons, plush toys and juice boxes to provide to children post-vaccination.”

The team at the pediatric vaccine clinic standing in front of letters that spell 'Live Better'

The clinic is just one example of the many projects Sonam spearheads in her role. As a lead on the professional services team, she also gets to collaborate with the two co-op students Walmart hires every term.

“As a recent grad, I’m always excited to meet our co-op students,” she says. “Our students have been helpful in many of our clinical initiatives, and we are lucky to have them. I always encourage our students to be creative, think outside the box, and think of ways to improve any inefficiencies in the pharmacy.”

Both Sara and Sonam agree that a role in a corporate environment allows them to use their knowledge and have a big impact.

“You’re able to contribute so much,” Sonam reflects. “Even when I was on co-op, I remember thinking about how much I achieved in a short span of four months. I was making a difference in pharmacy and making patients’ lives better.”

Sara agrees. The role is her first foray into the corporate world, and it’s changed her outlook on pharmacy.

“It’s a unique avenue and co-op is a great chance to explore this type of behind-the-scenes experience,” she says. “Go for the opportunity – whether it’s a non-traditional work term or a vaccine clinic on your birthday – try something new and take on the leadership position. You won’t regret it.”