Reconnecting with her roots through pharmacy in Amsterdam

Friday, November 11, 2022

MacKenzie Van Loon with a friend.

When pharmacy student MacKenzie Van Loon (Rx2023) learned about the Student Exchange Program (SEP), she immediately knew this was an experience she couldn’t pass up.

“This exchange allowed me to experience a one-on-one view you typically don’t get as a tourist. I was able to connect with my roots and learn about my profession,” says MacKenzie.

She first heard about the program through an event hosted by the Canadian Association of Pharmacy Students and Interns (CAPSI) and organized by the International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation (IPSF).

The Netherlands, her first choice, only accepts three pharmacy students each year. MacKenzie was grateful to be chosen because after her grandparents passed in 2019, MacKenzie knew she wanted to visit their homeland, The Netherlands, someday but wasn't sure when she'd be able to do so.

With the help of Anthony Miller, Co-op Experiential Coordinator at the Waterloo School of Pharmacy, and funding available through the School of Pharmacy she was able to take this opportunity.

"International experiences give the students the opportunity to see how other countries practice pharmacy. Canada is after all one of the most diverse multicultural countries in the world so this experience is invaluable!"" says Anthony Miller, Experiential Learning Coordinator/Instructor at the Waterloo School of Pharmacy.

MacKenzie and Amsterdam pharmacy team at a Nieuwendammer Apotheek site.

MacKenzie and the Amsterdam pharmacy team at a Nieuwendammer Apotheek.

During her two and a half week stay, MacKenzie worked at different Nieuwendammer Apotheek sites in Amsterdam.

MacKenzie learned how to compound new medications she normally wouldn’t come across in Canada, due to different regulations, and saw how pharmacy is evolving in Amsterdam by witnessing their shift into family health care teams.

Watching pharmacists interact differently with patients and medications was eye opening for MacKenzie.

Her mentors were welcoming and encouraging. They told us: “you are here to learn and we are here to help,” she says.

Her biggest success during this exchange was compounding over 100 tubes of a specific Dutch medication, something she’s never prepared before. As a result, the pharmacy had a two-week supply of the medication that would normally take one person six hours to complete.

She was happy to have made an impact and grateful to give back to the pharmacy.

Zaanse Schans windmills.

Zaanse Schans windmills in The Netherlands.

In her spare time, MacKenzie visited museums she always wanted to see as a child, including Museum Van Loon that may have an extended family relation. She also visited a more traditional Dutch village that maintains a more historical way of living, churches and the Zaanse Schans windmills.

“I also loved experiencing the food on a deeper level. One traditional Dutch food is herring freshly caught from the sea, cleaned and garnished with salt. I grew up eating this from a jar from Costco but experiencing it personally really connected me to my grandparents, it felt like home,” says MacKenzie.

The exchange pushed MacKenzie beyond her comfort zone. She was nervous to travel internationally alone because she didn’t speak the first language and she had never done something like this before.

“I’m so glad I pushed through my nerves. I now feel more prepared to help patients from other countries and cultures. I feel more comfortable to immerse myself in a patient’s medical history and connect with them to make a difference in their lives,” says MacKenzie.

Exchange students in front of Hooglandse Kerk, Leiden

MacKenzie and fellow exchange students in front of Hooglandse Kerk, Leiden.

MacKenzie’s advice to students considering an exchange who are on the fence is to take the leap.

“It can be scary going to a country away from home on your own but this is the time to do it. You never know what you’ll learn and it will change your view of pharmacy for the better. It is one of my favourite experiences I’ve had at Waterloo Pharmacy so far,” says MacKenzie.