Stepping out of your comfort zone: experiencing pharmacy in Slovenia

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Richard Granholm (Rx2023) is not afraid of taking chances.

Six years after achieving his Bachelor of Music, while sitting in a pharmacy and watching a pharmacist work, a new dream arose for him – a career in pharmacy.

This new journey in pharmacy sparked another passion for Richard, to travel abroad.

Richard heard about the Student Exchange Program (SEP) at Waterloo Pharmacy through the International Pharmaceutical Student’s Federation (IPSF). In the past, Richard had an interest in participating in an international exchange but never had a chance to apply. He knew this was an opportunity he had to take.

“This was a great opportunity for me to combine my passion for travel and to see how pharmacy works in another country,” says Richard.

Richard Granholm overlooking Kranjska Gora

Richard Granholm overlooking Kranjska Gora in Slovenia.

There was some difficulty securing a placement because the global pandemic had affected the application process. After three of his first choices were denied, Richard found himself struggling to find a country that was offering an exchange.

When the option to travel to Slovenia came up, he says it felt like fate aligned for him. Slovenia was a country he had researched before and was interested in visiting someday.

“I can’t imagine myself ten years ago travelling to a different country, walking into a pharmacy in another language and working there,” he says. “It was nerve-wracking. I thought to myself, am I even in the right place?”

During his two-week term, Richard’s placement was at an outpatient pharmacy located in Peter Držaj Hospital in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Richard with his pharmacy mentor Tadeja at Peter Držaj Hospital Pharmacy in Ljubljana.

Richard with his pharmacy mentor Tadeja at Peter Držaj Hospital Pharmacy in Ljubljana.

He helped the pharmacist dispense drugs, learned how their inventory system worked and spent time learning how to compound a common cream many patients use, olive oil mixed in a petrolatum base.

Drive through pharmacies where patients can receive over the counter medications.

Drive through pharmacies where patients can receive over the counter medications in Slovenia.

Richard found out Slovenia has their own manufacturing system where they manufacture their drugs with their own brand names, that many pharmacists in Slovenia come from the industry sector and that the pharmacist’s role is dialed back compared to a pharmacist’s role in Canada.

“This experience made me appreciate our expanded scope in Ontario more. I’m excited for the future of pharmacy in Canada,” says Richard.

Overcoming the language barrier was the biggest challenge for him and required him to troubleshoot in a different way. Richard says he has gained problem solving skills that will help him in any future pharmacist role.

“I will be taking this knowledge to all my rotations and beyond. The pharmacy landscape is such a diverse environment and I am now comfortable adapting to new challenges. Everyone should learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable, while rising to new challenges,” says Richard.

In his spare time, Richard had the opportunity to experience the countryside. He spent his time sightseeing Slemenova Špica in Kranjska Gora, touring Predjama Castle and visiting the famous Lake Bled.

Richard Granholm and fellow exchange students in front of Predjama Castle.

Richard Granholm and fellow exchange students in front of Predjama Castle in Slovenia.

When asked what his advice is to students thinking about participating in an exchange, he says to step out of your comfort zone and do it. The unique experiences not only stand apart on your resume but you build cultural connections you never would encounter otherwise.

Richrad Granholm looking out at Lake Bled.

Richard Granholm looking out at Lake Bled in Slovenia.

Adapting to different situations and rising to the occasion is the biggest lesson Richard took from this experience.

“If travel interests you and you have an interest in seeing pharmacy in another country, I can’t think of a better way to do so. Take the opportunity while you have it,” says Richard.