Pharmacists Help Create Healthy Moms and Healthy Babies

Sylvia Yazbeck and Kelly Foster are Clinical Pharmacists at Halifax's IWK Hospital.  Both are Dalhousie Pharmacy graduates who work in obstetrics and women's surgery.  Their patients ages range from 0 (newborns) to senior citizens in their 90s.  Their practice is varied and extremely rewarding.

Currently, Sylvia's practice is focused on working with pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers,  but she didn't start her career working in a hospital.  Initially, she worked as a pharmacist and pharmacy manager in community pharmacies in Halifax and then in the United States. When she returned to Canada she began her hospital pharmacy career.  She entered the profession because of her interest in medications and how they help make people feel better.

Sylvia helps pregnant moms make healthy choices , giving them the best available advice on medications for keeping themselves healthy while at the same time protecting their unborn child.  Many of her patients are high risk patients who have special needs due to pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, HIV, DVTs s (serious blood clots that form in the legs) and mental health issues.  She is asked to see some of these patients in the Perinatal Centre  and they are specially followed when they are admitted. Keeping patients on their medications is one of the challenges that Sylvia faces on a daily basis.  Sylvia explains that often the risks of not taking a medication are far greater than any potential risks to a baby.

Sylvia says she likes helping people: patients, physicians, and nurses.

"I like helping patients get better, feel better, and improve their quality of life," she says.

Kelly is from a family of pharmacists who practiced pharmacy in many areas: community and hospital pharmacy,  government, academia and industry. They showed her the many ways pharmacists can contribute to their communities.

One of Kelly's passions is ensuring pregnant moms are getting the appropriate immunizations.   She recently completed a pilot project at the  Perinatal Centre where she spent eight days immunizing pregnant women. Keeping pregnant women as disease-free and healthy as possible is a key factor in having healthy babies.  Additionally, mom passes her immunity on to her baby when she is immunized. Kelly  is hoping to expand her immunizing activities to more patients in the hospital for illness such as the Flu, Whooping Cough, Diphtheria, and Tetanus.

Kelly currently works in women's surgery where her patients could be as young as 16 and as old as  in their 90s.

In addition to working collaboratively with the doctors and nurses at the IWK, both Sylvia and Kelly are heavily involved in education, which they find very rewarding. They work educating their patients, nurses, doctors and pharmacy students.  Women's health is a unique area of practice in pharmacy and much of Sylvia's and Kelly's knowledge has been gained through experience and working with outstanding colleagues.  They also host pharmacy students as part of the hands-on experience students must obtain as part of their program.

"I like it when students say, 'I never considered hospital pharmacy before but now I want to be a hospital pharmacist,'" says Kelly.

When asked about what they would like people to know about their job, the two pharmacists were in agreement.  Both pharmacists spend a lot of time dispelling two big misconceptions about medications and pregnancy. The first misconception is that taking medications while pregnant puts babies at a high risk for having birth defects.  The reality is that the risk is very small, but the risks to the mother who does not take  appropriate medications for her conditions are high for both mom and baby. The other misconception is that medications should not be taken while breast feeding.  Once again, healthy moms are better for healthy babies and few medications taken by mothers will have negative effects on their breastfed babies.

Moms are encouraged to always check with their primary health care provider or pharmacist if they have questions about their medications.  Pharmacists are encouraged to reach out to Sylvia or Kelly if they come across a question they do not know the answer to.