My Experience With the OPA: The Spirit of Advocacy

As with everything in life, the profession of pharmacy is peppered with opportunities to make a meaningful impact, given the right intentions and actions. As a new student at the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy, I am determined to make the most of every moment and I am acutely aware of how fortunate I am to be surrounded by trailblazers in the field. It did not take me very long to realize why my professors never missed a chance to remind my cohort that we “joined the profession at the perfect time”. So much is changing so quickly, and we are at the eye of the storm. For this reason, I am very grateful for the chance to work at the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA) — the frontier of advocacy in our profession.  

Bilal Ahmed,
University of Waterloo, Class of 2026

With this being my first ever co-op experience, I was in high anticipation of the kinds of initiatives I would be involved in. Working at the OPA has been an absolute pleasure and arguably the best possible way for me to have started my pharmacy career for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I got perspective on the kind of work and deliberation that goes on behind even the smallest change in practice by being a part of advisory meetings, external meetings with OPA partners, and most importantly, internal Professional Affairs meetings. Furthermore, these discussions provided me with a birds-eye view of important topics in pharmacy that deepened my understanding of stakeholder interests and influences. Lastly, being able to work on various projects myself gave me a taste of the true spirit of advocacy in pharmacy. 

Efforts in advocacy are a lot more intricate and a lot more delicate than many people realize. It is by no means a line of work where one can simply request a change and receive it. Rather, to better support these advocacy initiatives, one might spend months on painstaking research about the clinical and economic benefits of a certain program, or conducting cross-jurisdictional scans to better understand how the pharmacy profession in Ontario compares to other jurisdictions. This work may be further complicated by external factors that result in changes to immediate priorities or tight turnaround times for information. The act of reworking, adapting, and managing, all while keeping an unwavering focus on the ultimate objectives, is like building a sandcastle on the shore of a beach. Although the efforts, consistency, and direction are often not seen on the surface, they are still undeniably necessary to stamp our place as ambassadors of patient care in Ontario. Having the opportunity to be involved in several of these advocacy projects has been an amazing experience. To be able to witness everything start from the ground up — first with preliminary research and jurisdictional scans, then sitting in on discussions with knowledgeable pharmacy professionals, and finally being able to incorporate my own work alongside that of the rest of the team. 

I was also given the opportunity to participate in a project with an external partner to create a patient-facing tool on lactose intolerance. This provided me a glimpse of how the different departments of our association work together to ensure the quality of the resources we make. It was also valuable to understand how the association partners with other organizations to benefit pharmacy professionals. My curiosity was encouraged by my team, and I was invited to many meetings with external stakeholders, such as the Ontario College of Pharmacists (OCP), Ontario Health, and pharmaceutical industry partners to name a few.

I’m incredibly grateful to those at the OPA, especially my supervisor and the rest of the Professional Affairs team. The culture is welcoming and understanding. I was given the chance to voice my opinions as a pharmacy student alongside competent professionals. I was given responsibilities to undertake for ongoing projects. I asked questions, learned, made friends, and overall, I believe I made the absolute most of my time at the OPA.

Bilal Ahmed, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate, Class of 2026, University of Waterloo 

Bilal Ahmed, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate, Class of 2026, University of Waterloo 

Bilal is a second year Doctor of Pharmacy student at the University of Waterloo. Possessing a background in community pharmacy, this was Bilal’s first co-op placement as a pharmacy student. He worked in OPA’s Department of Professional Affairs during the winter term of 2024 (January – April).  

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