Passion for People & Pharmacy

A Rocky Harbour pharmacist is named Canadian Pharmacist of the Year, proves it’s the little things – and the small places –  that can wind up meaning the most


Pharmacist Stephanie Burden may have been named Canadian Pharmacist of the Year, but this proud rural Newfoundlander says thinking and acting with local interests at heart is what made her Canada’s best.  

“I realized something that I think is important. Too often we see rural Newfoundlanders and Labradorians hinder their own growth worrying that they are limited by where they came from, or they are intimidated by the opportunities that they may have missed out on by growing up in a rural region,” she began. Burden, who owns Complete Care Pharmasave in Rocky Harbour, says she wants others to understand that bigger isn’t always better. 

“I want people in this province to know that coming from a small town does not make you less qualified than anyone else. In fact, it gives you incredible character strengths. Resilience. Determination.” 

Dream bigger

A solid foundation with strong roots from which to build your life starts locally, she added. “If you choose to allow geography to be a limitation for what you can achieve, it will be, but if you instead use it as fuel to work a little harder and to dream a little bigger, then those character strengths will shine on the provincial and national stage,” she shared. 

So, what finally thrust Burden on a national stage? Thinking locally, without a doubt. “This COVID-19 pandemic was an opportunity to shine a light on the essential role of pharmacists in rural communities. I saw a need to reach out and educate and support those who maybe wouldn’t always had access to their questions during pandemic times.” 

Burden’s regular and informative Facebook posts became a lifeline to so many. But then again, Burden stood out long before COVID-19 struck our shores. 

When she opened Complete Care Pharmasave in 2016, she launched something unique in her community of Rocky Harbour, creating a healthcare hub with a pharmacy at the center.

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A heart & a wave

Almost from day one, Burden introduced healthcare services not previously available in Rocky Harbour, including immunizations and same-day delivery to communities 90 kilometers away. In many rural areas, a community pharmacist is often the only healthcare provider. 

“It gives patients a touchpoint. Somewhere, and someone, they are familiar with. The real heart of rural living is knowing everyone, waving at your neighbours. That shouldn’t change when you enter the health-care system.”

That critical role her pharmacy played in the community grew with the pandemic. As tension and fear rose during the early days of COVID-19, Burden ensured her patients had the access they needed to stay healthy. Although public hours were reduced, the pharmacy offered phone and online ordering.

She leveraged her social media experience to reach out, creating videos that offered advice. “Social media allowed me to stay connected, to give advice on how to adapt and live well through COVID-19,” she said.

 When asked why she thinks she was selected for this honour, she paused. “I think probably one of the things that made me stand out was my passion for rural health care and the fact that I really want to close up gaps in rural health care by providing patients with the same level of care, no matter if they were living rurally or if they were living urban.”

‘This is my home’

When she’s not helping others, Burden says she’s busy enjoying life and taking advantage of all the benefits that come with living in rural Newfoundland. “I grew up in the area. This is my home. So when I’m not working or not busy learning about pharmacy, I really enjoy the outdoors. Getting outside and being passionate about the outdoors is excellent because we live here in the Gros Morne area, so I enjoy hiking and snowmobiling and spending time with my husband and our dog and with friends and family,” she said.

Born in St. Paul, a region of about 200 livyers, Burden said she understands the need for her services and the positive impact she can have. “Access is a big thing for small areas. Access to services, and access to information: I try to close those gaps up as best I can,” she said. 

Burden’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. From Newfoundland to the national stage, Burden shared that she feels the support and it inspires her to keep going. She’s also honoured to be a role model for others from rural regions. Her words of wisdom tell the tale.

“Believe that you are capable of great things, and stay true to that belief, even when the work is hard and the days are long, and you will achieve whatever you’ve set your mind to.”

For more on Burden, follow her on Facebook @PharmacistStephanie

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