A Quick Study with Renée Dagenais

This ongoing series is aimed at getting to know what motivates and inspires UBC students about their learning — inside and outside the classroom.

View more

On adjusting to a big campus, pharmily, solving unique therapeutic puzzles and Hall & Oates.

Meet Renée Dagenai, Pharmaceutical Sciences student.

Renee Dagenais


Why UBC?

RD: Initially, my primary reason for attending UBC was for its Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. The Faculty is renowned for the quality of its program and I had heard such positive feedback from individuals I knew in it, which made it an easy decision to want to obtain my pharmacy degree at UBC.

To be honest though, the idea of attending UBC was intimidating. The fast-paced nature of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland is such a contrast to Vancouver Island, especially Campbell River, the Island town I grew up in, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep up. As well, the campus is so expansive in comparison to UVic, wherein I spent my first 2 years of post-secondary and the campus is essentially enclosed within the 1.9 km circumference of Ring Road.

Moving to Vancouver and attending UBC required some getting used to at first (I definitely got lost on more than one occasion when trying to make my way from the book store or class to the bus loop); however, within my first weeks at UBC, not only did I love my Faculty and the individuals I had met in it (now commonly referred to as my ‘pharmily’), but, contrary to my initial hesitations, I was in love with the UBC campus and Vancouver lifestyle. I am so grateful that my path in pharmacy led me to UBC — I am the happiest I have ever been and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.


What are you studying and why?

RD: My interest in pharmacy was first sparked during my grade 10 career-planning class when my teacher asked if I had ever considered pursuing a career as a pharmacist. Prior to that, I had thought that pharmacists simply dispensed medications; however, once I started looking into it, I immediately realized that dispensing is an extremely small component of a pharmacist’s role (some pharmacists aren’t even involved in dispensing!). The more I researched it, the more I realized how much I would love a career in pharmacy.

I was intrigued to learn more about the role of medications in disease prevention and management, and I really liked how a career in pharmacy would allow for direct involvement in patient care as well as collaboration with multidisciplinary teams. I also love the dynamic nature of pharmacy: it is always changing and fosters an environment for continual growth and development throughout your career.


What is unique about studying pharmaceutical sciences?

RD: Pharmaceutical science is unique in how it merges traditional bench-top research in the lab with clinical research, and translates it to the patient care setting. For example, for each drug, one must have an understanding of its pharmacokinetics (how the body absorbs, distributes, metabolizes, and excretes the drug) and pharmacodynamics (how the drug affects the body in terms of interacting with its target to produce an effect), and how these aspects are affected by the drug’s specific physical and chemical properties. As well, knowing a drug’s pharmacology (the specific mechanism of action) is essential, as it allows for better prediction and understanding of the clinical effects (and side effects) the drug may elicit. These are just a few of the key, unique aspects of pharmaceutical science.

What makes studying pharmaceutical sciences even more exciting is learning to understand how the pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, and pharmacology, etc. may be affected by patient-specific factors, such as current medications, medical conditions, age, gender, and genetics, as well as how these factors influence the selection of one drug over another - each patient is a unique therapeutic puzzle to solve.


What are your favourite hangouts on campus?

RD: Now that I have completed the didactic portion of my program and am spending my final semester out of town completing the experiential education component, I have not recently had the opportunity to visit campus. However, during my on-campus semesters, my favourite place to hang out, as geeky as this sounds, was in the study rooms of the Pharmacy building.

Some of my best memories are of spending hours with my friends in one of the study rooms (which quickly became known as the ‘war room’) preparing for our exams, because no matter how overwhelmed I felt with the workload or with the exponential rate at which my ‘to-do’ list seemed to be growing, I always had the company in war room to look forward to. Each of us would do our own thing, but we had each other there to bounce ideas off of or discuss difficult concepts if needed. Also, without fail, we always found innovative ways to make our studying more entertaining, be it making up random ‘stories’ or acronyms to help us remember a particular drug, or taking study intermissions to listen to some pump-up music...there was never a shortage of jokes and laughter, and my time spent in the war room is a highlight of my UBC experience.


What has to happen for you to lose yourself in your work?

RD: In order to truly lose myself in my work, I have to feel passionate and enthusiastic about what I am doing, as well as believe that the outcome has the potential to make a difference. For example, when working with a patient, regardless of the nature or complexity of the case, my genuine interest in optimizing their therapy and the fact that I have the potential to improve the well-being of the patient, allow me to become immersed in finding appropriate alternatives to address their unique needs. As well, having the opportunity to establish relationships with patients and follow up to see effect (whether large or small) of my involvement in their care has been a surreal experience, serving as a continual reminder for why it is that I entered the pharmacy profession.


What’s on your playlist these days?

RD: My playlist tends to be quite random (which is why I have literally titled it ‘Random’). Lately I have been listening to a mix of Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers, Vance Joy, Jack Johnson, Calvin Harris, Jay-Z, John Mayer, Sam Smith, The Beatles, and, of course, the new Taylor Swift album (shamelessly!). I even have some Hall & Oates on there — the song ‘You Make My Dreams Come True’ never fails to put me in a good mood.


Where do you go or what do you do for inspiration?

RD: I continually find myself inspired by the other people. Connecting with others and learning about their journey to reach where they are in life today, the hurdles they overcame and the achievements they accomplished, inspires me to continue working toward reaching my goals, even when life presents obstacles that appear insurmountable. Since the beginning of my time at UBC and in my Faculty, the encouragement and support that has been demonstrated by my peers, professors, and mentors to help myself and others succeed has inspired and empowered me to be a better version of myself — I hope to pay it forward throughout my career by reaching out and contributing to the growth of other individuals as they work toward their goals.

As well, I will often reflect on where I started and the experiences, both good and bad, that have led me to where I am today. This act of reflection and acknowledging the personal growth that has occurred, especially over the past 4 years, inspires me to trust in myself and to treat each opportunity as a learning experience and chance for personal development. It also reminds me to be mindful of and grateful for what I have, smile and laugh often, and take the time to appreciate the simple moments in life.


The time when you had second thoughts?

RD: Every time I make a recommendation for a patient, I have second thoughts. Not because I don’t believe in what I am putting forward, but because I know that what I say and do has the potential to impact patients’ lives.

I think it is natural to have second thoughts. In the times that we second guess ourselves, it is important to be confident in our decision and believe that we did the best we could in that moment of time, while also remaining open to the possibility that perhaps there are other alternatives that could have been of equal or greater suitability in the particular situation. Take each of these moments as an opportunity to learn and grow as an individual — you will be more prepared to face similar or related situations in the future.


What is something the public wouldn’t know about pharmacists?

RD: While there has definitely been great progress in raising public awareness of pharmacists’ integral role in health care, I believe there is still a common perception that pharmacists simply ‘pour, count, lick, and stick’ — patients are often not aware of what goes on behind the counter each time a prescription is filled or the diversity of clinical services that pharmacists may provide. Pharmacists have a unique expertise, and their extensive knowledge of both drug and non-drug measures that may be utilized in the prevention and management of diseases is readily accessible to the public.

With the recent episode of CBC Marketplace, ‘Dispensing Danger’, it is easy for the public to question whether pharmacists truly have their best interest in mind. However, I believe it is important to remember that, despite all of the procedures in place to help prevent errors and mistakes, unfortunately they occur from time to time. As well, I believe it is important to acknowledge the moments when a pharmacist’s intervention and involvement in patient care has enhanced positive health outcomes — these moments significantly outnumber the alternative.

March is Pharmacist Awareness Month (PAM) — I really encourage you to attend at least one of the events that will be occurring both on and off campus, and take the opportunity to learn more about the role pharmacists play in the care of patients, the clinical services they may provide, as well as the diversity of practice settings.

Related Featured Story