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From Pharmacovigilance to Vaccination Volunteering

Senior Safety Physician Ashleigh Van Dijk returned to the clinical setting to volunteer with the COVID-19 vaccination effort.

Surgical scrubs used to be my daily uniform working as an emergency medicine physician. When I transitioned from clinical practice into my career in pharmacovigilance, I wasn’t sure if I would ever put my scrubs on again. However, no one could have predicted the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve experienced worldwide over the past year. Many of us who have left clinical practice have felt a desire to help our former colleagues on the frontlines. When I received an email from my state medical board requesting that physicians not practicing clinically renew their medical license to help with the mass vaccination efforts, I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer and was immediately supported by my manager and team.

Wearing scrubs again felt strange at first but being part of this effort has been such a rewarding experience. I’ve volunteered at both a large-scale vaccination clinic and a small community clinic. Although some individuals had apprehension at having a shot, the overall feeling has been excitement and happiness to get the vaccine and to “get life back to normal.” I’m proud to have been able to counsel and provide the vaccine to people from all different backgrounds. Most memorable for me was meeting grandparents excited to hug their children and grandchildren for the first time in more than a year, and individuals who had been sick with COVID-19 themselves or had loved ones who had gotten ill.

Over the past year, I’ve been impressed by the speed and efficiency with which the COVID-19 vaccines were evaluated and approved for emergency use by the regulatory bodies. I personally did not work on the research and development of these vaccines, but being a medical monitor and working as a safety physician in pharmacovigilance at UBC, I have a sincere understanding and appreciation for the many people and processes involved in drug development, clinical trial set up and maintenance, efficacy and safety evaluation, and regulatory approval.

As the world has held its breath waiting for these vaccines, never has the public held such interest in drug development. My experiences in pharmacovigilance have helped me to be able to digest the available data on the vaccines both to counsel patients as well as discuss with friends and family, some of whom have had hesitation about receiving the vaccine. I’ve enjoyed these conversations and they’ve also helped me to explain to my friends and family my role in medical monitoring, pharmacovigilance, and drug development.

Volunteering as a vaccinator and reflecting on the COVID-19 vaccine has been such a positive experience for me in so many ways, and I’m grateful to my UBC team for supporting me. For me, this really highlighted UBC’s corporate values of collaboration and respect, as my colleagues fully embraced my desire to assist in the vaccination effort and live out our priority of Patients First.

About the Author

Ashleigh Van Dijk is a Senior Safety Physician and Medical Monitor with UBC. Ms. Van Dijk has a broad therapeutic portfolio – in addition to medical monitoring activities, she performs medical safety reviews, medical review of aggregate reports, and signal detection for products in development and marketed products. Prior to her work in pharmacovigilance, she worked as an American Board-Certified Emergency Medicine Attending Physician in the Boston area.

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