Dispensing Empathy

As a fourth-year UM pharmacy student, Cenzina Caligiuri [B.Sc.Pharm/86] was working part time at the Children’s Hospital.

Cenzina Caligiuri

A woman approached the pharmacy counter, tears rolling down her face. Her son had just been diagnosed with a serious heart condition and needed multiple prescriptions.

The overwhelmed mother was struggling not only to process the news about her boy, but to navigate the health-care system as a new Canadian still learning English.

The situation hit home for Caligiuri. “I know what it’s like, because my parents didn’t speak English,” recalls the daughter of Italian immigrants. “That could have been my mom.”

In that instant of recognizing a burden and wanting to ease it, Caligiuri adopted patient-focused care as her personal standard.

“It was the ‘ah-ha!’ moment for me about how I could make a difference in someone’s life by being empathetic. I’m passionate about keeping patients safe in such a vulnerable environment.”

Caligiuri grew up in Winnipeg’s West End. Since earning her pharmacy degree in 1986, she has spent nearly her entire career delivering care to local hospital patients, from neonates at the Children’s Hospital to the most elderly population at Seven Oaks.

From her first position as a manager, she coached pharmacy staff to meet with each patient or family at least once. “It’s so important to introduce ourselves and develop relationships,” she says.

Early in Caligiuri’s career, a hospital pharmacist wouldn’t typically interact with patients. “Now, hospital pharmacists have moved to a more clinical role at the bedside with the doctors and nurses, making decisions about medication as an interdisciplinary team.”

In 2023, Caligiuri took on a fresh challenge as director of operations for Provincial Pharmacy Shared Service (PPSS). This new unit within Shared Health co-ordinates the consistency of technologies, drug supply and inventory, as well as quality, regulatory and safety standards, at hospital pharmacies throughout the province.

“The goal is to ensure that no matter where a patient is hospitalized in Manitoba, they receive the most appropriate care when it comes to their medications. This position spoke to me because it’s patient-focused.”

Caligiuri says she is approaching her new role by prioritizing innovation, collaboration and discussion.

Her PPSS team has been working to standardize the technology systems that aid in the safe distribution of medications to hospital patients. At present, she says, automated dispensing cabinets are primarily found in Winnipeg and Brandon hospitals.

These computer-controlled cabinets can be located on hospital units near the point of care. “They allow medications to be securely stored, tracked and dispensed,” Caligiuri says. “They free up staff time while reducing medication errors and improving patient safety. 

“Along with the hospital pharmacy directors across the province, I’m building a foundation and a plan to bring these technologies to remote and rural areas of Manitoba.”

Caligiuri credits her pharmacy education at UM for her ability to shift gears and take on a new leadership role at a time when many of her peers are retiring.

“My education prepared me for a lifelong journey of learning,” she says. “Even after four decades, learning is still a part of my everyday work.”