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Exciting era of pharmacy beginning to 'walk the talk', as Canadian academic takes up Otago Dean’s role

Saturday, 1 October 2016

PT_Carlo Marra
The University of Otago's excellent reputation internationally and location attracted Canadian academic Carlo Marra to take on the role of Dean of the University's School of Pharmacy.

“I’m very lucky to have landed in such a prestigious and well-respected school; I really want to make a positive difference in the time that I have to be in this role.” – New dean of Otago University’s School of Pharmacy, Carlo Marra

St John’s in Newfoundland, Canada, is a long way away from Dunedin, but when it comes to pharmacy, it’s a small world.
New dean of the University of Otago’s School of Pharmacy, Carlo Marra, previously dean of the School of Pharmacy at Memorial University of Newfoundland, took up his new post on 1 August.
Many of the challenges that the profession and pharmacy educators are facing in New Zealand are similar worldwide, Professor Marra told Pharmacy Today just a few days into his new role.
Internationally the profession is grappling with the evolving role of the pharmacist, he says.

“How can we improve patient health outcomes, avoid downstream costs and improve working relationships with other healthcare practitioners to maximise the efficiency of healthcare?
“And how can we leverage that through expanded roles, really taking better care of people in the community?”

It’s something he considers hospital pharmacy has been doing well for a long time. “It’s an easier sell in the hospital, hospital pharmacists have been doing this kind of thing for years.” But he acknowledges that in some aspects community pharmacy still has some way to go.

However, after years of talking about the expanded role of pharmacists, Professor Marra considers the profession is beginning to walk the talk.

“We have been at the crossroads for the past 25 years and it’s time to move forward.”

Professor Marra thinks New Zealand has some advantages in leading the development of pharmacists’ roles. The country has a very good primary healthcare system, which is often hailed as a model by other countries. In fact, it was New Zealand’s image and the University of Otago’s excellent reputation internationally that attracted him to apply for the role.

“Dunedin has a very good reputation, the university’s research reputation is amazing – and it is a great location with an amazing quality of life.”

It is a big lifestyle change for Professor Marra and his wife, Jamie, and daughters Maya (2.5) and Ana (9 months). But they are looking forward to making the most of Dunedin’s outdoor activities with Professor Marra a keen mountain biker and snowboarder.
A leading researcher in Canada, Professor Marra has had more than 200 publications in peer-reviewed journals, more than 200 presentations at scientific conferences and a long history of graduate student supervision.

His research mainly focuses on health economics, quality of life research and pharmacoepidemiology (the study of the uses and effects of drugs in well-defined populations), including evaluations in musculoskeletal and respiratory diseases.

He is also interested in evaluating the clinical benefits and economic attractiveness of an advanced scope of practice for pharmacists. There is a fair amount of good quality evidence to date, Professor Marra says, that shows pharmacists managing select conditions - such as hypertension - do at least as well, if not better than other healthcare professionals.

Many of his research projects in Canada focus on investigating whether pharmacist-initiated multidisciplinary care of patients is good value for money and it is a research area he is interested in pursuing in his newly adopted country.

Appreciating he will be juggling many jobs in his new role, Professor Marra says he hopes to be able to continue his research – pointing to the two most immediate previous deans, Stephen Duffull (2010-2016) and Ian Tucker (1999-2010).

“Ian Tucker and Stephen Duffull maintained stellar research careers in their terms as dean - that’s the thing about the University of Otago - here you are encouraged to maintain your research focus and lead through research.”

At Memorial University Professor Marra led the implementation of a new curriculum at the School of Pharmacy, something he is looking forward to doing at Otago also, with the new curriculum development well under way.

Attracting young people to the profession is something most countries struggle with, he says, and it is important the school and profession markets the new roles pharmacists have to ensure young people are aware of the broadening scope of the role.
“I think we can do better – it’s not just a challenge for New Zealand.”

Only days into the role, Professor Marra was keen to express how delighted he is to be the new dean of the University of Otago’s School of Pharmacy.

“I’m thrilled to be here,” he beams. “I’m very lucky to have landed in such a prestigious and well respected school; I really want to make a positive difference in the time that I have to be in this role.”

Article written by Liane Topham-Kindley for Pharmacy Today, October 2016