Sasha Merasty poses amidst a winter setting with trees.
Sasha Merasty will be honoured for her resiliency during the Indigenous Student Achievement Awards on March 9. (Photo: Submitted)

‘A passion to help people’

USask student dreams of opening a pharmacy and providing patient-centred care in an Indigenous community.

Sasha Merasty was inspired to pursue a career in pharmacy after she experienced positive interactions with pharmacists.

Merasty, a University of Saskatchewan (USask) student enrolled in the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program in the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition, now aspires to one day open a pharmacy in an Indigenous community.

“My goal is to own a pharmacy, and I want my future pharmacy to encourage hiring Indigenous people—in particular, those who have persevered through troubling times because I believe that resilience builds empathy, which is important for patient-centred pharmacy care,” she said.

“Dedication to patient-centred care will begin with me, because I have had a lot of life experiences that I utilize to make myself a better pharmacist and advocate for vulnerable populations.”

Merasty, a member of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, was born and raised in Saskatoon and came to USask after graduating from Holy Cross High School. As a child, she became accustomed to being in and around hospitals because several of her family members were hospitalized.

“Because I was so young, I had no idea what was happening to my family members in medical terms, but it created a passion in me to know all about medications and medical conditions so I would never feel that way again,” Merasty said.

“I also once had a positive experience at a community pharmacy when a pharmacist helped me find the proper medication and took the time to speak with me about medication and pharmaceutical work. Positive experiences with pharmacists led me toward studying pharmacy, but they also provided me with a model of good pharmacy practice that I still follow to this day.

“I want to be a pharmacist because I have a passion to help people,” she said.

Merasty’s accomplishments as a pharmacy student will be celebrated during Indigenous Achievement Week (IAW) at USask, which runs from March 6-10. On March 9, during the annual Indigenous Student Achievement Awards Ceremony, Merasty will receive an award to honour her resiliency.

“I am elated to be the recipient of the IAW resiliency award. I had a tough couple years after losing my mom and sister, and all the things I have been through in my life have made me appreciate my current success and this award all the more,” Merasty said. “The award acknowledges my successes in the face of adversity, and it will forever act as a reminder of my strength and willingness to persevere.”

Merasty said that while she has faced struggles and adversity, she likes to focus on the successes and positive experiences in her life.

“I strive to be a light for the Indigenous community and my family,” she added.

Merasty is making a positive difference in the lives of others, both on and off campus, and lives her life by the quote “don’t lose what you have to what you have lost.” She continuously strives for self-improvement and advocates for vulnerable and underrepresented populations.

“I am also a strong advocate for Indigenous health-care goals and traditional medicines, which is best achieved by learning how traditional medicines were gathered and by understanding the relationship between the land, the medicine, and the Indigenous community,” she said.

“When thinking about my future goals of opening a pharmacy and my involvement in community focused health care, it’s important to consider not only what health-care concerns are prevalent in the community but also how one can make health care a priority in the community. Thus, in addition to providing services that support Indigenous and trauma-informed care, I would also like to establish programs that look toward the future of health care in the community by offering opportunities to people who are interested in pursuing careers in health care.”

Merasty is currently involved with the Indigenous Pharmacy Professionals of Canada (IPPC) organization to create and promote pharmacy practice models that respect the safety, equality, strengths, and teachings of Indigenous Peoples. She also works part-time in a pharmacy and tutors her siblings, while maintaining admirable grades in her own USask classes.

Now a third-year student in the pharmacy program, in 2022 Merasty was awarded the Shoppers Drug Mart Commitment to the Professions Award, which recognizes academic achievement and involvement in the profession of pharmacy through participation in professional activities or activities that enhance or promote the profession. Merasty has also been involved with the Saskatchewan Pharmacy and Nutrition Students’ Society (SPNSS), has volunteered with the literacy organization Foundations Learning & Skills Saskatchewan (formerly READ Saskatoon), and has served as a peer mentor with the Indigenous Student Achievement Pathways (ISAP) program in USask’s College of Arts and Science, among many other activities.

Merasty said the best part of studying at USask is the sense of belonging and the sense of community that can be found on campus.

“The opportunities for involvement are endless,” she said. “I am also excited and optimistic for the future Indigenous students at USask because Indigenous knowledge and scholarship opportunities for Indigenous students are an important part of the university’s mission. Just last year, there was a new college scholarship award for Indigenous people offered in my college—and for those who think that university is not for them, I swear that you will not regret going and giving it a shot. The experiences you will have at university are life changing.”

While her studies are important to her, Merasty said spending time with her family—including her three younger brothers and her three younger sisters—is her No. 1 priority. As she continues her education at USask, she said she plans “to continue advocating for Indigenous populations, because the health-care concerns faced by so many Indigenous people pertain to my family and everyday life.”

When asked about her advice for other USask students who may want to follow in her footsteps, Merasty said she advises them to picture their ultimate goal and then create a list of smaller goals that will help them achieve it. She also recommends that students participate in academic advising and utilize the resources and programming available to them on campus.

“You can do anything you want in this world; just take each day one step at a time and know that any failures, mistakes, or things that do not go your way do not define you. Things will work out in the end if you just keep moving toward your goals,” she said.

“Also, don’t let others put you in a box and tell you what you are worth or what your life will be; you are in charge of your future. Never give up and always pick yourself up and try again. Life is not a race; it’s a long process and you will get there in the end. And don’t think that it’s too late to start your academic goals. You can go to school at any age, and I believe that with hard work and dedication, you can do anything.”