College of Medicine and Dentistry Award winning pharmacy student set for rural career

Award winning pharmacy student set for rural career

Thu, 24 Oct 2019
Emma Dall'Alba on placement in the Torres Strait

Flying in a helicopter over the pristine waters of the Torres Strait, fourth-year James Cook University pharmacy student Emma Dall'Alba had to pinch herself that this was all part of her degree.

“I was having the time of my life – it was amazing,’’ Emma said.

“It was so beautiful, the water that we were flying over you could actually see so clearly all the animals swimming around – there must have been about 40 massive seas turtles, five dugongs and even a manta ray.”

Emma’s recent three-week `eye opening and unique’ placement on Thursday Island is one she will never forget.

“It was so far and beyond what I had expected. I didn’t realise the role the smaller community pharmacist has. While they service an island of around 2000 to 2500 people they are looking after thousands of other patients on the outer islands of the Torres Strait.

“The pharmacist has to go out and visit each of the clinics on the outer islands twice a year.

“I got to go on a trip on each week of my placement – so in total I got to visit five outer islands of the Torres Strait and spent the day with the pharmacist there auditing their medication processes – chatting to patients and doing group patient education sessions.

“It was the most amazing experience.”

There was one heart-warming moment on Poruma Island where Emma thought `this is why I have chosen a career in pharmacy’.

“I got to be a part of the conversation about a new blood glucose monitoring machine. I was able to show the patient how the device worked so she could measure her blood sugars really easily. I linked the device up to her phone so she has record in a graph of all her readings and all the other nifty things you could do with the device.

“By the end of the conversation the patient was go grateful and happy she just gave me the biggest hug. It was just a really nice feeling and I thought `wow you can really make a difference and make people happy.”

Emma Dall'Alba outside Thursdsay Island Pharmacy

Thursday Island is just one of the many exciting and unique places you might find yourself on placement if you study pharmacy at JCU.

Besides Thursday Island, Emma has had stints in Mt Isa, Kurumba, Atherton Tablelands, and the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane. Currently she is on her final placement at the Townsville Hospital.

JCU pharmacy students get to experience more than 600 hours of placements throughout their four-year degree to prepare them for the real world – more than any other pharmacy school in Australia.

“Nothing rivals placement in terms of being able to solidify your learning. Being able to put the theoretical knowledge you have worked so hard on into practice, really just brings it all together.

“On the rural placement I have been able to see and visit the most amazing places – it really doesn’t feel like you are doing work or placement because you are pretty much on a holiday. You work during the day but you get to enjoy different locations after hours and on weekends. It has been really fantastic!”

Pharmacy students in other centres don’t get the same university experience according to Emma.

Emma Dall'Alba in local pharmacy on placement

“JCU is leagues above in terms of placement hours, we lot gets of experience,’’ she said.

“Interestingly it is really hard in the major cities to get placement in hospitals, which a lot of students are curious about and interested in. While we only have to do one hospital placement in the JCU program, we have access to do more of them if we wish.”

But is it also the one-on-one support you get from day one that sets JCU apart.

“It all starts off with the students being assigned to a mentor which is an older pharmacy student who is the first call if you have questions or you want to be directed to someone who can help you with a specific issue.  And then the staff in general are crazy supportive.”

Smaller cohorts mean JCU pharmacy students get a more personal experience.

“Every lecturer that I have come across in my time at pharmacy has been so approachable. You can go to anyone for questions or support. They have created a really a positive, comfortable and welcoming environment at JCU pharmacy and that has genuinely been one of the top things about doing my study here. I loved it.”

Looking to the future after graduation, Emma has so many paths her pharmacy career can take her.

“It can really take you wherever you really want to go,” she said.

Thanks to JCU’s focus on encouraging student to experience remote, rural and regional placements, Emma now has a rural career firmly in her sights.

“I can confidently say I will end up in a rural location because that’s just where I feel most comfortable living and spending my time working in. I’ve got a passion for rural pharmacy.

“I can’t say where that is going to be but the future is mine.”

Emma was recently awarded the 2019 James Dare Award by the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Queensland Branch, for her active participation with the JCU Pharmacy Student Association and her achievements during her studies.