Real-life experience for future Pharmacist

Tue, 4 Feb 2020

Standing at the bedside of a seriously ill patient in the emergency department, James Cook University fourth-year pharmacy student Chris Simpson saw first-hand the integral role his future career played as part of a health care team.

Chris was on a placement at the Cairns Base Hospital where the pharmacist is actively involved in the acute resuscitation team.

“It was so good to watch her participation in very serious medical episodes working alongside the doctors and nurses helping the very ill people,’’ Chris said.

“It was an eye opening experience. I didn’t think we could contribute much in that area.’’

This has been one of the many real-life experiences of a pharmacist that Chris has been exposed to during his placements with JCU pharmacy.

In his time out at the Mt Isa Hospital, Chris was able to work with the medical team and the pharmacist to dramatically improve a patient’s health.

“A man was on dozens of different medications and it was a real burden on him,’’ Chris said.

“A lot of the medicines were interacting with each other.  The combination wasn’t very good for him.’’

The team working together were able to reduce the number of medications significantly.

“It was so good to see we were removing some of those burdens for him - it was really satisfying to make a real-life difference.’’

There is no substitute for the knowledge and skills students gain on placement – and JCU pharmacy students get more than any other pharmacy school in Australia.

“Other universities don’t have the experiences and exposure we have and it shows when we graduate,’’ Chris said.

“I like the hands-on aspect – it’s different from being in the classroom. Experiencing it in real life builds on what you learn at uni. When you step into the real clinical world you get that full exposure to everything,’’ Chris said.

Along with JCU’s encouragement for students to experience remote, rural and regional placements, pharmacy students will find themselves working and living in many unique locations and settings.

In 2019, Chris elected to have an extended rural placement and spent four weeks in Cloncurry and Mt Isa.

And it is little wonder he wanted to go west - you can’t beat the small town hospitality of places like Cloncurry.

“Everyone who came in was willing to have a bit of a chat about their health and medications and they were all looking to invite you to an event or something happening there in the community,’’ he said.

“My social life was pretty good – I was able to mix with the local people as well as the other JCU students that were based there at the same time. I was able to explore the community and get to see the different things going on.”

The case mix of patients students come across in a rural and remote setting varies to those you see in big cities, giving them a well-rounded education.

“You get a lot of really serious diseases that can go untreated in remote areas, so that was a great experience, very hands on.  I got to do a really broad range of pharmacist activities,’’ he said.

Up in Cairns his clinical experiences were different again.

“Cairns Base Hospital was entirely different to everything else I had experienced – so that was good – all the common and unusual tropical diseases that presented there, it was an interesting case mix.’’

Supporting the students every step of the way is a team of dedicated educators from JCU pharmacy.

“They care about your learning and want to help you get the best possible result at the end of the day. Any questions or concerns they are available 24/7 and will respond to you as quickly as possible. I have always found them to go above and beyond for everything I have asked.’’

Chris admitted that before beginning his pharmacy degree he didn’t have much of a clue where his career could take him.

“I was only aware of pharmacists in your local chemist down the road.  Since studying pharmacy I have discovered you can have a whole range of careers like hospital pharmacy, clinical pharmacy, working in drug manufacture and drug discovery.

“The opportunities are endless.”

As a fourth-year student, Chris has three block periods of placement to help him decide which pharmacy road he wants to travel.

“I think I would like to go for another rural placement if possible. I found it to be a good experience and I would also like to see more of the regional hospitals.”