A future in pharmacy

JCU Pharmacy graduate Tegan Stark at Icon Cancer Centre Mackay

College

College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

18 November 2020

Third generation JCU

Growing up in Mackay in North Queensland, Tegan Stark had a long family connection with JCU. She’d always planned on following in the family footsteps to the University, and when her time came, it was pharmacy that grabbed her.

Now working as a specialised pharmacist in oncology, she’s never looked back. This is Tegan’s story.

My grandfather helped set up JCU and my parents actually met lining up for their student cards when they started at the Uni. As a kid I always knew I would go there, I just didn’t know what I would do.

I did a lot of subjects in high school, from maths to drama, but eventually, I was able to narrow it down to my love of science and desire to help people. That seemed to match up with pharmacy and I thought, 'yep, that sounds right for me'. Pharmacy at JCU was my first preference and I got in. As soon as I started I thought this is exactly the right choice for me!

Tegan's father and grandfather at JCU

The perfect fit

Doing the pharmacy degree was an awesome experience. The support was amazing and by the time the internship started, I felt ready to take on my career. I moved back to Mackay for my intern year at a pharmacy I’d worked at during Uni. From there, my career took me to the Sunshine Coast, Townsville, out west, and back to Mackay.

I moved into management positions and went back to JCU to do my Master of Pharmaceutical Public Health, which has been a great experience. I now also sit on the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s Queensland branch committee, which is a great opportunity to advocate for the profession. I was one of the first pharmacists to be trained as an immuniser, which was a very cool clinical skill and extended my scope of practice from the get-go.

I’ve loved where my career has taken me. Twelve months ago I started at the Icon Cancer Centre in Mackay as the pharmacy team leader. It was always a personal and professional goal for me to one day work not only in a hospital setting but to specialise in oncology. It’s amazing to be here. I’m now stepping into the oncology pharmacist role. It’s been a steep learning curve, but I was ready for that.

Tegan Stark working at Icon
Tegan Stark at work
Tegan is the pharmacy team leader at Icon Cancer Centre Mackay

Finding a specialty

It is just so rewarding to be here for our patients when they are going through such a tough time. At the end of the day, that’s why we do it. It’s been great.

Our patients here go from diagnosis through treatment and that’s a lot of information to take in, especially at such a difficult time. So we aim to not only make sure their treatment protocol is right for them, but we also want to make sure the process is as simple as possible.

We want to avoid confusion while patients are here and make sure when they are discharged they’re comfortable with their medication regime.

It’s a real team effort working side by side with our allied health colleagues at an integrated specialist oncology centre. As the pharmacist, I do clinical screening ahead of each week to make sure everything is appropriate with the patients’ blood results and to make sure they’re coming back fine. We talk to their oncologists to make sure everything is in order. We work with the nursing team to make sure chemotherapy is administered on time, charts are delivered, and that patients have all the medications they need to go home with. I go down to the day hospital where we take medication histories and reconcile them to again make sure there are no interactions or potential issues. I chat with the patients about their treatment and answer any questions they have about medication. It is a unique environment.

I think it’s great that pharmacy students in the North are going to have the opportunity to study the course across a range of locations. For JCU to provide this educational experience to students without them having to relocate is crucial. The profession has struggled to attract pharmacists to regional and rural places like Mackay for the past five or ten years.  But if students can study here it means when they graduate they can make so much more of an immediate impact on their communities because they’re already living there. Having locally available services, such as Icon Cancer Centre, makes such a great difference in patients’ lives, with access to the best care possible, as close to home as possible for as many people as possible.

But to do this we need to build a sustainable health workforce in regional and rural communities. That’s what JCU is doing.

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