Written by

Nicolette Ward


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

14 September 2021

Related Study Areas

Diversity and versatility

For JCU graduate pharmacist, Emma Philippa, diversity and versatility are defining features of a career in pharmacy.

Emma currently splits her time between being a community pharmacist in Townsville, and as a specialist diabetes educator now running her own business, as well as tutoring part-time for JCU second-year undergraduate pharmacy students.

“What I really love about community pharmacy is the diversity of people that you can help,” said Emma. “You never know who's coming through the door next, and what they're going to ask you about, which really helps to keep the job interesting. Where else can you just walk in, without an appointment, and ask about your health? Pharmacists really are in such a unique position to help people with their health."

“Then in my other role as a diabetes educator, I get to have extended one on one time with patients and build ongoing relationships with them. We get the time to really explore all the different aspects of managing diabetes, including diet, exercise, medication use and anything really that the patient has concerns about. After working in a pharmacy as a dedicated diabetes educator, I now have my own business which means that patients can come to see me or I go to see them, rather than having to come into the pharmacy.”

Emma Philippa Diabetes Presentation
Emma Philippa Diabetes Education

Another feature of the diverse role of pharmacists is the role they play as part of the overall healthcare team.

“Being a diabetes educator who runs their own private practice means I work closely with other health providers such as GPs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Service providers who will refer their patients to me. I am also starting to be called to do diabetes outreach education in smaller regional towns like Ayr and Ingham.

“Pharmacists really do hold an important and very much trusted role in in the healthcare team, whether that be working as part of a multi-disciplinary team within the specialised hospital wards, or as a community pharmacist liaising with GPs, or as someone like me who has their own specialist consultancy in an area such as diabetes”.

Unfortunately, diabetes is on the rise in Australia with 280 Australians reported to develop diabetes every day, or one person every minute, according to Diabetes Australia. It is estimated that around 1.8 million Australians currently suffer from diabetes, with diabetes having the status of being the fastest growing chronic health condition in Australia exceeding even the rise in heart disease and cancer.

Complications from diabetes are serious and can include blindness and vision loss, limb or partial limb amputations, foot ulcers, and a higher risk of heart and kidney disease.

Emma herself was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was just ten years old.

“Although I can’t remember, apparently my ten-year self said that if I was going to be taking all these medicines then I may as well be the one who gives them out to people, or so my dad tells me!” said Emma. I actually started working part-time as a pharmacy assistant from the age of 15 and knew that I wanted to be a community pharmacist from that point on, which was a bit of a surprise as I come from a family of cane growers based in Ingham."

“After completing my pharmacy degree at JCU, I decided to do my internship at a community pharmacy in Townsville. But it wasn’t until I spent a few years in the regional town of Ayr that I got more involved in diabetes support and doing diabetes med checks. As there was less access to GPs in the town and so people would often call in at the pharmacist for that initial advice.

“Although nurses have traditionally taken on the role of being a diabetes educator, not many people are aware that pharmacists and other allied health professionals can also become qualified for the role by completing a Graduate Certificate in Diabetes Education. Coming from a pharmacy background means I can offer deep insight on the medications that people with diabetes have to use, and my own lived experience of diabetes means I already have a good understanding of my patient’s concerns, especially for young people and teenagers.”

Having only recently started her own private practice as a diabetes educator, Emma says she has been surprised at how quickly her business has grown.

“I've been a diabetes educator now since 2018 and it's certainly a growing area. I started off as diabetes educator pharmacist, working within a pharmacy, and only just set up my own private practice this year. It’s been interesting to see that there is a real need for this type of service.”

Having great communication skills is critical to the work she does says Emma, whether that be as a community pharmacist, diabetes educator or community presenter. And Emma credits her training at JCU to achieving that.

"As well as the medical clinical knowledge, the training at JCU taught me how to communicate with the different demographics and cultural backgrounds of patients, which especially prepared me for working in a regional context. Many Aussies, for example, are very laid back, maybe a bit nonchalant about how they're going to manage their medicines, so it’s really important to get them engaged and JCU really focuses on how to get that patient engagement."

JCU Pharmacy Alumni Emma Philippa

“I remember as a JCU pharmacy student we did a lot of work on different types of questioning, of how to give open ended questions and by doing so, creating a more personal interaction and building relationships with patients. I find now that training has really helped me with making the most of every interaction I’m having with people. And in my job, that is just so important.”

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