Written By

Janine Lucas


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

16 March 2022

Related Study Areas

James Cook University students Shylee-Jade Hadar-Pagliari, Christopher Caldo and Melissa Gibson are among the new generation of Cairns and Mackay pharmacists studying in their hometowns.

The trio was part of the first cohort to take up the opportunity to earn their Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours) when JCU expanded the degree from Townsville to its Cairns and Mackay campuses in 2021.

School leavers Shylee-Jade and Christopher have been able to stay close to their families and save on living costs. After almost two decades as a community and hospital pharmacy assistant, Melissa had been preparing to move to Townsville to change the course of her career when pharmacy came to her.

We asked Christopher, Shylee-Jade and Melissa to share their experience of studying in Mackay and Cairns:

Mackay-based JCU pharmacy student Christopher Caldo.

Christopher Caldo | Mackay

I was born in The Philippines and moved to Australia in 2010. I chose to study pharmacy because I have always been interested on the science behind medicines, how they are made and especially helping the community.

The transition from high school to university was overwhelming at first, but through the lecturers and the support given by the university, I was able to work alongside them to seek help and advice. The main highlight from studying pharmacy externally is that we were able to gather during residential week in Townsville to do most of our practicals.

Advantages of studying pharmacy in Mackay are many, such as living with the family, and less expense. The way our contact hours are arranged with the mix of online and face-to-face learning mean there's plenty of time for part-time work in the pharmacy.

Placement was exceptional because it gave an insight into what lies ahead, and it gives us an understanding of what to expect.

In 2022, I'm looking forward to the hospital placements and getting deeper into the curriculum.

Cairns-based JCU pharmacy student Shylee-Jade Hadar-Pagliari.

Shylee-Jade Hadar-Pagliari | Cairns

I’ve lived in Cairns for 10 years and, for me, staying at home and being able to save money while studying a degree at JCU seemed like the best option. I was so happy when it was announced JCU would be offering pharmacy and I could study the degree from home. It solidified my decision to stay.

As with the first year of any degree, I imagine, my first year of pharmacy had its ups and downs and adjusting to uni life took some time. The degree itself is led from Townsville so our method of learning from Cairns is mixed mode with a combination of face-to-face and online classes. I enjoy this style of teaching as it gives us some freedom regarding how we study. The content we covered was heavily science based and having a practical compounding class in first year is a good way to directly apply the knowledge.

For one week every semester, Cairns and Mackay JCU pharmacy students travel to join the Townsville students for residential week, where we have a week of practical lab sessions and full cohort actives and events. This week allows for great networking opportunities with other students and our lecturers to build relationships for the years ahead. Having conversations and events with our lecturers outside of class gives the feeling of belonging and support and creates a community within university.

I took up the role of Publications Chair in our JCU Pharmacy Student Association. In semester two of first year and became involved in the National Association of Pharmacy Students of Australia’s (NAPSA) organisation committee to run the week-long NAPSA Congress in January, which was a success.

Placement in first year was a one-day experience at a local community pharmacy to introduce students who may not work in a pharmacy to the pharmacy setting. I’m grateful I already have a pharmacy job; nevertheless, I enjoyed placement as it was interesting to go to a different pharmacy and see their way of operating while having the same result of patient satisfaction.

In 2022, we delve deeper into the pharmacology subjects,and I am looking forward to studying more chemistry-based subjects. This year I’m also a mentor leader in Cairns for the commencing first years and I am thoroughly looking forward to a great year ahead with more opportunities!

Cairns-based JCU pharmacy student Melissa Gibson.

Melissa Gibson | Cairns

The first year has gone so fast. I can't believe I'm a quarter of the way through the degree! I'm the oldest person in the class (by far!), but I’ve made some great friendships and study buddies.

I really enjoyed the practical blocks in Townsville each semester, an opportunity to meet the rest of our cohort from Townsville and Mackay as well as some lectures from online. The white coat ceremony in second semester was very special, a welcome to the profession of pharmacy and a career as a healthcare professional.  It was a reminder of what that means while working towards becoming a pharmacist with this degree. I also had the opportunity to assist JCUPSA with our online NAPSA conference in January this year as Education Chair.

Cairns is my home. Being able to study pharmacy here meant I didn't need to uproot anyone or anything to achieve my goal. It's so easy to get to the JCU campus, and the mid-semester practical block in Townsville is such a fun experience and a tiny price to pay for the convenience of mixed mode study. I can also continue to work part-time and manage my time watching lectures and online classes through the LearnJCU portal, which is so user friendly.

On placement, it was great to see how community pharmacy is operating and the expanded role pharmacists are playing within the changing COVID space.  The community pharmacy was very welcoming to us students. We will get to experience placement in hospital pharmacy in second year, not that exciting for me as I work there, but any placement is good placement!

In 2022, I'm looking forward to getting deeper into pharmacology and therapeutics of disease states and treatments. And practical blocks in Townsville of course!

JCU's first pharmacy cohort in Cairns in 2021.

Building a home grown workforce

JCU’s Academic Head of Pharmacy, Associate Professor John Smithson, said the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated regional workforce shortages in pharmacy and other health professions. New services had been created to match community demand during the pandemic, with community pharmacists at the front line of the COVID vaccination effort.

“To address regional pharmacist workforce shortages in Queensland, we had to provide not just the opportunity to study locally, but also address access,” A/Prof Smithson said. “Many people cannot relocate to a different city easily, and those who do can face significant financial stress as a result. Providing affordable access to excellent pharmacy education in regional Queensland allows us to build workforce in the locations experiencing shortages, and address issues related to barriers to accessing a university education.

“If you are looking for a great career with high levels of professional satisfaction and the ability to earn respectable income, you can do that through pharmacy at JCU.”

Quality learning irrespective of location

A/Prof Smithson said JCU focused on delivering a similar experience across the three sites: “We do this in our program by making sure we retain a local small-group learning focus – a teaching approach that is the same for all students, irrespective of location.”

“While the tutors and lecturers may differ, there is an extraordinary degree of equivalence across the three campuses. So the experience is of high quality, the access is local and more affordable. The other benefit is each site develops their own personality.  It tends to reflect the region a little, but it is nice to see the close-knit nature of our students at the different sites.”

World-class laboratories

A/Prof Smithson said 2022 was an exciting time for Mackay students with the opening of their new compounding lab.  “Pharmacists change the form of medicines by way of compounding different products. We might take a tablet containing the desired active ingredient and make it into a liquid or suppository.  We teach our graduates to do that in our wet compounding labs,” he said.

“Irrespective of the location, our facilities are world class. All sites undergo the same stringent accreditation process, getting the tick of approval from our accreditation body.

Pharmacy is an in-demand career that can take you anywhere. Read more about Melissa’s ‘Gold Lotto’ job and follow the adventures of 2021 graduate from Western Australia Patrick Wright and Torres Strait pharmacist Caitlin Davies.

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