Bowen boy reflects on lessons learned in Pharmacy

Written By

Natalie Zemaitis


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

21 December 2022

Related Study Areas

Lessons and opportunities

Class of 2022 Pharmacy Valedictorian, Joshua Turkilsen, looks back on the lessons learned and opportunities that came his way while studying pharmacy at James Cook University in Townsville.

Joshua always knew he wanted to work in healthcare. Throughout his high schooling in Bowen, 200kms south of Townsville, he developed a keen interest in chemistry and biology.

“I was torn between nursing, medicine, and pharmacy but after speaking with some pharmacists during a career’s day at my high school I felt that pharmacy would be satisfying while allowing me to maintain work-life balance,” he says.

“I was always going to choose JCU, as it was the closest university to where I grew up which some of my family had also attended. Pharmacy at JCU has a great reputation which made the choice an easy one."

One of Joshua’s most memorable experiences during his degree was organising and presenting a continuing professional development module to pharmacists and pharmacy students.

“Thanks to the JCU Pharmacy lecturers we were able to have this module accredited through the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. This module was the culmination of the research I conducted with a classmate, looking at the safety of excipients (all of the ingredients in a medication that aren’t the drug itself). My research focused on this issue in paediatric patients while my classmate focussed on excipient safety in adults. Our presentation focused on educating the participants on the safety of these ingredients and providing strategies to minimise the risk of patient harm. The opportunity to be able to do this during my degree is definitely a standout experience, one that was made possible thanks to the JCU Pharmacy staff, especially Professor Beverley Glass.”

Lessons Learned

As he prepares to begin his career in pharmacy, Joshua reflects on the lessons he’s learned over the past four years of his Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours) degree.

1. How to study

This was something I didn’t master until the third year of my degree. Pharmacy can be really full-on and the workload can soon pile up.. That’s something I discovered pretty quickly during first year! I found it best to treat study like a part-time job and schedule in dedicated blocks of time during the week.. During these study blocks I would head to the university campus library or one of the study rooms in the pharmacy department. It can be really beneficial to separate your working space from your resting space. It was easier to enter ‘work mode’ while at university and unwind once I got home from a day of studying.

Do your best to get a strong understanding of the material given to you early on in each semester. Building a strong knowledge foundation makes it much easier to learn the more complex material that will come up later.. To give a pharmacy-related example, it is much easier to understand how a medication treats a specific disease if you have a strong understanding of the disease itself. It is also is much easier to understand how a disease affects a bodily system if you understand how that bodily system typically functions.

2. Ask for help

I really struggled with this at the start of my degree as I had heard that university lecturers are too busy to help. Thankfully, I learnt that this couldn’t be further from the truth for the JCU Pharmacy lecturers who all have a genuine desire to see you succeed. Whether the issue relates to the content or hardships you are facing in your life, the best time to ask for help is as soon as you are struggling. Don’t wait until the end of the semester to tell your subject coordinator as this severely limits the options available to you.

3. Don’t take it so seriously

It’s important to remember that the end goal of the degree is to embark on a career as a healthcare professional. Keeping this in mind is important as it is easy to focus solely on the degree and your grades, rather than the bigger picture. If you receive a grade on an assignment that you aren’t happy with, always try to learn as much as you can from it and remember that it doesn’t reflect how good a pharmacist you will be. It is also important to make time to relax, socialise and do the things you enjoy. It’s easy to get caught up with the workload and neglect your mental health and social life, but this isn’t sustainable and can lead to burnout.

4. Work together

Finding a few friends who are motivated to study can be extremely beneficial to your learning. I have found a group of two to four people tends to work best for me, with bigger groups making it too easy to get off-track. The biggest benefit of working in these groups is that everyone brings a unique perspective and understanding. If you are struggling to understand something, often someone in your group will be able to reframe it in a way that makes more sense, plus you can do the same for your group members. Group work tends to be most effective when everyone has lightly covered the material before meeting up and then taking turns explaining concepts to one another.

5. Financial support

This is one that mainly applies to those coming from rural areas to study pharmacy and something that I really wish that I knew before fourth year. The annual rural pharmacy scholarship scheme is available to pharmacy students who have grown up and gone to school rurally. This scholarship provides students with $10,000 a year over the degree, which can significantly alleviate the financial strain you can experience as a university student. For those who don’t qualify for this scholarship, I recommend checking out the scholarships offered by JCU and applying for any where you meet the criteria.

Joshua Turkilsen and partner
Joshua Turkilsen receives award from Prof Beverley Glass
Joshua Turkilsen

Favourite rural placement

My first community pharmacy placement in my hometown, Bowen, was a valuable learning experience and my favourite rural placement. The pharmacists and my preceptor were really supportive and helped me gain a better understanding of what community pharmacists do and the various ways they can have positive impacts on patients. This placement allowed me to become much more proficient in dispensing medications which is a fundamental skill for any pharmacist. I would definitely recommend doing a placement in Bowen if you were looking for a rural placement.

Future aspirations

My current career aspirations are to start my pharmacy career in hospital pharmacy, where I hope to expand and consolidate my clinical knowledge. I would like to continue my research and look at doing a master’s degree in Clinical Pharmacy. During my degree I was able to work as a tutor for pharmacy students, which gave me a keen interest in pharmacy education. I would like to be a clinical educator in a hospital or help educate pharmacy students at university.

Joshua was the recipient of an array of awards at the Pharmacy Awards night held earlier this year, these included The Wesley and Brand’s Pharmacy Award for Research Honours, Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (Qld Branch) Highest Academic Achievement for third and fourth year, The Australian Association of Consultant Pharmacy A Home Medicines Review Award, Alive Pharmacy Warehouse Management Award, Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia Clinical Pharmacy Award and 2022 Pharmacy Valedictorian.

He will be moving to Brisbane to complete his internship at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital next year. We wish him all the best for his career in pharmacy.

Find inspiration in the stories of other Pharmacy students, including 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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