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Written By

Rachelle McCabe


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

29 June 2023

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A bold project aiming for real impact

Jai-ann Eastaughffe was first introduced to health care through the first aid and emergency care training she received as a volunteer surf lifesaver. The experience sparked an interest in health, which led Jai-ann to study pharmacy. Now in the final year of her degree, Jai-ann is preparing to make a real-world difference through her professional honours project.

JCU’s Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours) gives students the option of completing a professional Honours project or a research Honours project. Those who choose the professional project get to work with a team of academic advisors and fellow students to investigate a problem in pharmacy care.

Jai-ann and her team are collaborating to find solutions to some of the health bottlenecks experienced in West Queensland’s remote towns and cities. To do so, Jai-ann and her group are looking at ways pharmacists can streamline some of the demands on the health system.

“We want to expand the services offered by rural and remote pharmacies to improve the health of their communities,” Jai-ann says. Rural and remote areas have a shortage of healthcare professionals, especially doctors and specialists, so pharmacies play a vital role in these local health networks.

JCU Pharmacy students undertake extensive practice in on-campus facilities before their real-world placements.

Identifying demand, barriers and opportunities

The first step in the team’s research project is to confirm the experiences of both patients and pharmacies in terms of accessing and facilitating health services. So far, Jai-ann and her team have conducted research in Mount Isa, Barcaldine, Winton and Alpha.

Jai-ann's involvement in the project benefits from experience, since she undertook one of her final placements in Mount Isa. One of the observations that she made while there was that lengthy delays and wait times at general practice centres and the hospital were often barriers to locals seeking appropriate medical care. It’s exactly the kind of issue that the project aims to identify.

“Our research involves surveying patients to see what they think about pharmacies offering more services. We want to know the services patients would like pharmacies to provide as well as the ones they’re not comfortable receiving from a pharmacy,” Jai-ann says. “We also asked pharmacists how an expansion could work and what barriers or enablers they would face to make this a reality.”

For example, the Mount Isa surveys identified that locals would like to see vision and hearing checks conducted in pharmacies, as well as weight management services and diabetes checks.

“These are all pretty simple checks that the pharmacy could pick up to help reduce the pressures on other health providers in the area,” Jai-ann says. “Pharmacists have the training to do these things, they just need the legislative and financial support to do them sustainably.”

"We want to expand the services offered by rural and remote pharmacies to improve the health of their communities."

JCU Pharmacy Student Jai-ann Eastaughffe

Jai-ann standing outside beside the sign for the Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health.
Jai-ann and friend outside the entrance to a pharmacy with large pink letting reading pharmacy above them.
Left: Jai-ann at the Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health. Right: Jai-ann [left] with a fellow student at a local Mount Isa pharmacy. (Supplied by Jai-ann Eastaughffe.)

Vast learning opportunities abound out west

Jai-ann says the learning opportunities and life experience available through rural placements in Western Queensland should not be underestimated.

“I really enjoyed just being out there. The community was really welcoming to us students. I had people coming into the pharmacy, recognising me and making conversations with me. You don’t feel like an outsider,” she says.

Jai-ann saw first-hand the unique challenges of rural pharmacy whilst on placement. “Many people have travelled great distances just to get to the pharmacy, so they're getting a lot of medications at once,” she says.

“In hospital pharmacy you also have different presentations compared with urban areas. It can be more complex because places like Mount Isa have a larger Indigenous population. Indigenous people can have more complex conditions and health risks that you must take into consideration.

“There's also a lot more collaboration with doctors and nurses both in the public and private sector. Everyone's working together to help their patients.”

“When I went into the hospital setting during placement, something clicked for me and I was like, ‘this is what I want to do’."

JCU Pharmacy Student Jai-ann Eastaughffe

Jai-ann standing in tall grass feeding two tall camels.
A view of the layered earth wall and pool of water at the Mary Kathleen open-cut mine.
Jai-ann had plenty of opportunities to explore Mount Isa while on placement, including feeding camels and visiting the Mary Kathleen open-cut mine. (Supplied by Jai-ann Eastaughffe.)

An eagerness to learn from Indigenous health experts

Jai-ann is one of six Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pharmacy students across Australia to receive a National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) scholarship, giving her access to financial support and mentorship. She is eager to learn more about Indigenous health, particularly innovative ways to alleviate some of the additional stresses experienced by Indigenous patients.

“I think we as pharmacists have to keep in mind that the Indigenous population have certain cultural activities and protocols they would like to follow,” she says.

“Taking multiple medications can get confusing and having to be in hospitals receiving treatment away from their family, away from their culture, away from their land and community can be really hard.

“It is something that must be considered. We need to work with the individual patient, their families and their community to help make that process easier, and even work out ways that we can keep them in community while receiving treatment instead of having to travel hundreds of kilometres.

“I saw a lot of that in Mount Isa, unfortunately, because it services Doomadgee, Mornington and communities where people tend to travel great distances. People were missing their families. They wanted to go home, they didn't want to be in hospital, and we had to try and accommodate that.”

Sights set on a career in hospital pharmacy

Once her honours project is complete and she graduates later this year, Jai-ann says she hopes her career will play out in hospital pharmacy.

“When I went into the hospital setting during placement, something clicked for me and I was like, ‘this is what I want to do’.

“My final placement is at Townsville University Hospital, and I can't wait to see what it’s like and how it compares to Mount Isa. I'm really keen to see the differences between rural health and that in a larger city.

“I'm just a student but I can already see the benefits of being a pharmacist and having a health career.”

Pharmacists make a difference to people's health every day, working in community, hospital and many other settings. Find out why a JCU Pharmacy degree will provide more career opportunities than you might expect.

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