Palm trees and prescriptions

Port Douglas, Far North Queensland


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

10 November 2020

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A 20 year journey

When Townsville school leaver Sarah Hughes enrolled in the first year of James Cook University’s new Bachelor of Pharmacy program in 1999, she had little idea of where the profession would take her.

Fast forward two decades and what she has found is a diverse career that’s allowed her to juggle family and work with aplomb.

Based in Port Douglas in Queensland’s beautiful far north, Sarah’s career in pharmacy has seen her move from a purely community-based focus to include home medication management as well as hospital pharmacy.  All while raising four children.

“I now spend two days a week in a community pharmacy, have one day in the Mossman Hospital, and one day a week where I do the reviews,” she said.

“The community pharmacy combines retail and customer service and is quite demanding and non-stop all day, whereas the hospital is more clinical.  It’s still very busy, but it’s a different kind of busy.  There’s also a whole lot of new knowledge to learn, that I hadn’t used before.  And then there are the home medicine reviews which I really enjoy.”

Sarah Hughes, JCU pharmacy graduate

Career diversity a drawcard

Sarah was initially drawn to the idea of diversifying into home medication reviews through a desire to take on the additional and ongoing study required for the role, which she said allows her to keep her clinical knowledge up to date.

What has kept her doing them has been the difference she feels she is making in patients’ lives.

“You feel like you are healing people. With every visit I have done there has been some outcome or some change, so they really make a difference.”

Along with the clinical skills, it’s a role that also requires good communication, listening, and interviewing skills.  Sarah uses her ability to draw people out and prompt them to give information, while ensuring they don’t feel intimidated or threatened.

"You go into the patients’ home where they feel very comfortable speaking to you about everything. Whereas they may not always have had the time, or felt as comfortable asking the doctor or in the pharmacy,” she said.

“You educate patients about what they are taking and why they need to take it. They ask you questions and they know you are working with them to get the best outcome. There are often a lot of issues and problems that you pick up, such as duplications of therapy or something they are taking that is no longer necessary. In the end, it is better for the patient.”

“I do like a bit of de-prescribing. You get people who have been on medications for 20 years and it hasn’t been reviewed. That's a big thing for people of certain age groups.”

Sarah with her kids at the Port Douglas Carnival

Jobs-a-plenty in rural pharmacy

Reflecting on her career from its earliest days, Sarah admits pharmacy wasn’t her first choice. She knew little about the profession when she first applied to university.  But pharmacy was new to JCU, and while she wanted to work in a medical profession she knew she didn’t want to be a doctor.

What she found was a course that grabbed her attention and a learning environment in which she thrived, topping chemistry in her first year.

The University’s focus on placements was also highly beneficial, giving students the opportunity to experience the profession across a range of fields and locations, from metropolitan hospitals to rural communities and the outback.

And it was these placements that opened her eyes to the benefits of a rural lifestyle and career.

“It was really good to get a taste of what it is like in the real world, and what is it like living in an area where you would like to practice,” Sarah said.

“I found that job opportunities were better in rural areas, as was the pay.  I had initially thought of moving to the city, but after spending time in a rural area I found the prospects and lifestyle were just better.”

- Sarah Hughes

Although it’s been more than twenty years since she took her first steps along the path to becoming a pharmacist, Sarah is still discovering the directions the role can take her in.

“I’m enjoying the diversity of the different experiences, branching out into different areas, and taking advantage of the opportunities available.  It's nice to try a few different things. I'm just at the beginning of working out which direction I want to go in,” she said.

“I went into pharmacy straight from school.  It was sort of by default.  But I have really grown into it.  It’s been the perfect career for me having children and being able to come and go from the workforce between having children,” she said.

“It’s a career that is always in demand. Every time I’ve been ready to come back to work there has been a job here for me.”

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