A passion for rural health
Growing up on the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland, Dr Stephen Perks knew he wanted to work in the field of regional and rural health.
“I wanted to get into something medical, and I found the James Cook University pharmacy program,” he said.
“It had that strong regional and rural focus and I always had planned on staying in North Queensland, so I took up the course. It gave me the skill set to be able to implement my health care with a real rural and regional focus.”
While most people think of a community pharmacist when they think of the profession, Dr Perks’ career has taken him in quite a different direction, working at the Townsville University Hospital for the past 15 years.
“I've worked in many different roles during that time. I've had the great opportunity to work in the emergency department, across cardiac services, and have been able to perform a lot of research.”
Diverse career in hospital pharmacy
Now working as the hospital’s clinical education pharmacist, Dr Perks thinks people would be surprised by the size and scope of the career opportunities offered to pharmacy graduates in the hospital.
“We've got nearly a hundred people working in the pharmacy department, and the roles range hugely. We have pharmacists who provide clinical services on the ward, we have pharmacists working purely in manufacturing who make the oncology and chemotherapy medications for patients on the oncology ward. We have pharmacists who work on the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) ward, helping with high dose complicated infusions,” Dr Perks said.
“We also have pharmacists who are working in research, where their entire job is based around putting together research packages that will improve services for patients in our district.”
Dr Perks relishes the fact that no two days working as a pharmacist in the hospital are ever the same.
“That's what's great about my job. Some days I can be working on a ward so I'll have 20 or 30 patients to look after. I’ll see the patients who are potentially being discharged, I’ll meet the new admissions, and see their acute and chronic conditions, marrying up the medications with the problems to make sure they're optimising their medications. I’ll liaise with the doctors and nurses to make sure that the quality of our care is the best that we can deliver," he said.
“Other days, I'll do education with the nurses and doctors. We work together planning for the future at the hospital and making sure our staff is top-level so that we can provide quality health care. Other days I'll be performing research, or working directly with patients on their care.”
It’s also clear that for Dr Perks the best part of his job revolves around patients and their care.
“We have a close relationship with them from the time they first come in the door of the hospital. We have a big conversation with them, discussing their medications, we're talking about how to optimise those medications and we're working very closely with the doctors and the nurses. Most of my day is spent talking directly with the patient or talking with doctors and nurses to make sure that we get the best patient outcomes. Very little of my day is spent dispensing medications."
- Dr Stevie Perks
Research making a difference
His passion for research and its benefits for patient care also shines through.
“The research and innovation projects that we work on help improve patient care and can make a huge difference,” he said.
“In pharmacy, you can help one patient at a time with one bottle of medication at a time, or with a bit of research and innovation, we can help the next 1,000 patients who come through the door. That's something that we've merged with our roles within the hospital setting to make sure we provide the best patient care.”
With advances in technology, including a move into the field of telehealth, Dr Perks sees the role of hospital pharmacists only continuing to grow. And with his passion for the profession, he couldn’t be happier about that.