Written By

Janine Lucas


College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

1 December 2021

Related Study Areas

It’s never too late to pursue a career in pharmacy. Just ask third-year student Alexandra Lynn, who decided to follow her dream after her four sons had left home. The former 911 dispatcher moved back home to Australia from the United States, enrolled in James Cook University’s Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours), and couldn’t be happier with her choice.

"I tell people, ‘Go for it. Just go for it.’ You think you're old, but you'd be surprised how young you really are. I’ve wanted to be a pharmacist for over 20 years. I kept going to school to try to get that little bit closer and then things would happen – the kids would get sick or something would go wrong. A good friend said one day, “Alex, your kids won't always be there at home, but university will always be there.” She was right. So I waited until they left home and thought, ‘It's now or never – go,’ and I jumped. It's fantastic."

Life before pharmacy

I grew up in Sydney and lived in the US for about 13 years. I was a 911 dispatcher for the Sacramento Police Department for eight years and then I moved over to Solano County as a child support officer. I have four sons, who live in the US: my youngest, Levi, is 22, my twins, Joshua and Benjamin, are 24 and my eldest, Asher, is 25. My first grandchild, Dawson, was born in November last year; I haven't met him yet because of COVID.

Alex Lynn with three of her four sons, Joshua, Levi and Benjamin

Returning to study

When I moved back to Australia three years ago, I looked at all the universities and JCU had more of an emphasis on community pharmacy, which I really liked. I wanted to be a hands-on pharmacist working with people. I've always had a fascination with medicine, I just didn't want to be a nurse or a doctor. For me, understanding the pharmaceutical side of it was the way to go. Medicines and how they work fascinates me.  I enjoy learning about different diseases and conditions and what medicine is used to treat them.  But more than that, how that medicine works, what it does and why.

I had done some subjects towards a chemistry degree in the US and although I hadn’t studied since 2011, I didn't have to do a bridging course to study pharmacy at JCU. If I’d realised I had that option over the Christmas break before my first semester though, I would have seriously considered taking the introductory chemistry class. It takes a bit to readjust; it's not just simply jumping back in. You do have to work at it, you do have to get used to balancing life and study, and catch up on the things you don't remember because you're not fresh out of high school.

The JCU experience

I'm probably 25 to 30 years older than most of the students, but I don't ever feel old here. They make me feel young. I've had people to study with, people to hang out with. I've made friends and I see myself as just part of the group. At the same time, it pushes you out of your comfort zone a little.

The lecturers and support staff rock. They absolutely rock. I’ve had all this stuff going on in the background with serious illnesses in my extended family, and the support, the kindness, the check-ins to make sure you're okay, they've been amazing. They’ve opened all these doors to that kind of support you don't get in most places so that's been helpful. They care about you as a person. The staff are very responsive to feedback. They want to see you succeed, and they're more than willing to adjust and try new things. To have people who actually care about your education, I feel like I'll walk out of here with a better education because of that.

Quality placements

This year I've done two weeks at Kate's Chemist in Hyde Park. It was unreal. All of the pharmacists took me under their wing.  I was dispensing by the end and getting to counsel patients and have those interactions, which was wonderful. Their feedback was really constructive which helps, too. I also spent four weeks in Mount Isa with the Murtupuni Centre for Rural and Remote Health.  I highly recommend it. It’s a great opportunity to experience health care in a remote, rural setting.

Two weeks were spent in a local community pharmacy and two weeks were spent at the Mount Isa Hospital. I had the opportunity to travel to a remote area health clinic in Dajarra I was really impressed by the staff there. They do such an amazing job and have a great relationship with the members of their community.  I found myself liking the idea of being an outreach pharmacist because I get to meet and support the work of amazing people. Then there were the amazing opportunities to travel around on the weekends and see a part of the country I had not experienced before.  It is very beautiful.

Group of five people with sunset in background of car park
Group of students in front of sign for Murtpuni Health Centre
Alexandra Lynn and fellow JCU students off to trivia night in Mount Isa and (right) at the Murtupini Centre for Rural and Remote Health in Mount Isa.

Advice for students

If you're considering studying pharmacy, go for it. I don't think you'll regret it. You do have to work at it, you need to be disciplined, to put the time aside and you can't leave your assignments to the last minute. My tip for new students is always start your study notes at the beginning of the semester and keep working on them. It was one of the tips given to me and I've held it held it close because it's spot on. It's worth investing in the textbooks, I get a lot out of the textbooks, especially Aulton's Pharmaceutics and Rang and Dale’s Pharmacology. Going back to study is an adjustment. It sounds easy but it's not it. Managing your time and staying on top of things is probably the hardest part.  But at the end of each semester, after exams are over and you get your results, it’s so worth it.

“I tell people, ‘Go for it. Just go for it.’ You think you're old, but you'd be surprised how young you really are."

JCU Pharmacy Student Alex Lynn

A future with community

I do see myself in a community pharmacy. I like the one-on-one interactions with patients.  I like the idea of establishing relationships, helping people understand the purpose of their medications. I’ve seen pharmacists recommend changes that reduced the number of medications a person was taking or helped to improve compliance. I hope I can do that one day, too.  I always had a dream of joining Doctors Without Borders as a pharmacist and working with disadvantaged groups and communities. The one thing that has really opened my eyes at JCU is that we have those communities right here.  They are all around us and I don’t need to go overseas to get that opportunity. If working in a rural or remote pharmacy helps me to make even a little bit of difference then why wouldn't I?

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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