In the footsteps of leaders

students in library studying

Pharmacy students are ‘in training’ to manage real-world business challenges

By Therése Kairuz,1 Chris Piggott,2 Luke Kelly,2 Phil Dibben2 and Tracy Nickloes3

The picturesque Hunter Valley region in NSW is home to a vibrant community of pharmacists as well as the Newcastle Hunter Valley Pharmacists Association (NHVPA).

For nearly 70 years, the NHVPA has provided a forum for members and played an important role in the establishment of the Pharmacy discipline at the University of Newcastle.

We want to share the opportunities that our association has provided to future pharmacists in these areas.

For example, local pharmacist Chris Piggott and others offered their real-world experiences covering Business Management in the University of Newcastle’s Master of Pharmacy program.

They shared insights about pharmacy ownership, viability and sustainability of this essential component of the Australian health care system.

The Australasian College of Pharmacy provided input into teaching students about management—an essential skill in a profession underpinned by rules and regulations.

Students of the Master of Pharmacy course were also addressed by lawyers, accountants, designers and human resource specialists through NHVPA-sponsored activities, and the Pharmacy Guild and local pharmacists mentored pharmacy students on their learning journey.

Growing future pharmacists

An annual learning activity for students was the development of a Business Plan in which they were required to submit a proposal to acquire a sustainable community pharmacy.

Developing this Business Plan was a key activity, with financial skills and sound business practices applicable to pharmacy management in both community and hospital sectors.

Local pharmacists and volunteers provided guidance along the way, and students were privileged to be addressed by national presidents of the PSA and the Pharmacy Guild.

Exposure to leaders of the profession has been inspirational, encouraging students to become leaders in the own right. For example, graduate Michael Minter was the Terry White & Chemmart Pharmacist of the Year 2020.

From humble beginnings, and in collaboration with the Pharmacy Guild, the concept for the National Student Business Plan Competition for pharmacy students evolved.

To coin a phrase – ‘From little things big things grow…’

Over the past decade, pharmacy students have been benefiting from a fund after many NHVPA pharmacists donated their lecturing wages to provide scholarships and prizes for undergraduates and PhD candidates.

Additionally, Associate Professor Therése Kairuz was awarded the NHVPA Duncan Cruikshank Memorial Scholarship, which is providing financial support to PhD candidate and local pharmacist Chelsea Felkai, Branch President of PSA NSW.

In 2014, BPharm (Hons) started replacing the MPharm program and ‘Management’ evolved into Clinical Leadership in Health Care; the focus expanded to include clinical services and was delivered in collaboration with local pharmacy owners/managers.

Students were tasked with doing a ‘virtual revamp’ of each business. They had to propose how their changes would be financed; some of the proposals were taken seriously by the owners/managers and were implemented albeit with modifications.

Industry input was valued by the teaching team and students relished tackling real-world challenges, with the course  rated highly by students and the interaction enjoyed by the pharmacists.

We are confident that pharmacy graduates will have some business and management skills following these experiences.

Growing future leaders

In 2020, as a result of the pandemic, the course had to be delivered differently and face-to-face teaching was replaced with technology and hybrid learning.

Pharmacists ‘at the frontline’ of the pandemic were not in a position to offer input into the course and in conversation with Dr Jasmina Fejzic, from the University of Queensland, the concept of inter-university collaboration to meet COVID-related challenges was explored.

Global Connect Clinical Leadership was launched in July 2020 from the University of Newcastle in collaboration with NHVPA and nine universities across six countries.

A Global Zoom event provided a platform for panel discussion between students, pharmacists, academics, business leaders and the PSA Manager for Education and Training.

During this ‘meet a mentor’ global Zoom session, the panel answered a range of questions about leadership and pharmacy ownership which laid a foundation for the international interprofessional experiential group work which followed.

Teams of up to 12 pharmacy and medical students collaborated online, sharing experiences about COVID in their home countries and in the workplace.  

Leaders make a difference by the choices they make, and it was felt that pharmacy students should consider vulnerable communities where they could potentially make a difference.

Dr Nataly Martini from the University of Auckland shared experiences about her research trip to central Africa and the impact of educational games designed to teach children about malaria.

Pharmacy students from Newcastle stepped up to the challenge, designing ‘health games’ for children in refugee camps where there would be few resources.

In collaboration with the University of Western Sydney, the proposed games will be refined by students studying education and the ‘interprofessional products’ will be donated to The Magic Box, an initiative that collects toys for children in refugee camps.

It is also important to make a difference in local communities. With support from the Wollotuka Institute, and on behalf of the  Class of 2020, a pharmacy student made a short video  acknowledging the first healers of this land.

Leading Self and Leading Others

The main objective of Global Connect Clinical Leadership was to experience aspects of teamwork and leadership development, including self-leadership, and the ‘norming and storming’ that is part of team dynamics was experienced in real time.

Throughout the process, guidance was provided by community pharmacist Luke Kelly, academic pharmacist Therése Kairuz and business consultant Tracy Nickloes.

Our approach provided a complementary mix of skills and experiences and a synergistic enthusiasm which underpinned the international, cross-cultural, multidisciplinary interaction between students.

COVID caused chaos but it also created a learning opportunity to develop our future pharmacy leaders.


We acknowledge and thank local pharmacists and preceptors for generously providing students with an understanding of challenges and opportunities.

  1. School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, University of Newcastle (
  2. Newcastle Hunter Valley Pharmacists Association
  3. Tranic Business Solutions 

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