Breaking through the barriers


consult pharmacy pharmacist patient consultation medication prescription

From leaving the profession to spearheading research into deprescribing and consultant pharmacy, Deborah Hawthorne explains how she took control of her career

I graduated from La Trobe University Bendigo in 2009, with the view to owning a community pharmacy in SE suburbs where I grew up. 

I then went through a variety of pharmacist in charge/manager roles through rural, regional and metropolitan Victoria. I moved around mainly because of my partner’s career, and as a pharmacist always found it easy to pick up work wherever we went—especially the more rural areas. 

It was in these rural areas that I got more clinical experience, lots of aged care involvement and an interest in that clinical side of pharmacy really developed. The next natural step seemed to be to get accreditation to further those skills. 

However, there were heaps of barriers to getting accreditation work through community pharmacy settings. These mainly centred around not sharing referrals in the metropolitan and regional pharmacies I worked in. 

I became disengaged with pharmacy—no longer wanting to own or manage any longer, not feeling like I could get into the clinical side, which was what really interested me. I couldn’t see a way out except to change careers.

So I decided to become a librarian! I worked at Melbourne University as a liaison librarian in the science/engineering department because of my science background. 

Then life changed once again: I fell pregnant with twins, and due to my husband’s career we moved to north-east Victoria. 

Deborah Hawthorne.

I got reacquainted with a friend from University, who’s also accredited, but needed help with the number of referrals due to the lack of accredited pharmacists in the area. And that’s when my love of pharmacy was really ignited…

Getting more involved with medication reviews also led to becoming integrated as a GP Pharmacist, one of the first I believe in north-east Victoria, which has only further fuelled my clinical drive.

Being able to do medications reviews with access to a patient’s medical file in the practice leads to much more precise and significant improvements for patients. 

Partially due to the lack of accredited pharmacists and the cap rules, it took a while to build up regular referrals throughout the area. I finally got to a good balance of regular referrals, then COVID hit and as the only pharmacist I knew of doing regular medication reviews, I felt a bit lost. 

I reached out to friends from uni over social media to ask questions about what we were supposed to do with our work when COVID first hit. We were all as lost as each other. 

So as my twins were asleep on either side of me, I decided to start the Facebook group Consultant Pharmacists of Australia, to get some help from other pharmacists—hoping they would want to join! 

The next morning I woke up to 150 pending requests, so clearly there were quite a few pharmacists feeling the need to ask questions and interact. The group has continually grown and has over 1000 members today! 

The social media platform has not only allowed me to educate myself and others clinically with ‘teaching Tuesday’ topics, but it also triggered my mind to start asking questions that I couldn’t as yet find answers too.

Such as:

  • How do we measure what we as pharmacists do in medication reviews?
  • Our patients and their healthcare teams are always thanking us for involvement and making changes to better patient care, but can this be measured on a larger scale?
  • How do we maintain integrity and excellence in the reports that are produced?

And so many more. 

These questions then led me to organise accredited pharmacist Zoom sessions and brainstorming nights and got the attention of researchers from Monash Uni, Uni WA and Uni Sydney. Together we have formed a research team called COHERENT which focuses on accredited pharmacists and has multiple topics being investigated currently. 

Other windows and doors have opened too. I’ve been invited to be a part of a research team to write deprescribing guidelines as well as being part of talks to get pharmacists more involved in the healthcare teams that look after some of our most vulnerable patients, those with intellectual disabilities. 

To look back and think how I was so close to leaving such an exciting profession, which is on the cusp of making a real difference to so many people’s lives feels so ludicrous now. 

I am more excited than ever to be a pharmacist, to have these opportunities because I went the extra mile to become accredited. Having the ability to flex my clinical muscles without the worry of a retail setting has allowed for a complete immersion in medication review work. 

Deborah Hawthorne is a consultant pharmacist and GP pharmacist at her Deborah Hawthorne Consultancy.

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