‘Don’t be afraid to speak up and stand out.’

AJP speaks with 2020 Early Career Pharmacist of the Year Samuel Keitaanpaa about pharmacist life in the Northern Territory and survival tips for other ECPs

Last month, Sam Keitaanpaa was named Early Career Pharmacist of the Year in the PSA Symbion Excellence Awards for 2020. Born and bred in the Northern Territory, Sam is the first pharmacist from there to receive the award.

Sam was also Pharmacy Student of the Year 2012 (NT) and is the current PSA SA/NT branch vice president. He has been working in community pharmacy in the territory for the past five years, however he completed his intern year at Launceston General Hospital in Tasmania.

Sam is also currently completing a PhD around QUM of smoking medication supply to Indigenous Australians. “It’s been a bit of a juggle, it’s been pretty fun trying to wear a lot of different hats. I’m passionate about all these areas so I try to do everything at once,” he said. Here we ask him more about life as a pharmacist in the NT.

1. How would you compare your experience in the Northern Territory with Tasmania—is there a difference in how pharmacy is practised and the demographics?

There is and that’s sort of the reason I went down to Tassie, because I’ve lived my whole life in the Northern Territory I’m familiar with the issues that we’ve got up here. So I wanted to see the other side of that.

If you think about hot, tropical, wide-open-spaces NT, then small, cold Tasmania is the opposite. Definitely the NT has some unique issues with our geographical distance and our high proportion of remote-living patients who face unique challenges and the way that our pharmacy system operates to meet those challenges.

Even just small things like not being able to get stuff from warehouses same day, or on a Monday because no one’s flying them up from Adelaide, that impacts on how you design and deliver services.

It’s challenging, I’d say pharmacy in the NT is one of the most challenging jurisdictions to do it in Australia, but for me those challenges are where the opportunities are because any improvement you can make has massive impact.

2. Are there some specific areas that you think need to change with the pharmacy system in NT, or in general across the country?

NT has incredible issues because it doesn’t have a pharmacy school so we’re now completely self reliant on essentially bringing pharmacists into the NT within the remote areas. We have issues with that in remote Victoria, let alone trying to get them to come to the NT.

Because of the financial strains on our profession it also means that the owners and operators can’t necessarily pay the highest of wages to attract people, and that puts us too far behind the eight ball in terms of being able to get new services and new revenue streams going.

There’s a massive amount of work that needs to get that off the ground.

For me the main area that I think for improvement is having a look at what previous types of models aren’t fit for purpose anymore. One of the things that the NT is a really good example of is how you can’t apply one plan to 60 different communities, it doesn’t work because each of those areas has its own specific needs.

We can’t just invent one big game-changing idea and hope it flows through. I don’t think that’s going to work here and I don’t think that that’s necessarily going to work in a lot of other areas of Australia as well. We really need to get to grassroots and look at all those individual relationships, I think that’s how we’re going to see a lot of improved health outcomes around medicines safety.

3. What areas of pharmacy are you most passionate about?

My passion has always been looking for groups of people who are not necessarily receiving the level of care that they need. I’m exceptionally passionate about programs like the opioid pharmacotherapy program, making sure that they’re delivered in the safest, most effective way that promotes the role of the pharmacist, I try to do a lot around harm minimisation areas in general.

Very recently I’ve started to look a lot around groups of people who are recently engaging with the health system in Australia, so recent migrants and refugees, and about their level of health literacy and how they engage with pharmacy because I get the feeling a lot of them see pharmacy as a supply system whereas they don’t realise the amount that we can be involved. I think a lot of pharmacists might not be aware of some of the very small opportunities to get major returns.

A two-minute conversation or doing an A4 leaflet in a local language by working with the community group there could greatly increase the safety of medicines in the community.

4. As the ECP of the Year, what are your top survival tips and career tips for other ECPs and pharmacy students?

Aside from that it’s perfectly fine to feel like you’re going insane, I feel like that sometimes, to me the best advice – I shamelessly steal this off Jacinta Johnson who won a couple of years ago when we presented on a panel – she said, one of the most important things is to first and foremost be a good pharmacist. You need to really be able to have your own views on medicines that are backed by evidence and feel confident in yourself as a health professional in making those decisions.

The second is, people should be encouraged to not be afraid to speak up and stand out. If people are willing to just give it a go, find one person, one community group, one disease – something that you think needs to be fixed, and then just work on trying to improve that. If it’s one patient, great. If you find a small group of people, and you can do a little bit of education, a little bit of a program, fantastic.

Keep notes on what you’re doing and do it in a formal way. If you could imagine, we have 30,000 pharmacists in Australia, let’s say half of them decided to do one thing in 2021 to improve patient life, and they made a record of that.

All of a sudden we’ve got 15,000 case studies or 15,000 journal articles to show the value of pharmacists. Once we start showcasing the good that we do, then others who sign deals and give us funding start to see our benefit.

For the non-ECPs—don’t be afraid to be interested in what the ECPs are doing and offer your help where possible. We all just need a little bit of a helping hand, and a little bit of encouragement, and then we’ll go forward and change the world.

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