‘I’m loving being a pharmacist right now.’


In our latest Staff Spotlight, we speak with Alicia Martin, community pharmacist at Capital Chemist Wanniassa in the ACT

1. What kind of activities do you do over the course of an average week?

We offer a lot of professional services, so my average week can vary a lot depending on what’s booked in.

I’m in charge of our sleep apnoea service so I’m often answering questions from people about issues they might be having with their CPAP machines or masks, or I discuss symptoms of sleep apnoea with people who think they or their partner might have it and refer them for an at-home sleep test through the pharmacy.

I also administer vaccines, conduct MedsChecks, provide absence from work certificates and conduct various point of care testing like blood pressure readings, blood glucose levels and cholesterol tests.

In general, I spend a lot of time counselling on medications and all sorts of minor ailments, as well as of course, dispensing and checking prescriptions for members of our community. 

2. How would you describe your experience in pharmacy during the Covid-19 pandemic?

It’s certainly been a stressful period in pharmacy world. Initially I encountered a lot of stressed customers who were understandably worried about what was going to happen. We had some extremely busy and stressful weeks at the start of the pandemic when everyone was trying to stock up on medicines or find masks, hand sanitiser and flu shots, which went out of stock really quickly.

We were able to assure people that community pharmacy would not be closing no matter what happened.

I was also scared for my own safety at times because we had several encounters where people with potential COVID-19 symptoms were presenting to the pharmacy to ask us what to do, or people who openly admitted they were supposed to be self-isolating were coming to the pharmacy to get their prescriptions.

We referred a lot of people to the local walk-in testing centre. I was lucky that my employers provided staff with masks, gloves, hand sanitiser, sneeze screens and intense cleaning protocols to try and protect us.

We had to change a lot of processes in the pharmacy and suspend certain services to try to minimise risk of exposure to our staff and our community. This did cause some frustration from customers as processes were changing rapidly to respond to the changing situation, but our team did the best we could to explain the changes.

We also split our staff into two teams so that if someone did test positive it would only force one team to self-isolate and we could remain open just with reduced opening hours.

With no active cases in the ACT and easing of restrictions, this week we are finally re-uniting with the other team who we haven’t seen in months. We’ve resumed all our usual services and things have mostly returned to normal, but we’re aware this pandemic is far from over and prepared to go back to our stricter COVID processes if a second wave does occur.

3. Has your experience in the workforce been different to what you expected as a student?

I would say my experience in the workforce has been similar to what I expected as a student, because I developed really positive expectations as a student, and I’m loving being a pharmacist right now.

Ms Martin was an Executive Director of NAPSA and CASPA President.

I was lucky enough to have had a lot of engagement with various sectors of the profession as a student, through my involvement with the Canberra Student Pharmacy Association (CASPA) and the National Australian Pharmacy Students Association (NAPSA), so I got to see the best parts of the profession while I was still a student. With that knowledge I was able to choose a great pharmacy to work in with pharmacists that have the same values as me.

4. What is your advice for up-and-coming students to get the best out of their internship experience and prepare for the workforce?

My most important piece of advice would be to apply for your internship at places you would really like to work.

Do you know if the culture there is supportive? Do you know any past interns you could ask about their experiences?

Don’t just choose any pharmacy that will take you, make sure that you’ll be valued and supported through your learning. Don’t leave it to the last minute because all the best pharmacies will fill their intern positions early.

If you want to work in hospital pharmacy, get in contact with your local SHPA branch, they’ll probably have events to help students understand how to apply for hospital internships because it can be a long and intimidating process, so the more you know about it the better!

Then once you’ve started your internship, ask lots of questions! Not just of your preceptor but any pharmacists you work with. Try and see everything, use the fact that you’re an intern as an advantage. If you see a strange dose or odd combination of medicines, go and chat with the patient, say “I’m an intern and I haven’t seen this before, do you mind me asking about what it’s being used for?” I found that people were more open with me when I framed questions as something I was trying to learn about.

5. What kind of research have you done so far and what areas are you interested in researching in the future?

I did honours at university and my research focused on pharmacological management of PTSD with a focus on the use of prazosin (originally a blood pressure medicine, now mostly used for benign prostatic hypertrophy) for the treatment of nightmares. I found the evidence for this off-label use extremely interesting and wanted to learn more about its use in practice.

I conducted a systematic review of international treatment guidelines for PTSD to compare recommendations, then I conducted a survey of Australian psychiatrists to assess whether they have prescribed prazosin for PTSD and if they have found it to be effective. Interestingly 86% of psychiatrists had prescribed prazosin for PTSD nightmares, despite a lack of guideline recommendations.

In final year, every student had to undertake a research project for our QUM unit. For this project I investigated gender balance in pharmacy leadership, which was a topic I was extremely interested in and probably have more interest in investigating further in the future. This research was published recently and highlighted a lack of female representation in pharmacy leadership even though women make up the majority of the pharmacy workforce.

I have a strong interest in understanding and highlighting inequalities in society, and I think in the current social climate it’s particularly important to research issues of inequality in pharmacy related to race. Both issues faced by pharmacists of colour as well as differences in health outcomes for patients of colour.

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