Get into advocacy, ownership roles early: Panel

“Too many times I see really good young pharmacists—often women, but not always—working for men owners and they’re actually running the joint. You should just be owning that pharmacy for goodness’ sake,” says Guild leader

Leading community pharmacists from across the country have shared their stories, provided sage advice and encouraged the next generation of the workforce during the Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s recent Student Summit.

The Summit, held this month, provided students, interns and early career pharmacists with insights into community pharmacy careers, leadership and ownership.

Panellist Sarah Hazell, managing partner at the award-winning Flannery’s Pharmacy in Forbes, NSW, shared how crucial the community pharmacist role is in rural and regional areas.

“In my community we’ve got a massive shortage of doctors and in the 20 years that I’ve been working in the pharmacy, this hasn’t at all changed. It’s still an issue,” said Ms Hazell.

“Some patients can wait up to two months to see their GP. And in that instance, the pharmacist, the frontline health worker, becomes the first port of call for all the patient’s healthcare needs.”

However she said that part of rural pharmacy is what can be most rewarding.

“We act as a triage system I suppose. It really gives you a lot of job satisfaction, having that role in the community,” said Ms Hazell.

She encouraged every pharmacy student to do a rural stint, “just to see what the difference and similarities are between rural, regional and metropolitan pharmacies”.

Ms Hazell started working at Flannery’s Pharmacy as a first-year pharmacy student and she’s still working there to this day. “I absolutely love being a pharmacist, there’s no other career for me,” she said.

Fellow regional pharmacist Luke van der Rijt, co-proprietor of the award-winning Southcity Pharmacy, agreed that he is “extremely happy” with his career choice as a pharmacist.

“To be honest, I fell into pharmacy,” he said, which he studied with the idea of eventually going into medicine.

“I still wasn’t sure whether it was for me so I went back and studied journalism at university and did some brief stints for sports channels … which seems like the dream job. Then I figured out that pharmacy was actually fantastic and I ended up doing a full 180 and going back into the industry.

“So I’m probably one of those ones that said ‘pharmacy wasn’t for me’ and tried something else, and it’s not until you leave that you realise what a fantastic profession it is and how lucky we are to be in an industry like this.

“I’ve been mentoring a lot of young people up and coming through the industry, I think the future is really bright for us.”

I think the future is really bright for us.

Catherine Bronger, vice president of the Pharmacy Guild NSW branch, shared with delegates about the opportunities for young pharmacists to get into leadership and advocacy roles.

Winner of the PSA NSW Young Pharmacist of the Year 2015, and most recently being made a PSA Fellow, Ms Bronger said, “Awards are really nice … But I think what’s really important is the advocacy roles for community pharmacy and really shouting from the rooftop how community pharmacy can make a really big difference to the healthcare of all Australians.

“You can’t be in that unless you’re sitting on those boards, unless you put your hand up to be part of those boards.

“What I have always found so interesting when you sit on those boards is how much other healthcare professionals, doctors and politicians … don’t truly understand what we do on a day-to-day basis,” she said.

“What I’ve found is just bringing it back to the patient and the conversations of how we make those interactions everyday, the differences we make in terms of the health outcomes, the economic benefits to those state and federal governments.

“And then one of those things is I think community pharmacy is completely under-remunerated for what we do.”

Ms Bronger also encouraged those listening to break into ownership early.

“Get into ownership early, really early in your career. Too many times I see really good young pharmacists—often women, but not always—working for men owners and they’re actually running the joint. You should just be owning that pharmacy for goodness’ sake,” she said.

“You might have to put your hand in your pocket, but good on you, you’re going to take a risk and you’re going to have a great benefit later on in life. And the sooner you can get established with yourself and have that passive income coming through, the sooner you can take on some of these advocacy roles in your career, if that’s what you want to do.

“So establish yourself, take the risk. You might fall a couple of times but you start running sooner or later.”

Krysti-Lee Rigby, former vice president of PSA NSW branch and manager of pharmacy programs and services at Pharmacy Platform, similarly described her experience of getting into leadership roles.

It was based on the encouragement of others that she decided to throw her hat in the ring for the PSA position.

“If I wasn’t at an APP and having a conversation with other pharmacists, I never would have nominated myself,” she told delegates.

“There was talk that ECPs need to get on these committees and I thought, ‘no way I don’t have enough experience, I’m never going to get it’. But that support from other pharmacists at that APP conference was, no you can do it, let’s do it – and if you don’t get it, who cares?”

Ms Rigby, who was one of AJP‘s ‘rising stars of pharmacy’ in 2017, added: “I don’t believe I’m any better than any of the other ECPs out there.

“They might not be as vocal as me or not as extroverted to go to conferences and things like that and shout how great they are, unlike me, but I really want to point out that the students at this summit – you guys are the rising stars. Not me.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re more introverted or extroverted, you have the potential to make a difference in this industry. And I just want you guys to know that each and every one of you can be a rising star, even if you don’t get the title.”

For those early in their career, mentorship is crucial, the panellists added.

Angus Koerstz from Dubbo, NSW, winner of Intern of the Year 2020, said that during his intern year at Cooleman Court Pharmacy in the ACT, he surrounded himself with people who could support him in his career goals.

“The mentors and preceptors that I had while I was in Canberra were incredible in supporting me to develop to where I am,” he said.

“The best piece of advice I can give is to really try and find a mentor and a preceptor that will give you plenty of support and I think through that you will learn a lot quickly.”

Ms Bronger added: “We need to not just mentor but advocate [for] those young people coming through because they’re going to design our industry in the future.”

Watch the full Student Summit 2021 here

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