Hospital pharmacists go bush


Heart of Australia truck

Two chemists are ditching city life for a week-long stint in regional Australia

When I call Michelle Cassumbhoy and Alana Donaldson, they’re leaving Dalby and making their way to Goondiwindi, a rural Queensland town that sits on the New South Wales border.

It will be one of their first major stops on a road trip across regional Queensland as members of the Heart of Australia mobile cardiac clinic team.

While Heart of Australia makes fortnightly trips to provide specialist clinical advice and treatment to regional, rural and remote area communities across Queensland, this week is the project’s inaugural ‘Pharmacy Week’.

Michelle and Alana are both staff members at Slade Pharmacy, which is a part of Epworth Richmond Hospital in Melbourne.

They signed up to join the Heart of Australia mobile cardiac clinic on wheels after Michelle read about the founder in a magazine article.

“I read an article where they interviewed cardiologist and Heart of Australia founder [Dr Rolf Gomes]. He said there might be room for a pharmacist on the team. So I called him directly and told him I was interested and we took it from there,” she told AJP.

Michelle then brought colleague Alana into the mix, a recent Master of Public Health graduate who is keen to explore health literacy in rural and remote areas.

They’ll be setting up a pharmacist station on the truck (which serves as their ‘clinic on wheels’) where they will be taking patients, and as hospital pharmacists they will be providing a service that many rural residents may have difficulty accessing.

“Rural hospitals mostly do have pharmacists, however it is not always easy to lure city trained pharmacists to the country and in general they are in lower numbers compared with metropolitan hospitals,” says Michelle.

“We’re going to meet up with patients after their cardiology session to talk about their medicines – not just cardiology medicines but their medicines in general.

“We don’t really know what to expect, but we’re hoping they will come onto the truck and have a chat, give them some patient materials too.

“Sometimes it can take people a three-hour drive to see a doctor. The main point is accessibility, in rural areas there’s not as much of it. We’re trying to bring metropolitan services to rural areas,” she says.

Alana agrees that it is not easy for people to see a doctor or pharmacist in regional Australia.

“Most small towns would have one pharmacy but most people would have to drive there to see the pharmacist.

“So I’m looking at the scope for pharmacists [in these areas]. We’re only here for one week, so we want to get local pharmacists on board as well,” she says.

For these city professionals it will be an eye-opening experience, and Michelle says she can’t wait to meet the locals and learn more about them.

“I’m looking forward to meeting the patients and hearing their stories – to hear about what rural life is really like.”

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