Life on the road

Luke (left) and Liam on the road.

Luke Vrankovich, a member of The Roaming Pharmacist and PSA’s WA Early Career Pharmacist of the Year, shares his experience as a full-time locum pharmacist

Luke Vrankovich, 24, took time out of his busy day to sit and chat with us at the APP conference on the Gold Coast.

Born and bred in Carnarvon in Western Australia, about 1000km north of Perth, Luke is one half of The Roaming Pharmacist, a pharmacy collaborative that focuses on mental health, harm minimisation and community engagement (see here for an overview of what they do).

He is currently working at Amcal Carnarvon, then he’s off to locum in Broome in the middle of the year… and then back to Carnarvon again.

Here he tells us about the journey to locuming, the different ways to approach the role, and how he ended up winning PSA’s 2017 WA Early Career Pharmacist of the Year award.

What’s it like being a locum pharmacist?

I love locuming. It’s not for everyone, I can see that now. I spent three months living out of a 15kg suitcase and that was interesting because all I had with me was my footy and my clothes and my music speaker.

And you don’t have your close friends around all the time, so you have to form those really good relationships over social media. So one thing that it’s taught me is to actually communicate via distance with all my friends and family.

Initially what I didn’t like about locuming was that I didn’t really get to get hands on with managing, because I had the idea of eventually owning a pharmacy. But I’ve managed to swing a couple of locum stints where I was actually managing and they ended up being a bit longer.

I tend to take short- to mid-term locum stints, like four to six weeks, so I can get involved in the processes, and then if the owners want I can suggest improvements and things like that.

I went down to Stud Park Amcal Pharmacy in Rowville, Victoria, and Liam and I actually implemented forward dispensing while we were there. So we got the new computer set up and actually semi-changed the role of the pharmacist in that store.

And now the semi-long term four-month locum stint at Amcal Chemist in Carnarvon, I’m the pharmacist-in-charge and manager there. So I’m implementing flu vaccination services, anaemia testing, MedAdvisor, changing the software… so it’s a full-on role.

I chose pharmacy because science was my passion as well as helping people… and to be honest, looking back, the ability to travel was also a factor.

How and why did you get involved in The Roaming Pharmacist?

I’ve known Liam [Murphy, founder of The Roaming Pharmacist] since NAPSA conference in 2011 in Adelaide.

When we met, the idea was in its infancy and we were just chatting about it. Then I moved to Coffs Harbour for my internship and did two-and-a-half years there, with the idea of buying a pharmacy in the end – but it didn’t really work out and it wasn’t the right time in my life to buy in.

When Liam was passing through Coffs Harbour last year, The Roaming Pharmacist was in it’s early stages and we got chatting about the locum lifestyle, so I decided to dive right in. One of my first locum jobs was with in his dad’s store in Melbourne.

The mental health work we’re doing through The Roaming Pharmacist is to advocate for suicide prevention, stigma reduction and awareness in general. At the moment we do this through online means: website, Facebook, Instagram, and through face to face lectures, and Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) courses.

This year I was excited to have the opportunity to run two MHFA courses alongside lectures at the annual NAPSA congress, which was the first time that’s been done.

We’ve started getting some really good engagement. We had some 60-odd thousand people view the one on the emergency contraceptive pill, which was really great.

It’s awesome to watch actually, it’s growing organically.

I’m really passionate about suicide prevention.

It’s probably something I’ll end up doing postgraduate studies in how primary care physicians can help with suicide prevention. But for now it’s mainly just focusing on quality of life alongside mental health and some small techniques we can use.

I feel like a lot of pharmacists can be scared to tackle mental health because it can be time-consuming, and sometimes we just don’t have the time to sit down with patients and really help. And also there’s no real clear streams where we can guide patients down in some states for decent help, unless they’re suicidal then we’ve got some services, but it’s not great. It wears me down a bit in the end, but we’ll get there one day. Even it’s one by one, each patient, that’ll do for now and then we can work on that.

I do like training pharmacists in MHFA because then we can get them a bit more comfortable with actually going out and counselling the patient.

We’re also building an online mental health platform that we can give patients a link to, and they can go and peruse the information in their own time and be custom-guided to go down the path of meditation, breathing techniques or whatever they want to look at.

How do you feel about winning PSA’s 2017 WA Early Career Pharmacist of the Year?

It’s pretty great [to win]. It’s nice to be back home and to be able to contribute again; because I was on the road for so long I wasn’t able to actually get involved with any committees or anything like that. And I jumped straight back onto the [PSA] Early Career Pharmacist Working Group (WA) as the rural representative.

Luke Vrankovich (left) displays his award, with fellow locum pharmacist Liam Murphy. Source: Facebook.

It was nice to get involved now I’m back in one state for more than a couple of months. I’ve got a lot going on with The Roaming Pharmacist, which is part of why I won that award I guess. That was a big driver especially the mental health work we’re doing through The Roaming Pharmacist.

What’s your advice for people who may want to locum?

I think anybody has the ability to locum. At the NAPSA conference somebody raised the question that they have a family and two kids and they’re not able to locum, so how does it apply to them – or they’re not able to get more involved. And my suggestion was that everybody has the ability to locum in every way, shape or form, whether it be even something as simple as a pharmacist swap.

So even for a week or two, if you want to get out of your comfort zone and see something else, you might have to be away from your family for that time but you can actually do a direct pharmacist swap. They’re reasonably uncommon still, but they do happen. It’s a really good way to see how other stores run and to see the country.

Another example is that if your town has a tourist trade, in the downtime you might be able to have a period of unpaid leave and go be a locum somewhere else. The key is to work with your manager/owner to come to an agreement which won’t disrupt the business you are working at too greatly. Don’t be afraid to give it a go.

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