Shefali Parekh: the student’s perspective

Shefali Parekh.
Shefali Parekh.

This is the second of a series in which AJP meets some Early Career Pharmacists

Shefali Parekh is the current president of National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association (NAPSA)

What can early career pharmacists offer the profession in general? And to a pharmacy in which they work (including a hospital pharmacy) in particular?

Early Career Pharmacists (ECPs) are crucial stakeholders in the Australian pharmacy sector and therefore have a lot to offer the profession. For example, ECPs as the recent graduates that they are, can often apply more up-to-date clinical knowledge than the older generation of pharmacists. Technological advances means ECP’s can utilise electronic resources efficiently particularly in hospitals where electronic prescribing and medicines charts are installed. ECP’s are just starting out in their careers so they are full of enthusiasm, which is inspiring for their preceptors and mentors to become equally energised from. ECP’s can offer new and innovative ideas to the profession in terms of how to make it better for them in the future.

In terms of careers, do you think that your peers are (as a group) having their expectations met? What can be done to improve this?

I think generally, the needs of ECP’s in relation to professional development, practice support and advocacy are being met by professional organisations. The expectation however of job satisfaction amongst students in particular is lacking. I believe this is a reflection of the negative connotations the older generation of pharmacists tend to make towards the profession, in particular the community pharmacy sector; and this is often seen via social media channels such as Facebook.

In terms of career options after graduation, students are only exposed to community and hospital pathways in University. In saying this, some universities do not even provide hospital placements within their curriculum.

The National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association (NAPSA) and the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia (SHPA) issued a joint position statement last year regarding the need for compulsory hospital placements in all Universities across Australia; which can be found here: Other career options such as industry are not introduced to students at a University level and even upon graduation it is up to ECP’s to navigate their own way around the various job/role options available to them.

To improve this therefore, more exposure to what a Pharmacy degree can lead to aside from community and hospital, is extremely important in Universities.

Is enough done by pharmacy as a whole to highlight and advance the role of ECPs?

I think professional bodies are doing good work to highlight the role of ECPs. More leadership opportunities are becoming available such as the PSA ECP national and state working groups. There is also recognition of outstanding ECP’s, like Pharmacy Student of The Year and Intern of the Year awards.

I think more needs to be done however to advance the role of ECP’s, and this starts with addressing some of the issues that they face. For example, lack of career advancement opportunities and poor salary have consistently been major issues as identified by the National Pharmacy Student Survey. As a consequence, we see many young graduates leaving the profession.

What is NAPSA working on to promote and advance the role of ECPs? 

NAPSA strives to promote and advance the role of ECPs especially our members (students and interns). We realise students are the future of pharmacy so we advocate for them as much as we can to ensure a viable outcome. One way we have done this, this term is by being active in responding to current issues. For example, NAPSA responded to the conclusion of the Advanced Practice Credentialing Framework and thus far, have been working closely with other industry bodies to ensure it improves and continues.

This way, ECPs can be assured that they can advance and specialise in their careers in the future.  NAPSA also strongly believe in the need for mental health first aid education at all Universities, with completion of a nationally recognised mental health first aid qualification as a minimum standard to be registered as a pharmacist in Australia.

The purpose of which is for all ECPs to be adequately trained to have these often difficult conversations with our patients confidently so that hopefully the perception of community pharmacy can transform from being a retail shop to a holistic health destination. For more detailed information on what NAPSA has been working on during their current term, visit the News section of our website.

What are some innovative career pathways people can be looking at within pharmacy? 

If ECPs turned their blinkers off, they would see and realise that a Pharmacy degree can literally take you anywhere. I am often told that the job I will end up working in has not even been invented yet. This means that the power is with us to create a career pathway of our own that is innovative and can lead to job satisfaction.

I also believe that one person will not work in the same role or area of work forever. ECPs are the generation of change and growth. We cannot tolerate being stuck in one place for too long because we get bored easily. So the ability to adapt and be flexible is important.

A Bachelor of Pharmacy is only the beginning and there are so many innovative careers you could end up in within pharmacy. You could start off in community pharmacy and end up in drug policy making. You could work as a consultant pharmacist, a drug representative for a pharmaceutical company, a researcher, a lecturer, anything!

There is something for everyone’s passion if you just branch out and look.

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  1. Deirdre Criddle

    Roles as clinical educators – beyond the medicines eg; with NPSMedicinewise as a Clinical Service Specialists… in an Aboriginal Medical Services where we can develop and work with patients and Aboriginal Health Workers to lead culturally appropriate medication management strategies aimed at improving the health outcomes of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients… in the Primary Health Networks as advisors on medicines and medication management strategies to ensure sustainability and a focus on the quality use of medicines in developing important services (not just focus on “access to medicines), advisors in Antimicrobial Stewardship, not only in hospitals but in the community within practices and in regional areas, as Journalists in pharmacy, health, medical or lifestyle publications (yes – we make great writers too!!) … as researchers and educators in Academia – but not confined to Pharmacy Schools – think Nursing, Medicine, Interdisciplinary Pharmacists working across Care Transitions.. as Pharmacists working as complex care coordinators within interdisciplinary teams,.. as independent Accredited Pharmacists conducting Home Medicines Reviews and Residential Medication Management Reviews, working in the Pharmaceutical Industry as a Clinical Trials Specialists… or working in Drug Information for Pharmaceutical Industry, or advisors to private Health Funds, or private hospitals, or health policy officers in government or roles in not-for-profit health industries…(Cancer Foundation, Heart Foundation, Diabetes Australia, Alzheimhers Australia… as Pharmacists in GP Practices, as Pharmacists in mental health community clinics, as Pharmacists in hospital outpatient Pharmacists in Drug and Alcohol Clinics…… Dare to Dream, and Dare to Do! I agree Shefali, a Pharmacy degree can literally take you anywhere!

  2. Debbie Rigby

    Totally agree with Deirdre’s comments about the diverse roles pharmacists can play now and to the future. I think one of the essential attributes for pharmacists who want different career paths is courage. We know our knowledge base and therefore where we can add value and help people with their medicines and health. ECPs need to understand and acknowledge they are at the START of their knowledge acquisition, and wisdom only comes through experience and life-long learning. If you think you know everything now, it’s time to retire because you will become quickly out of date. ECPs also need to build resilience. Strengths are built in capacities for certain thoughts, feelings and behaviours. When you play to your strengths, you are more likely to feel more energetic and perform better than when you are trying to use a capacity or skill that comes less naturally. Never forget your passion about making a positive difference to the profession and to the community. Take no notice of ignorance, vested interests and severe knowledge-deficiency. Be a pharmacist with grit and grace.

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