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Students in Focus

Community pharmacy helps the medicine go down

Eden Brennan began working at her local pharmacy in Yuin country New South Wales, when she was still in high school. Although she was just 15 at the time, she knew that that was where she belonged, so in 2019, she moved to Canberra to begin a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree at UC.

Flash forward three years, and Eden has been recognised as the 2022 ACT Pharmacy Student of the Year.

She feels honoured by the recognition and couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities that have come from it – including the chance to attend the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s National Conference in July, where she was able to network with other students and professionals from across Australia.

“We have a strong pharmacy community in Australia, so winning the competition was a ticket to get to the conference and be able to showcase my skills in front of all my potential future colleagues and co-workers,” Eden says.

“My lecturers supported me through extra lecturing and training for the National competition, which was awesome; I’m very grateful for their dedication.”

Having already worked in pharmacies – both in her hometown, and in the ACT while studying – Eden has experienced the different challenges and benefits of these settings and, crucially, how to provide excellent care in these situations.

“The thing about small towns is that everybody knows everybody, it's very close and tight-knit. The patients build up a level of trust with the community pharmacists,” Eden says.

“The closest hospital to where I am is an hour away and getting into a GP can be a two-week wait, so in the country, the pharmacies can be the first point of call for quick, reliable health advice.”

When working in a community pharmacy, understanding the unique needs of your community is crucial to tailoring the stock and services to meet their requirements.

“Canberra and Sydney are quite central to all the stock warehouses, so if we order medicine before 2 pm., we'll get it the next morning. People very rarely have to go without,” Eden says.

“If someone in the country comes in needing their pills for the morning and the shelf is empty, the order might not come for days. The next closest pharmacy might be another 20 or 30 minutes away – if you've got farmers who’ve already travelled 30 minutes from their farm to come in, they can't go an extra hour out of their way.”

Eden is nearing the end of her time with UC for now, but she feels confident that her education has prepared her to hit the ground running; she’s excited to take the next step and begin using her learnings to help others.

“With the way UC sets up its pharmacy program, we learn all of the clinical and pharmacology aspects, but we’re also encouraged to talk with the patients, and whenever we’re providing medicine, to also follow up with at least one piece of lifestyle advice,” Eden says.

“Take for example, acid reflux. If someone comes in for something like that, you can absolutely give them a medicine to fix it. But why are they getting it in the first place?

“You can let them know to maybe avoid certain foods or not lie down immediately after eating. That's the sort of lifestyle advice that you should give whenever you hand out a medication.”

Over the last few years, the role of pharmacists have adapted as they work to support their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During COVID-19, pharmacies were essential for continuity of care and so pharmacists have increased our capacity,” Eden says.

“We're doing more and more COVID-19 and flu vaccinations, which is great because we're really well placed to do it — which frees up GPs for people that really need that service.”

Eden feels excited about what the future holds for her; she has the confidence and the ambition to move into any number of the potential pathways that lie ahead and although she is moving interstate — she’s just accepted an internship offer at a community pharmacy in Brisbane — she knows she can always come back to her beloved South Coast home.

“I love community pharmacy and I'm also eager to develop my clinical skills,” Eden says.

“But ultimately in the long term, I will come back to my roots on the coast.”

Words by Kelly White, photos by Tyler Cherry.