Erin Cooper MPS is PSA’s 2021 Intern of the Year

Erin Cooper MPS is PSA's 2021 Intern of the Year
Erin Cooper MPS is the MIMS PSA 2021 Intern of the Year

While most interns were focused on simply surviving their first year of practice during a pandemic, Erin Cooper MPS found time to give back to her peers.

The start of Ms Cooper’s professional career was quite literally a baptism by fire, as she arrived in Canberra to begin her internship at Capital Chemist Wanniassa just days before the Black Summer bushfires reached the ACT. 

She had come from Orange, about 270 kilometres away in New South Wales, where she worked in a local community pharmacy, attended Charles Sturt University and was President of the National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association (NAPSA).

‘I remember being at my friend’s house on New Year’s Eve. I was starting work the next day and we were sitting outside on the deck, when suddenly we got engulfed in smoke,’ Ms Cooper says of her arrival in Canberra. 

‘I had to hit the ground running from the minute I started. People were coming [into the pharmacy] wanting masks and Ventolin, and we could only have one of the doors open because there was so much smoke coming in.’

And then came the pandemic. The Wanniassa pharmacy team was split into two groups to reduce the risk of infection, and Ms Cooper ended up on the opposite side to her preceptor.

‘That was difficult, but I formed such great connections with everyone else that I felt like I had a whole team of mentors, not just one … I feel quite confident in my role having come
out of that.’

A graduate’s guide

While finding her feet during the first half of her internship, Ms Cooper was also responsible for leading her peers through a time of great uncertainty as NAPSA President.

University campuses were closed and students were worried they wouldn’t be able to do their placement hours and finish their courses. On top of this, they needed to start thinking about life after university.

‘I don’t think you’ll get anywhere if you don’t get involved.’

Before getting her internship in Wanniassa, Ms Cooper tried to gather as much information as possible, but found it hard to keep track of all the different requirements. In a bid to help others, and inspired by a previous NAPSA publication, she decided to create a guide to internships for the graduating class of 2020.

‘When you’re applying for internships, you have an enormous list of things to do and you need to make sure you do them all by the right date. I found it really difficult. My lecturers were super helpful, but even then there were still things that were quite ambiguous,’ she says.

After contacting ‘everyone I could think of who is involved in the intern process’, and many hours of edits, NAPSA’s Intern Guide for 2020 Pharmacy Graduates was born – helping pharmacy students across the country prepare for one of the most important years of
their career.

Pursuing passions

With the pressure of her intern year now behind her, Ms Cooper is currently enjoying life as a community pharmacist and the relationships she has developed with patients. It also leaves her with enough time to indulge in another passion – teaching ballet.

She says her biggest piece of advice for others is to get involved, whether through PSA’s Communities of Specialty Interest, Early Career Pharmacists groups or with NAPSA.

‘If I hadn’t gotten involved I wouldn’t know all the people I do now, my best friends who I met through NAPSA and now live all across Australia, who I still talk to almost daily. I don’t think you’ll get anywhere if you don’t get involved.’ 

What change in pharmacy in the past 2 years were you most excited about?

The expansion in pharmacists’ scope of practice, particularly in vaccinations. I know this varies state by state, but at the beginning of my intern year pharmacists in the
ACT could only administer vaccines for whooping cough and the flu to those over 16 years. Now I can vaccinate anyone over 10 with the flu shot and provide Boostrix, MMR and COVID vaccines in the pharmacy.

What action in PSA’s Pharmacists in 2023 is the most important?

Action 7: Equip the pharmacist workforce through practitioner development to address Australia’s existing and emerging health challenges is important to further the profession. As seen through the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacists can play a huge role. This is reflected through our ever-expanding scope of practice allowing us to provide services not previously available in the pharmacy. 

The PSA Intern of the Year Award is proudly sponsored by MIMS.