Credentialed in the country


Natasha Downing MPS, who was announced as the PSA SA/NT Pharmacist of the Year at the Annual Therapeutic Update on the 13 April, is a credentialed pharmacist who loves volunteering, kicking a football with her husband and son and playing with their dog Rosie.

Why pharmacy?

I was lucky enough to do some work at our local pharmacy while at school, and loved it so much I wanted to pursue it as a career. It was also a way that I could live in the country, rather than the city. People in country areas often have poorer health outcomes, limited knowledge of medicines and difficulty accessing services. I wanted to help them by  improving their knowledge and supporting them to take their medicines more consistently.

I was never a big fan of living in the city. The country is where my heart is.

How did you end up running your own business?

I needed a way to continue my work in general practice. From discussions with aged care facilities, nursing staff and GPs in and around Jamestown and the Mid North of South Australia, it was evident there was a need for pharmacists to do more consulting, such as providing Home Medicines Reviews (HMRs) and Residential Medication Management Reviews (RMMRs). That helped me come up with the idea for my own brand, Medihelp Consulting, making it easier to promote services to other healthcare providers, and also patients.

Now I service multiple GP practices and aged care facilities in the area, and travel up to 200 kilometres to perform these services. It’s even led to some research opportunities and advising other health professionals around Australia.

What resources helped you develop your career?

I completed PSA’s General Practice Pharmacist Foundation Training course prior to my placement in a GP practice. It outlined the Medicare Benefits Schedule, how it works and how it’s relevant to pharmacists. It also helped me to show our GP principals how a pharmacist, as part of their practice, could be financially viable. Without having completed the course I wouldn’t have been able to justify my role. Most importantly, it gave me ideas on how to develop the role and make it all happen. Priceless really!

I also completed PSA’s Certificate IV in Small Business Management a few years ago. I was able to use the skills I learned in the course when I created Medihelp Consulting. It guided me through all the steps and legalities of setting up a business, which was so very helpful. And now, I’m using it to pursue my main dream – to buy some pharmacies, something I’m in the process of doing now.

How do pharmacists help take the load off rural doctors?

There’s a huge need for medicine-related services in country areas. They complement GP clinics by decreasing the gaps in transitions of care, providing more support for patients in their home or aged care facility, which leads to less hospital admissions. It also frees up other health care providers’ time, saving them from chasing up medicines lists and researching medication-related queries.The research component of my work, I’m hoping, will provide evidence to support these roles. Hopefully, one day, we will see them funded in all rural healthcare networks and general practices.

What are the benefits and challenges of rural pharmacy?

I love the work, as you can really see the benefit it provides to people. It’s the most amazing sense of achievement leaving a farm driveway, knowing you have helped a farmer take his medicines correctly, which may ultimately prevent him from having a stroke or heart attack. Or perhaps helping him with his mental health. Farmers always send you off with a big, friendly wave. The flip side is finding the best way to fund these models. Travel is another challenge in terms of funding and making it all happen timewise. There’s only so many hours in the day.

Advice for budding consultant pharmacists looking to run their own business?

Don’t be scared to give it a go! The rewards are amazing. Consultancy is a very honourable and satisfying place to work. One big tip, find yourself a mentor, they will lead you in the right direction.