Excellence awards for standout pharmacists

PSA excellence awards
The 2022 PSA Excellence Awards winners with PSA National President Dr Fei Sim

The first Aboriginal registered pharmacist, a hard-working mother and two long-standing industry pioneers were among those recognised with excellence awards at PSA22.

Day one of PSA22 brought together the rising – and established – stars of the industry for the annual PSA Excellence Awards.

Among those being presented were Pharmacist of the Year, Early Career Pharmacist (ECP) of the Year and two Lifetime Achievement Awards (see extended interview link below). Each of the awards was sponsored by Symbion.

PSA National President Dr Fei Sim celebrated the winners and their outstanding contributions to pharmacy and their communities. 

‘I congratulate the award winners for their dedication to the pharmacist profession and their commitment to community health and wellbeing,’ she said.

‘Each of this year’s winners has a unique background, from passion for disability care, to a lifetime of service to accessible community health care.’

Leading the charge

The top gong of Pharmacist of the Year went to Wiradjuri woman Associate Professor Faye McMillan AM MP.

Growing up in remote NSW, A/Prof McMillan never expected a career in pharmacy – let alone becoming the first Aboriginal registered pharmacist.

She then worked for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, before a 6-month stint at a community pharmacy in the Tiwi Islands.

She describes this as ‘one of the best things to happen’ and an experience that cemented her desire to work in rural locations. She was also driven to help promote the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within pharmacy and the wider health sector.

This led her to the world of academia, including as a lecturer in Charles Sturt University’s Department of Rural Health, which involved facilitating placements for pharmacists in rural and remote Australia.

A/Prof McMillan has since worked at a number of institutions and will soon take up a position at the University of Technology Sydney.

Among achievements that include receiving a Medal of the Order of Australia (AM) and 2019 NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year, she said it is launching the Leaders in Indigenous Pharmacy Profession Education Network of which she’s most proud.

The group is dedicated to transforming the pharmacist workforce by promoting the inclusion of First Nations’ perspectives in pharmacy education.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in pharmacy make up less than 1%, yet constitute over 3% of the population, A/Prof McMillan pointed out.

‘We’ve got to do better,’ she said. ‘I certainly won’t make a clear and paved pathway for the next generation, but I might be able to get in there with a machete and get the undergrowth out so that it’s easier.’

Early career inspiration

ECP of the Year Deborah Hawthorne MPS knows how to keep busy.

Not only does the Wangaratta-based consultant and general practice pharmacist work part time, she is also mum to preschool-aged twins and proud owner of a two-month-old border collie, along with several chickens.

She’s also studying to be a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), runs a Facebook group for consultant pharmacists, works with telehealth service PharmOnline, is part of a research group that investigates medication review practice, and mentors pharmacists across Australia.

But at one point, Ms Hawthorne was ready to quit pharmacy altogether.

After moving cities and giving birth to the twins, she found her love of pharmacy fading. She considered a career change, and started studying to be a librarian at the University of Melbourne.

‘My plan was to leave pharmacy and become a hospital librarian, coupling being an information manager with a health profession,’ Ms Hawthorne said.

But it wasn’t long before she reconnected with old university friends who encouraged her to return to pharmacy and use her accreditation skills.

Among them was Kim Ching, a pharmacist who runs two GP clinics in Wangaratta. Ms Ching encouraged her to become a GP pharmacist.

‘At that time, I had no idea what this role entailed, but thought “why not?”,’ she said.

‘As a GP pharmacist, I was energised. I had found my thing, my passion, my reason to enjoy a working day.’

When the pandemic hit, Ms Hawthorne created a Facebook group for consultant pharmacists.

‘Once this group was created, the floodgates of opportunity opened,’ she said. ‘[My] roles have allowed me access to incredible pharmacist mentors across Australia. I am inspired by those around me to continually better myself as a pharmacist, while helping others in the process.’

Building a pharmacy empire

Terry White AO and Rhonda White AO have been partners in life and business for more than 60 years. When presented with the PSA Lifetime Achievement Award at PSA22, they shared how they built a successful pharmacy empire.

In her appraisal of her husband’s professional life, Ms White said she was most proud of his inclination to ‘do the right thing’.

‘His biggest challenge was building the [Terry White] pharmacy network and finding the funding for the business,’ she said. ‘Convincing banks that community pharmacy was valuable was no small feat.’

Mr White also doesn’t mince his words when highlighting the impact his wife has had on the industry.

‘Rhonda has always been the heart and the soul of the brand,’ he said. ‘She translated her experience as an organisational psychologist to work in pharmacy. Part of that was knocking down the walls that separated the dispensary from the front – putting the pharmacist front and centre.

‘She really took the corner pharmacy, or the “chemist shop”, as people still call it, and turned it into the modern community pharmacy we know today.’

A passion for pharmacy is something they both clearly observe in the other.

‘I believe Terry has elevated community pharmacists … as highly qualified healthcare professionals who are experts in medicine and community care,’ Ms White said.

‘I think TerryWhite Chemmart has given so many young pharmacists the confidence to enter community pharmacy knowing they’re supported by two lifetimes of getting it right. That’s an important legacy.’

Hear more from 2022 PSA Lifetime Achievement Award winners Terry and Rhonda White here.