Giving back to rural pharmacy

NSW Pharmacist of the Year, founder of PharmOnline and university lecturer – Anna Barwick shows why she’s ‘indispensable’ to her rural community.

What led you to pharmacy and where you are now?

I grew up on my parents’ organic and biodynamic broadacre farm in Peak Hill in central west NSW. They instilled in me a strong work ethic and a focus on giving back to the community. During my schooling at Peak Hill Central, I enjoyed science subjects and helping people. I initially considered physiotherapy or medicine, but as a hands-off person decided to pursue pharmacy after work experience in a community pharmacy in a nearby town.

After a cadetship through the now Life Pharmacy Group, working at Parkes throughout my studies and a few years in community pharmacy – during which I toyed with the thought of ownership – I moved to hospital pharmacy in Tamworth and Armidale when my husband and I relocated to Walcha, where he owns and manages the Australian stock horse breeding stud ‘Cantali’, and also owns Kings Pharmacy.

I am now a pharmacy practice lecturer at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW – inspired by some of my amazing lecturers and mentors. 

What did you learn in rural practice at Life Pharmacy Group that has helped you train pharmacy’s next generation?

Innovation is essential in rural practice. You must assist people with poorer health and less public health support using your connections. It has allowed me to pass on abilities to think holistically about treatment and ensure individualisation of therapy.

I encourage my diverse students to think about what to do when there is a power outage or natural disaster resulting in isolation and interrupted medicine supply. Hand-writing labels for prescriptions, keeping records for payment when the power returns, and sending supplies on the bus run are regular requirements. Critical-thinking and problem-solving skills are highly valued and necessary.

What is unique about being in Walcha?

As a rural pharmacist, you are entirely subsumed into the culture of the area where you work and practice. You volunteer on various committees, participate in events and ensure medicine supply over a long weekend when someone has forgotten to get it (and they knock on your front door!). You have a highly varied and respected essential role. You make life-long connections with people who become patients and friends. There is nothing better!

What is PharmOnline?

PharmOnline is the first pharmacist-led telehealth service in Australia. It allows the public to connect with experienced pharmacists via video link to discuss their medicines, treatment plans and for triage/referral. PharmOnline was developed to address the service gap after hours, particularly in rural and regional areas. It was born out of the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020, when people were unable to access their usual healthcare.

We have an amazing team of pharmacists from Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria who initially volunteered their services (with dozens more we can’t yet accommodate).

Where did you gain your academic qualifications?

I completed my pharmacy degree at Charles Sturt University, Orange, in the first intake of students. Since then, I have completed a Master of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Queensland, through which I am investigating rationalising medicines using N-of-1 trials currently for my part-time PhD. I am also trained to conduct medication reviews, vaccination, mental health first aid and asthma education. I was credentialled as a Stage II Advancing Practice Pharmacist in 2019 and am currently working through a Cert IV in Training and Assessment and a Graduate Certificate in Diabetes Education and Management.

Your ‘rural’ profile on social media and Twitter handle seem fitting.

My Twitter handle is @IndispensablePh as pharmacist advice is indispensable, and my passion is for all things rural and health-related. I hope this award means I can highlight the amazing work pharmacists do, particularly in rural and remote NSW.

DAY IN THE LIFE of Anna Barwick MPS, Lecturer in Pharmacy Practice, University of New England, NSW.

6.00 am – Early emails

Day starts with responding to any emails (set to send at 8:30 am – we need to keep appropriate expectations around work) that have come in since the previous day, and getting my two young children ready to drive the 45 minutes to school/daycare. Feeding animals (mini dachshund dogs, fish, horses and chickens).

9.00 am – Scholarly endeavours

Writing and reading time for my PhD and honours research students. I currently have eight research students: four 3rd-year medicine students and two 4th-year pharmacy students working on discovering patient and practitioner perspectives on telehealth delivery in rural/regional areas; another pharmacy student is investigating domestic and family violence education and referral in community pharmacy; and the remaining student is focusing on pharmacist deprescribing opportunities.

11.00 am – Teleteaching

Holding an online workshop for students or recording topic overviews for students to watch back in their own time, as UNE students predominantly study online. This week we are covering pharmacy legislation and fundamental information gathering skills

1.00 pm – Editor at large

During my lunchbreak, editing podcast episodes for PharmOnline or writing content for the website and social media pages. We are creating content for our Conception to Kindy parents and mothers’ groups, so that they are empowered to identify common conditions and to treat them effectively and safely

1.30 pm – Answering student queries

Uploading content for UNE pharmacy students, responding to posts and emails.

3.00 pm – School run

Pick up children from school and drive home, listening to health or true crime podcasts on the way

5.00 pm – Daily constitutional

Take a half-hour walk around our farm for a mental health break. Start feeding up animals again and including some gardening (watering and weeding).

6.30 pm – Dinner and tutoring

Sit down for family dinner, assist with homework and get children ready for bed.

8.00 pm – Tying up loose ends

Responding to emails, writing up a weekend HMR, hosting an online workshop, or completing training/further education for up to an hour.

Explore new paths at www.psa.org.au/careerpathways