How PSA’s NSW Intern of the Year went from farm to pharmacist

PSA NSW Intern of the Year Blake McCallum. (Image: Kristy Smith)

It’s a fair way from the sheep farm in South Australia to working at five pharmacies in outback Broken Hill, New South Wales. Meet Blake McCallum, PSA’s 2022 NSW Intern of the Year.

Why did you choose pharmacy?

I was an all-rounder in high school and always enjoyed the sciences, but also needed a social environment. One day just before I started year 12 my nan told me I should be a ‘chemist’. It struck me as interesting and here I am!

You did your internship in outback New South Wales. What attracted you to working in a regional area?

I grew up in the Southern Flinders Ranges in South Australia, in a town of about 250 people. After university in Adelaide, I wanted to return to a slower pace of life and find a community to be involved in. With a population of approximately 17,000 people, I considered Broken Hill plenty big enough.

There definitely have been some shock factors to living here, including the constant dust storms and dehydrated scenery. But the wonderful community, my incredible co-workers and the great work-life-culture balance has surprised me. I feel like I could be here for quite some time yet.

‘Seriously consider doing some rural work, whether it’s a locum gig or a longer-term position.’

Blake McCallum

Tell us about your intern year?

I found the PSA intern training very flexible which was great for working during these times of the pandemic (outback internet issues notwithstanding!); allowing me to work at my own pace and not feel too much stress as most sessions were online.

My internship was a joint role between community pharmacy group Outback Pharmacies, Broken Hill Base Hospital and Maari Ma Aboriginal Health Corporation.

The sheer variety of working between community pharmacy, the hospital and with the Indigenous Health Service in Wilcannia [about 200 km from Broken Hill] was phenomenal for my worldview, experience and building confidence as a pharmacist. One of my bosses also organised additional education sessions via Zoom with other rural interns in Mt Isa in Queensland and Karratha in Western Australia.

How did you feel winning the NSW Intern Pharmacist of the Year award?

It’s overwhelming to think that ‘little old me’ in Broken Hill was picked out of so many other interns. I tend to live by my family’s motto of ‘getando’ and try my hardest to help people the best I can.

You now work across five pharmacies in Broken Hill. What excites you most about the role?

I get to see a lot of variety, as all the pharmacies run on different models to cater for the community. Depending on the day, I do everything from organising medicines for Royal Flying Doctor Service clinics out of town to supporting local aged care facilities and giving COVID-19 vaccinations.

Is there anything you wish you had known before becoming a pharmacist?

Probably that I’d forget what a chair feels like, or the pure exhaustion of being asked hundreds of questions a day. But the satisfaction of those heart-melting positive interactions and helping people fully make up for it.

What advice would you give to other early career pharmacists?

It might be cliché for me to say, but seriously consider doing some rural work, whether it’s a locum gig or a longer-term position. You’ll get to experience the trust that rural communities have in their local pharmacist. Plus, the experience you’ll get from working in a smaller town, where you’ll likely know most of the other health professionals, will make all the difference to your career. And don’t forget to look after yourself. With the ongoing pandemic and recent flooding on the east coast, it’s more important than ever to remember that, while as pharmacists we’re there to help other people, we also need to take care of ourselves.