Symbion PSA Lifetime Achievement Award: Queen of HMRs

Debbie Rigby
Debbie Rigby FPS

The first woman to win a PSA Lifetime Achievement Award, Debbie Rigby FPS has been many things – mentor, educator, advocate and much more – during her 4-decade career of ‘two halves’.

There was never any question in Debbie Rigby’s mind about career choice. Though encouraged at school to ‘do medicine’, for her it was always pharmacy.

As a school student on the bus in Brisbane, she remembers stopping at an old-school compounding pharmacy, marvelling at its array of vintage apothecary bottles, ‘fascinated by the idea of all these different chemicals’.

And with her father and two brothers in chemistry-related professions, she just had to accept ‘chemistry was in my blood’, she says. After finishing her degree at the University of Queensland, she spent her year of ‘pre-reg’ – now internship – at a Brisbane community pharmacy, supplying prescriptions to residential aged care facilities (RACFs).

While doing the ‘grunt work’ of delivering medicines to aged care she found herself looking at what additional insight a pharmacist could add over and above dispensing.

One ‘light bulb moment’ came shortly after ACE inhibitors became the preferred treatment for hypertension, superseding diuretics and potassium. As ACE inhibitors also increased potassium levels, Ms Rigby suggested to the attendant general practitioner (GP) that perhaps patients shouldn’t remain on regular potassium chloride supplements 3 times a day.

She helped him over his initial shock at advice from a pharmacist by offering him some papers on the subject. During this pre-reg year she met people who were instrumental in ‘setting the tone’ for her pharmacy career.

Consultancy work

Much later, after she’d moved into hospital and geriatric pharmacy, profession stalwart Peter Brand suggested she write a newsletter aimed at registered nurses in RACFs.

‘That really started me on the second half of my career, doing consultancy work, doing medication reviews and other services to aged care facilities.’

The modest description ‘pharmacy consultant’ fails to paint a full picture of the vast scope of Ms Rigby’s accomplishments and her influence on the profession and policy.

Accolades over decades

Undoubtedly one of Australian pharmacy’s highest profile figures, she has seemingly permanent resident status on every professional ‘who’s who’ top list.

The winner of PSA’s Pharmacist of the Year (2001) and PSA Queensland Bowl of Hygeia 2002, a full list of her achievements, appointments and qualifications fills pages.

Ms Rigby has recently completed a marathon 12 years on the NPS MedicineWise board – four consecutive stints of 3 years apiece.

Mentoring and reviews

Though she has these achievements to her credit, Ms Rigby is renowned for being a humble, approachable figure, willing to make the time to answer questions and help in mentoring.

A tireless advocate for the Quality Use of Medicines (QUM) and pharmacists in general practice, Ms Rigby is still more than enthusiastic about the opportunities for increased co-operation between pharmacists and GPs. And what excites her right now is how far HMRs and RMMRs have evolved over the last 20 years.

‘In the last 2–3 years we’ve been seeing roles as GP pharmacists working in a GP practice in a non-dispensing role – which is what I’ve been doing – as well as pharmacists also working in aged care,’ she says.

‘I think those sorts of roles for pharmacists, as part of a team looking at better medicine management, will potentially have a huge impact but also recognise the impact a pharmacist can have in that collaborative environment,’ she says.

Where to from here?

‘There are many more cages to rattle and mountains to climb,’ she says.

Ms Rigby intends to continue as a strong advocate for integrated pharmacist roles and, through her company Pharmeducation, wants to support the ethos of life-long learning.

Fully cognisant of the importance of her being the first female recipient of PSA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, she says ‘it makes the award even more special to me’.

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

The role of pharmacists in immunisation is exciting, especially now we’re faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and the prospect of a vaccine in the not-too-distant future.

The capacity for community pharmacy to roll that out to the population is exciting for the pharmacy profession generally, community pharmacy in particular, and also for the Australian population.

What action in PSA’s Pharmacists in 2023 report is the most important to be realised?

The first one – medicines safety and use of medicine. The words that stand out are taking ‘responsibility’ and ‘quality of medicine’.

The PSA has made great advances in the past few years motivating and challenging the profession, but we need to feel empowered and that goes right back to undergraduate training.

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