The career opportunities that come from going bush

rural pharmacy

Breaking barriers and broadening horizons: how rural internships have been the gateway to diverse practice for these four pharmacists.

Interns are inevitably challenged, extended and exposed to a multitude of professional opportunities. But the vital role of interns and pharmacists in rural areas extends further to address healthcare disparities. 

Shaylee Mills accepting the PSA Intern Pharmacist of the Year Award at PSA22

People who live in rural and remote areas are at an increased risk of chronic disease and poorer health outcomes. Challenges accessing healthcare means they are more likely to present at the stage of significant chronic disease progression, rendering them a priority population.

As pharmacists, we are so well positioned to help people before disease really sets in.  

Cristen George MPS, James Oh, Prasin Rodrigues MPS and I (Shaylee Mills MPS) share our first-hand experiences completing PSA’s Intern Training Program (ITP) in rural Australia, shedding light on bridging healthcare gaps and how rural practice has shaped our professional journeys.

Taking the leap into rural pharmacy

Embarking on a rural internship is a significant decision. But for these pharmacists, it was informed by personal experiences and proactive pursuit of rural exposure early in their careers.

‘For my first community pharmacy placement I thought “wouldn’t it be fun to go somewhere I’ve never been before?”’ Mr Oh said.  

Originally from Townsville, Queensland, he felt rural pharmacy could broaden his professional practice, and accepted an intern position with LiveLife Pharmacy in the Whitsunday town of Bowen.

Similarly, Ms George, who is from Sydney, attended her rural placement in Orange New South Wales with a friend, treating it ‘almost like a holiday while still studying’.  

The welcoming environment and work-life balance fostered by the team at Orange Health Service influenced her to return for her intern year.

Growing up in a small country town in Western Australia, I always felt like the next step was to move to the city. 

But halfway through my degree, I heard about unique jobs where pharmacists worked in Aboriginal Health Services (AHS). When fourth year came around, I decided to leap back out there and took an internship in the Kimberley.

After spending most of her childhood growing up in rural towns, Ms Rodrigues opted to do the same. 

‘I would work at the community pharmacy back home in Gunnedah NSW during my university breaks,’ she said. ‘My employer looked after me very well and gave me a lot of opportunities.’

Prasin Rodrigues MPS

Her positive experience working in Gunnedah encouraged her to stay on as an intern and later as a fully registered pharmacist. 

Intern immersion in rural practice 

Rural internships provided a rich and diverse learning environment for these pharmacists, facilitating hands-on experiences and professional growth.  

Ms George’s internship in a rural hospital included vast and varied responsibilities. She was able to move into clinical areas very quickly, including ward work, running the pre-admission clinic, working in mental health areas and assisting the re-evaluation of various policies and procedures. 

At the end of his degree, Mr Oh had the opportunity to get involved in the Queensland prescribing trials by acting as a standardised patient for pharmacist education sessions. Prescribing will have a huge impact in the community he serves by increasing access to healthcare. 

Mr Oh’s involvement has fuelled his passion for advancing pharmacy practice, with his employer tasking him with the implementation of prescribing services in the pharmacy as the trials expand across the state. 

James Oh

A long-standing background in her place of work meant Ms Rodrigues could dive straight into pharmacy projects and learning opportunities. 

‘As part of the ITP, you had to do a healthcare promotion project,’ she said. ‘We were lucky to be involved in a pre-diabetes screening study through the University of Sydney.’

Ms Rodrigues undertook the study training to educate other pharmacists on conducting pre-screening questionnaires, assessing who was eligible for HbA1c testing, and was responsible for the follow-up of patients referred to a GP for further assessment. 

She was also involved in the provision of pharmacy services at the local aged care facility, assisting pharmacists in preparing Home Medicines Review (HMR) and Residential Medication Management Review reports. She also conducted presentations about various medicine topics for the facility staff. This experience influenced her to become an HMR credentialed pharmacist the following year. 

Where are they now?

If these pharmacists’ experience is anything to go by, rural internships pave the way for diverse career trajectories.  

Cristen George MPS

Now back in Sydney, Ms George is working at one of the city’s busiest hospitals, St Vincents, after publishing a research paper and learning policy writing during her internship.

‘The job opportunities I received were largely due to getting so much experience in certain areas that other interns may not have,’ she said. 

Still in his intern year, Mr Oh continues to thrive in his position.

‘I’ve never worked in a place with so many people there to help you, it’s so nice,’ he said. 

Ms Rodrigues acknowledges the adaptability fostered by rural practice, especially when working as a regional pharmacist in Tamworth Hospital in NSW, with the hospital’s pharmacy department also servicing 13 other hospitals in the catchment area.  

Now based in Sydney working at one of the major hospitals, she may return to rural life later in her career.

Meanwhile, my passion for rural pharmacy has continued to flourish in a role at the Pharmacy 777 group in Karratha WA. 

I’m particularly grateful for the opportunity to work onsite at the local AHS, which allows me to experience such diverse aspects of pharmacy practice. 

While challenging, Ms Rodrigues encourages pharmacists to remain open to rural opportunities. 

‘There were opportunities that I could have turned down because it was hard, but I did it anyway,’ she said. ‘Without that experience, other opportunities wouldn’t have followed.’ 

Shaylee Mills currently champions the importance of rural pharmacy passion through ‘Pharmacists Out Bush’, on Instagram @pharmacistsoutbush and TikTok @heyitsshay__.