The HIV specialist

Bruce Hamish Bowden, Senior Pharmacist at The Albion Centre, NSW.

A needle phobic who wanted a career in health, Bruce Hamish Bowden MPS found his niche at The Albion Centre in Sydney, a multidisciplinary centre specialising in HIV management.

Why study pharmacy? 

From early on, I had three loves: animals, science, and music. When it came to deciding on study after school I was torn between the University of Queensland and the Conservatorium of Music. My father wisely steered me towards the university to pursue a career in health, but my phobia of needles ruled out veterinary science, medicine, nursing, and dentistry … so pharmacy was my choice. 

During my university years, and subsequently my registration year, I was fortunate to work under the guidance of Gary Lambrides, who was Vice-President of PSA’s Queensland Branch Committe at the time. He taught me the foundations and ethics of what a pharmacist not just should be, but what a pharmacist could be. 

How did you find yourself as Senior Pharmacist at The Albion Centre? 

I spent many years working as a community pharmacist in a variety of roles around Australia and overseas and was involved in the initial trial of community pharmacy dispensing of HIV medicines way back in 2002/2003. In 2015, I began working at Albion and realised I had found my niche, working in public health not just for, but with the LGTBQI+ community and for all PLHIV (People Living with HIV). 

I wanted and needed to be an expert for my community and studied hard. I am extremely proud to be certified as a specialist HIV Pharmacist™ by the American Academy of HIV Medicine. 

My role at Albion is both challenging and highly rewarding and I feel privileged to be part of a multidisciplinary team that provides first-class specialist services in HIV, hepatitis, sexual health, and trans and gender-diverse healthcare. Knowing I have made a difference in our clients’ journeys with their diagnoses, ongoing treatment and improving their quality of life is an amazing reward. 

Tell us about your role with the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) COVID-19 committee? 

I was very proud to be invited to be a pharmacist representative on the ASHM Taskforce on (blood borne viruses) BBVs, Sexual Health and COVID-19. The committee provided guidance to the BBV health workforce, sector partners and affected communities from early in the pandemic. It was an evolving space with conflicting information and guidance at times. I was involved in educating pharmacists and nurses through HIPNET (HIV/ID Pharmacists and Nurses Education Team), advising Albion clients, and worked with PLHIV community groups which hosted events that provided a space for community members to ask questions on all things COVID-19, the vaccines and HIV. 

What plans are afoot to keep safe at-risk people during World Pride in February? 

Sydney is hosting World Pride in Feb/March 2023 and it is expected that up to 500,000 overseas guests will visit Australia. Albion is proactively encouraging all those who may be at risk for mpox to receive the Jynneos vaccine (see cover feature, p16), and also to have sexual health screens and ensure they have adequate supplies of HIV medications or HIV PrEP in the lead-up to World Pride. 

Any advice for ECPs considering a sexual health specialisation? 

With community, hospital, research, industry/pharma etc, there are increasingly areas where we can specialise. The sexual health sector is an exciting area which will continue to offer opportunities for those passionate about making a difference in people’s lives. But there are not many specialised roles for pharmacists to work in sexual health or within the blood-borne virus sector. 

Most pharmacists who do, work in public health either at a Sexual Health Service like myself, or in public hospitals – the traditional places where PLHIV have collected their antiretrovirals (ARVs). More PLHIV collect medicines from community pharmacy, so it is important that all pharmacists are aware of treatments available, and importantly, the complexity of interactions that occur with many other medicines, prescribed or otherwise, vitamins, supplements and herbs, and also recreational drugs. 

A Day in the Life of Bruce Hamish Bowden, Senior Pharmacist at The Albion Centre, NSW.

8:30am Getting started 

Coffee x 2 at this point (first at 7 am). Email triage. Prepare for and attend meetings with Albion colleagues, working groups, pharmacy colleagues developing policy to improve pharmacy services across the local health district.

11am Review and procurement 

Clinic time – dispensing, counselling clients on their medicines, obtaining best possible medicine histories and conducting medication reviews. Then, procurement needs from wholesalers, including facilitating supply through special access programs that support PLHIV who otherwise would be unable to access medicines.

2pm Mid-way head clearing 

A quick walk around the block, some fresh air, a sandwich – plus more caffeine to get through the rest of the day.

2:30pm Clinic time 

On this day it involves counselling a client about their antiretroviral (ARV) medicine and concerns about passing the virus on to their partner. I explain to the client about U=U (Undetectable equals Untransmittable) and continue to monitor the client’s adherence. 

With this knowledge, the client’s medicine pick-up rate improves drastically, and they have remained undetectable. I prepare for an educational event for HIPNET, a PLHIV peer group, or similar.

6pm After work and planning 

I head to the pool to swim that black line for an hour or so. I find it is great for both physical and mental health. I head home clear headed, and with a plan of how I am going to tackle tomorrow.