There is an old English proverb that says experience is the best teacher. The Pharmacy School at the University of Tasmania has taken this to heart in its efforts to produce the best quality pharmacy graduates possible and arranges clinical placements in a variety of settings for its students around Australia.

Two University of Tasmania Bachelor of Pharmacy students  who are currently completing placements in outback Western Australia recognise the value of providing extensive clinical practice to students. Their nine-week rural placement was with the Western Australia Centre for Rural Health located in Geraldton (four and a half hours drive north of Perth).

Tom Phan and Sophie Xie travelled thousands of kilometres from Tasmania to take part in typical professional experiences of pharmacists living and working in rural communities based in Western Australia (WA)’s Midwest.

The two fourth-year students studying the Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of Tasmania shared their placement time between the Geraldton Hospital, local community pharmacies and the remote community of Mt Magnet – located approximately 350km east of Geraldton. Both students received cultural orientation specifically tailored for understanding and interacting with the Yamatji people in the Midwest.

In addition to regular placement sites, Tom and Sophie also travelled to Yalgoo with two Aboriginal Care Coordinators from the Goldfields Midwest Medicare Local (GMML).

Assistant Professor Miranda Batten, Rural Pharmacy Liaison Officer at the WA Centre for Rural Health, said GMML Coordinators, Beryl and Denielle, mentored Tom and Sophie while they delivered an information session to young Aboriginal women in Yalgoo. The information session was part of the ‘Women on the Move’ project which is run jointly by two Aboriginal agencies in the Midwest, Yullela Aboriginal Corporation and the Midwest Education and Employment Development Aboriginal Corporation.

“This is an excellent opportunity for collaboration between our organisations and, importantly, also offered a practical experience of rural partnership work to the Tasmanian pharmacy students,” Assistant Professor Batten said.

The Yalgoo experience required Tom and Sophie to talk with young Aboriginal women, aged between 16 and 25, about the importance of taking medicines.

“Denielle opened the session and broke the ice with a presentation about her life as an Aboriginal woman in the workforce. She talked about some of the barriers she overcame and how she managed work and family commitments. This really got the girls to connect, open up and get the idea that anything is achievable if you believe in yourself and put in the hard work,” Tom said.

“Sophie and I then used pictures and diagrams to show them how medication can play an important role in keeping them healthy and really tried to explain how important it was that they read the directions on the packaging. We stressed that they should ask their doctor or pharmacist if they had trouble understanding dosages and other information,” Tom said. “I think the girls really appreciated learning what happens to different organs if you don’t take your medicine.”

Tom said the experience gave him a unique insight into the lives of Aboriginal people in remote communities.  It also provided him with the opportunity to adapt his skills to rural practice – something he would not be able to gain in a class room.

For more information about the Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of Tasmania click here.