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» RURAL PHARMACY
At the end of January I made the trip to the steamy, but vibrant city
of Townsville, to attend the National Australian Pharmacy Student
Association (NAPSA) Congress at James Cook University.
NAPSA Congress, held each January,
at a different pharmacy school, is an
impressive event. The hosting students
organise six days of activity, packed with
inspiring speakers, education and social
events for 350 students from 18 different
I was representing the Rural Pharmacist
Support Network (Pharmacists at
University Departments of Rural Health),
who were invited by the students to
be present at the Trade Exhibit, to talk
about rural clinical placements and
rural work opportunities. My colleague
from Mt Isa and I were swamped with
students asking us how they could
‘go rural’ and how they could organise
longer and more frequent clinical
placements. Many expressed some
dissatisfaction with the way their
universities organised placements,
stating that their placement experiences
were inadequate, and some stating that
their pharmacy schools never gave the
opportunity for a rural placement.
Students understand that they learn
more on placement than in the
classroom. Keen to improve their skills,
develop a comprehensive resume and
a competitive edge in the marketplace,
many students are now competing for
places in long rural clinical placement
programs being offered by some
University Departments of Rural Health
(UDRHs). Many students, especially
from universities which do not organise
rural placements, enquired about the
possibility of undertaking placements at
UDRHs during their vacation breaks.
Rural placements are important as part
of a strategy to increase recruitment
and retention of health professionals to
, but more than that they are
important opportunities to learn a diverse
range of health skills. To be successful,
rural placements need to be accessible,
well-coordinated and well supported.
A well supported rural placement is one in
which dislocation and cost is minimised,
instructional content is maximised and
the student has positive experiences.
Students arrive on placement filled with
anxiety, many having left home for the
first time, with no income and unsure
of their own ability to perform in the
workplace. It is extremely important that
they are well supported and mentored.
At last year’s Royal Pharmaceutical
Society conference chief of NHS
England, Keith Ridge, called for
pharmacist education reform with
more integrated clinical training and ‘an
education system that brings clinical
practice alongside workplace training.’
Some education reform is occurring
in UK and US pharmacy schools and
they are moving to five year courses
which integrate more clinical training.
Many medical schools in Australia
and worldwide include 12 months of
‘longitudinal clerkships’ (long structured
clinical placements) within their degree.
In Australia, The University Departments of
Rural Health and rural clinical schools are
valued by medical schools and entrusted
to organise and facilitate 12 months of
clinical training for medical students.
This begs the question, why is the same
not true for allied health and pharmacy?
Students seek more clinical
BY LINDY SWAIN MPS
Later this year University Departments
of Rural Health are to receive significant
funding from the Commonwealth
Government to double the number of
student weeks of clinical placement
they facilitate for allied health, including
pharmacy. This offers an opportunity
for pharmacy schools to partner
with University Departments of Rural
Health and to shift training from the
classroom to the community. We need
to be training pharmacists who are
community clinicians, not scientists.
Clinical knowledge is of no benefit
unless pharmacists learn to engage
their clients in decision making,
goal setting and self- management.
Communication skills and clinical
reflection need to be taught in the
clinical setting. The opportunities
for broad, diverse clinical placement
for pharmacy students are immense.
Students could be placed in settings
which include aged care, mental health
teams, dementia outreach, diabetes
clinics, Aboriginal Health Services,
drug and alcohol units, and GP clinics,
as well as in community and hospital
pharmacy. Pharmacy schools need to
adjust curricula to include ‘longitudinal
clerkships.’ With students asking for
more clinical placements and rural
experiences there are opportunities
for progressive universities to create
a pharmacy curricula with a point of
difference. Change in our industry
needs to be driven by innovative
I am most fortunate to work with
students. They are inspiring, motivated
and free thinking. We need to listen and
respond to their requirements and their
vision for our industry’s future.
1. Dalton L, Routley G, Peek K. Rural placements in Tasmania:
do experiential placements and background influence
undergraduate health science student ’s attitudes toward
rural practice? Rural and Remote Health, 2008;2008:962.
2. National Rural Health Alliance. A Quality Rural Placement
System for Health Students. 2004. At: http://ruralhealth.
Lindy Swain is Senior Lecturer, Allied Health and
Pharmacy, University Centre for Rural Health, School
of Public Health, University of Sydney. Opinions
expressed in this column are not necessarily those of
the Pharmaceutical Society, its Board or staff.
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