Rheanna Norris is a Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours) student and president of the Queensland Pharmacy Students’ Association.
Here, she shares her experience of studying pharmacy at The University of Queensland.
What does a day in the life of a pharmacy student look like? Do you have classes on campus?
As you progress through the Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours) program, your days change day to day. I found that during my first year of study I was based mainly at St. Lucia, and now as a third-year student, most of my time is spent at PACE (Pharmacy Australia Centre of Excellence).
Pharmacy students have a unique opportunity to work within the profession early on in their degree to strengthen their employability and complement their learning. This means a day in the life of a pharmacy student often entails finding a balance between study and work commitments.
I have found my experience while studying at UQ to be incredibly rewarding; however, it’s important to look after yourself (something I can forget to do at times!). Taking breaks and focusing on self-care are great ways to maintain balance during your degree.
Why did you decide to study pharmacy at UQ?
As someone with two special-needs brothers, a career in healthcare was something I wanted to pursue from an early age. I had always wanted to help and further advocate for the healthcare needs of others and found that pharmacy was a great balance between clinical knowledge and patient-centred care. Pharmacists are the medication experts, often bridging the gap to optimise a patient’s care, listening to their needs whilst advocating for the safe and judicious use of medicines.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacists are needed now more than ever. Pharmacy is a constantly evolving profession, and my aspiration as a future pharmacist is to continue to advocate for these advancements to better support my patients and the wider community.
What has been your favourite course to date?
I’ve really enjoyed both the Quality Use of Medicines (QUM) and Drug Discovery courses each semester. I’ve found learning about the optimal use of medications, with particular focus on different systems (cardiovascular, renal, etc.) to be fascinating. If you know the structure, pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics of a medicine, you can often figure out why a medicine acts a certain way in the body.
Is there a lot of research involved in studying pharmacy?
In the final year of the program, UQ pharmacy students have the opportunity to do a major in Clinical and Experimental Therapeutics. The program allows students to undertake a research project under the guidance of an experienced researcher and work either in a lab setting or in the pharmacy industry field.
There is also the opportunity to do a supervised research placement that promotes the ideals and principles of the Quality Use of Medicines (QUM). These sites may be in all areas of pharmacy practice (hospital, community), pharmaceutical industry, and academia.
You can also choose to do a summer or winter research project before your final year of study. This is a great way to get experience early and network with academics in the field.
Studying pharmacy at UQ involves hands-on laboratory experience.
What are the exams or assessments like?
The UQ pharmacy program can be tough at times. There is a stronger focus on exams as opposed to assignments, particularly at the end of semester. If you manage your study well, keep up to date with your personal medicine’s formulary and ask for help if you need it, the degree is a rewarding challenge!
What is your ultimate career aspiration?
There are many aspects of the pharmacy profession that appeal to me. I love being in the hospital setting and aspire to work as a clinical hospital pharmacist. Through my work as president of the Queensland Pharmacy Students’ Association (QPSA), I have been provided with an invaluable opportunity to be involved in the expanding pharmacy industry. I would love to further advocate for the pharmacy profession as an early-career pharmacist and beyond, as I believe pharmacists are still undervalued in the healthcare setting.
What can new pharmacy students do to prepare before starting university?
UQ, The School of Pharmacy and The Queensland Pharmacy Students’ Association (QPSA) work hard to make sure new pharmacy students are supported when transitioning into the program. Orientation Week is a great way to meet both future allied health professionals and students in your pharmacy cohort. My recommendation is to attend these sessions, meet your course coordinators, head of school and pharmacy staff who will provide you with invaluable support during your degree.
Joining QPSA is another great way to network and volunteer outside the degree, and you receive some great discounts on placement shirts, an annual perks card, and lifelong friendships.
What pharmacy student jobs will you be looking for after you graduate?
As I head into 4th year in 2022, my focus will be on applying for an internship as part of my pharmacist registration requirements. My goal is to do an internship in a hospital setting, as the fast-paced environment and constant challenges really appeal to me.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about working in pharmacy?
One of the biggest misconceptions in pharmacy is the limit of scope a pharmacist has, mainly that we just stick labels on medications.
There are so many unique and growing facets to the pharmacy industry. Some of these include:
clinical trials officer
There is an increasing amount of employment flexibility in the industry, complemented by the continuing growth of scope of practice pharmacists have. There is also the opportunity to specialise depending on your field of interest (oncology, mental health, etc.). So, it’s up to you how you’d like to shape your career as a pharmacist.
What do you find exciting about a career in pharmacy?
Pharmacy is constantly evolving and changing – it’s not just community or hospital pharmacy anymore.
Fundamentally, I love talking to patients, enabling them to advocate for their healthcare needs and improving health literacy. This is something I want to continue regardless of where my future career in pharmacy takes me.
What’s most surprised you about studying at university compared to school?
A surprising aspect about university as opposed to school is the flexibility life at university offers you. Classes are not your typical all-day, 5 days a week; you get to choose your courses, workload and interests.
You also meet more like-minded individuals studying the same degree, who may become your lifelong friends. There is also the opportunity to join and become involved in hundreds of clubs and societies, where you can strengthen skills and feel a great sense of community.
The opportunities at university are endless and always expanding. You just need to take a leap of faith and step outside your comfort zone.
What’s it like studying at the Pharmacy Australia Centre of Excellence (PACE)?
UQ pharmacy students study much of their degree at PACE, with dedicated facilities to the pharmacy profession, including:
the Health Sciences Library
counselling and dispensing rooms.
"PACE has become my second home over the duration of my degree, and I have come to appreciate the dedicated spaces – particularly the Health Sciences Library – built to strengthen and support my learning."