The UQ Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours) is one of Australia’s most comprehensive and well-respected pharmacy degrees, both domestically and internationally, and offers intensive pharmacy placements so students can get fully prepared for their career in pharmacy. Here, a current UQ Pharmacy student talks about the community placement experience.
I have had three blocks of placements (over the course of the past three years) while undertaking the Bachelor of Pharmacy, and I have learnt many different things from each experience. I hope that this post helps anyone thinking about studying pharmacy to have a slight insight into the degree, and helps those already enrolled in the program to prepare for their first placement.
Study at UQ Pharmacy School
As a first-year pharmacy student, I wasn’t quite sure why we needed to do a community placement in the first place. Since then the answers have become quite obvious. Community placement gave me an insight into the operations and running of a small business and got me familiar with the daily practices of a pharmacy. This was particularly helpful as it was segmented throughout my degree and in plenty of time for my final intern year (which all students must complete after graduation). The experience also helped me to plan my study more effectively and assisted me in making career decisions, e.g., whether to be a community or hospital pharmacist. After my very positive placement experiences in community pharmacies, I have now decided to pursue this career avenue.
How to prepare for your first placement?
When on placement, you must be aware and switched on at all times. An attendance sheet must be signed by your preceptor (supervisor) after each placement, so it is important to try to impress them with your professionalism and pharmacy knowledge. You will be taking notes on every patient case that you observe; therefore, remember to pack a good pen (possibly a backup too), your attendance sheets, and your pharmacy student badge. For your second year you will also have to remember your graduated descriptor tools; however, you won’t need these in the first year. These tools allow your preceptor to grade your performance and enables open communication and advice between the two of you. It’s actually quite fun when you get to this stage and start to discuss your performance and things which you could improve on, with a graduated professional. Often the things that you feel like you are doing wrong, do not look the same (or as bad) for others. This feedback really helps shape and improve your placement performance.
What do you do on placement?
On your very first day on placement you will be required to observe and answer a list of questions provided by your course coordinator. These questions prompt your thoughts and help you to familiarise yourself with the business and how to deal with customer interactions. They may also teach you some of the basics including compounding medicine and using the cashier machine. Try to soak up as much experience and knowledge as possible in your four-hour shift. The time seems to fly past!
On your second placement (which is in second year, second semester) you will be required to get much more involved in the customer interactions, you may even handle some of the customer cases in regard to over-the-counter medications (either from direct-product request cases or symptom-based cases). Try to write down or remember each of your cases after your shift. These examples will be useful for your weekly reflective diary. Each year your responsibilities will grow and by year three you will be required to dispense a number of scripts and be confident with your patient interactions.
How to find a placement location?
In most cases for first-year students the placement locations will be arranged by the UQ Pharmacy administration. Or, if you have a specific pharmacy in mind, you can be proactive and find your placement site yourself. If you are planning to find it yourself, I would recommend you to search for the pharmacies nearest to your house, or at least those you can reach easily through public transport. Make sure you also take into consideration the services they provide, such as compounding, dose administration aids and any specialty services. Remember to take into account the business environment in which it operates. If it’s a busy pharmacy you may get to learn more and receive more opportunities to learn.
Choose the pharmacy that fits your preferences, then approach the manager in person to politely ask about their placement opportunities. Be prepared with your resume, university timetable and preceptor introduction letter (provided by the school). This will make you look organised and professional. This preparation will give you practice for your future placements, which must be found yourself. My suggestion is to not put all your eggs in one basket by only approaching one pharmacy. Many students are looking for placements and it takes them some time to filter through the students. Visit as many pharmacies as you can and put your best foot forward (including dressing smartly) to give a good first impression and increase your chances of being chosen.
What happens if you mess up on placement?
Mistakes do happen, which is why it is important to wear your student placement badge. This allows customers to be aware that you are still studying and are not completely armed with the knowledge and skills of a qualified professional. Often this makes customers much more forgiving and considerate if you do make a mistake. If there is something you are not sure of then don’t freak out. Apologise and get help from one of the other pharmacy professionals. Make sure you listen to how they deal with the problem in order to learn from the experience and get it right next time around. Don’t be shy to speak out and ask the other staff members lots of questions on placement. You will learn much more from them than from reading a book or studying your lecture notes.
Do placements lead to paid jobs?
Many of my friends got hired by their preceptors and started to work part-time in the pharmacies whilst finishing their degree. If you are hoping for the same result then I would suggest you to try to go on placement at the big franchise pharmacies like Chemist Warehouse or Terry White Chemist. They will have greater job opportunities due to their many locations.
Finally, double-check everything before you go for your first day on placement: badge, attendance sheets, and pens. The last thing you want is to look disorganised on your first day. Most importantly, enjoy the experience and learn as much as you can. The skills you learn during this time will be the backbone of your future career as a pharmacist.
Meet the author
Hi, my name is Pei Sin. I am in my third year of the Bachelor of Pharmacy at UQ. I am originally from Malaysia and am enjoying my time studying in Australia. I am a creative person so in my downtime, outside of uni, I enjoy painting, sketching and drawing. If I can find the time amongst study I also am a big fan of crime and investigations shows like NCIS, CIS and Bones—I definitely get a kick out of it when they mention chemical/medical terms which I understand.
UQ Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours)
The UQ Bachelor of Pharmacy program prepares graduates for the contemporary role of the pharmacist in society, ensuring that patients optimize medication usage. Initial courses on chemical, physical and biological studies lead to professional specialties in later years. Practical and clinical science studies begin in first year, providing students with a strong background in professional practice.
Program: Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours)
Location: Brisbane, Queensland
Semester intake: February
Duration: 4 years