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Innovative new Pharmacy scholarships offer rural snapshot

Wednesday 1 June 2022 11:08am

pharmacymain2Front row (from left): Olive Harvey North, Vicki Douglas, Holly White. Back row (from left): James Windle, Saffron Lai, Rebecca (Becca) Ritchie, Bridget Mark (Rural Placement Coordinator).

An innovative new internship opportunity for Pharmacy students has been created through the generosity of Kerikeri pharmacist Vicki Douglas.

In collaboration with the School of Pharmacy and the Development and Alumni Office, Vicki, who is the Director of Bay of Islands Pharmacies Ltd, has established The Northland Pharmacist Pathways Scholarships.

A maximum of four $3,000 scholarships each year will be offered to third-year students to undertake clinical placements at four pharmacies in the Bay of Islands. Vicki has committed $12,000 per year for the next five years to fund the scholarships.

The scholarships will provide accommodation and travel allowances to bring the students to the Bay of Islands for at least one week, to experience rural community pharmacy practice. The intent is that this will lead to one of these students accepting an internship in the Kerikeri area, which would be accompanied by exceptional pastoral care and support as they transition to their registration as a pharmacist within a rural environment.

As well as gaining valuable rural experience in a variety of pharmacy settings, the placement is accompanied by a mentoring programme, which has been developed by School of Pharmacy Professional Practice Fellow James Windle.

There are four mentoring sessions held between Vicki and the scholarship recipients, including during the initial visit by Vicki to Dunedin. The mentoring sessions will continue during the student’s placement time in Kerikeri, then followed up later in third year and at the start of their fourth year.

Topics for discussion include student career goals, acquiring skills to work at the top of their scope of practice, and recognising the health workforce challenges and clinical opportunities presented in rural localities. The recipients will use the mentoring to reflect on choices that can be made for lifestyle, business, and community opportunities that exist rurally, with a focus towards a possible internship year in Kerikeri after graduation.

Vicki says she approached Otago with the idea because she was coming up to her 40th year as a pharmacist and wanted to give back to the career that she loved and was still passionate about. She wanted to give students the chance to broaden their experience of the profession by working in a rural area and to experience both the advantages and the challenges of being a rural pharmacist.

“I wanted to offer students the chance to see what they could do with their pharmacy degrees. We have different pharmacies, clinical and community, it would be like a career snapshot for students coming through.”

She says she thought students at Otago might “have a bit more appetite” for taking themselves out of their comfort zones, as they have already come to Dunedin from all around the country.

James says by covering expenses, the scholarships will help remove one of the major obstacles to students taking up placements in rural areas, or outside major cities.

“With placements, students have a lot of ongoing costs, such as travel and accommodation. They have quite a few weeks away on placement, and this [the scholarship] is really helpful. It takes away one of those barriers when it comes to selection considerations.”

He says the scholarships combined with mentoring are a pilot programme which may pave the way for similar opportunities in the future.

“It’s very generous of Vicki, and an opportunity for everyone,” says James. “Hopefully we can keep this going and look at other opportunities. Other pharmacies may be interested too.”

The first students to be awarded the scholarships are Holly White, Olive Harvey North, Saffron Lai and Becca Ritchie.

None have been to Kerikeri before and they are all looking forward to being in a new place and comparing differences between urban and rural pharmacy services and challenges.

“I want to make connections with new people and learn about different types of healthcare in different places, seeing the difference between regions,” says Olive.

Saffron says she is looking forward to seeing how different aspects of healthcare are prioritised in Northland and being able to compare this to her experience in the South Island.

The first of these placements will take place in July.