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PhD graduand knew Otago was her path early

Friday 7 May 2021 11:45am

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Yasmin Abdul Aziz, aged 14, the moment she realised Otago would be part of her future.

In 2008, at age 14 Yasmin Abdul Aziz asked her father to take her photo in front of Otago’s iconic Clocktower. Visiting from Christchurch for career information, she had a strong feeling that this place would be an important part of her future.

After 10 years at the University of Otago completing her undergraduate and postgraduate studies, Yasmin graduates on Saturday with a PhD in Pharmacy. Her thesis provides important insights into the provision of unfunded pharmacy services.

“For me, the value of research is to develop what we already have and check if what we are doing is effective, if we are meeting needs of the community and whether everyone has equitable access.”

Through her undergraduate studies, Yasmin discovered a deep passion for research. She says this was ignited by research projects in her second and fourth years with Dr Susan Heydon, a Senior Lecturer with the School of Pharmacy. “She showed me the beauty and the creativity of research.”

A Doctoral Scholarship enabled Yasmin to undertake her PhD while continuing to work as a pharmacist.

Yasmin values her profession.

“Pharmacists have a pivotal role in healthcare. They are often the first port of call before you will see a doctor. They are very accessible, with no barriers, including not needing to make an appointment. If you go to the pharmacy a lot and see the same pharmacist every time, there will also be a strong relationship there.”

Her doctoral research was based on the issue of funding for the pharmacy sector and the awareness in the profession that a lot of the services pharmacists provide are unfunded - defined in this research project as services pharmacies provide but do not receive reimbursement for from the government, insurance companies or the patient.

However, this issue of unfunded services was not well documented. Yasmin says this lack of funding is not only a New Zealand issue. She has presented her findings in Australia and Canada and had interest from the International Pharmacy Federation.

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Yasmin Abdul Aziz about to graduate with a PhD in Pharmacy.

Yasmin’s work took her to 51 pharmacies in fourteen towns, cities and rural locations across New Zealand. She ran a nationwide continuous observation time motion study, observing full working days at pharmacies, and interviewing 253 patients.

Her findings show that up to 11 per cent of a pharmacist’s day is spent providing unfunded services outside the dispensary. The research identified 23 unfunded services including wound care, blood pressure checking, health education and advice on common ailments. Patients who received these services found them to be helpful, and 66 per cent of patients that were followed up said their health query was resolved through the advice of the pharmacy staff, and they didn’t need to seek further care from other health professionals.

Yasmin continued to work as a locum pharmacist alongside her thesis research. She says it’s been enormously beneficial to have a hand in practice while studying.

“It’s important to step outside the PhD bubble and look at how you apply your research to whichever practice; to always relate research back to the community.”

“For me, the value of research is to develop what we already have and check if what we are doing is effective, if we are meeting needs of the community and whether everyone has equitable access.”

Maintaining her work and study was especially challenging in 2020. As well as writing up her thesis it was all-hands-on deck for Yasmin working in pharmacy to provide essential frontline care during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Yasmin says she has appreciated the support of three fantastic supervisors: Professor Carlo Marra, Professor Stephen Duffull and Dr Susan Heydon.

The Otago University connection runs through her family. Yasmin’s younger sister Rose is a second-year student, studying Law, and a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Politics and minoring in Religious Studies; and her mother Maisoon Khalil works with the University’s Revenue Management.

Yasmin says her family have been essential to her success. Her thesis is dedicated to her mother.