Pharmacy placement is more than just counting pills

I have found that sometimes uni students become so obsessed with their grades and results that they forget to focus their attention on the key experiences which are designed to develop them into a valued professional.

When you first come to uni you realise very quickly that university and high school are two completely different beasts. There are a range of changes which make them so vastly different and it can feel intimidating at first, but trust me when I say this - you can achieve anything you put your mind to. Patience and hard work are some of the key elements which will help you to achieve your goals. Regardless of the field of study you are in, communication and social skills are essential when it comes to life in general, so best to get good at this early on. These are the factors which many students forget about. They think that achieving straight high distinctions will lead to their future success, when in reality; it really doesn’t guarantee anything.

Pharmacy is one of those fields where these skills are more essential than you may think. Regardless of whether you choose to become a hospital or community pharmacist, you will be communicating with patients on a daily basis. It is important that you learn how to communicate with patients in the most simplistic, informative, and non-frightening manner, especially when it comes to medication administration and usage. As a healthcare professional, patient care should be at the core of your profession, which is why the UQ pharmacy program places so much emphasis on this.

Placement is a journey you’ll experience over the course of the four-year program. It gives you the opportunity to set foot outside of a classroom environment and apply everything you’ve learned thus far, to real life situations. You’ll have the opportunity to solidify your knowledge while learning more about other medications and existing conditions from both your preceptor(s) and patients. To give you an insight into the placement experience and everything it encompasses, I have answered a few questions;  

Do you go to placement every year?

Placement is such a key part of the UQ program that it starts from second semester of the first year, and every semester after that. The first year placement is only a one-day per week of a four-hour shift, making it a bit of an introduction into the community pharmacy world. In your second year it is slightly more intensive with a five-week placement, again attending the community pharmacy one day per week, but, also a second day at a hospital placement. This is a great experience because you get the best of both worlds whilst receiving hands-on experience in the differences of community and hospital pharmacies. In third year, the first semester is comprised of a six week community placement, and the second semester is comprised of a two day hospital placement and a week-long community pharmacy placement. During that week-long placement you are required to be at the pharmacy for full days, like you would if you were working there full-time. In the final year of the program, for the first month of each semester there is a month long placement. One semester is community focused while your second semester is more research focused. Tip: you can also attend one semester placement overseas in any other part of the world!

Do you have to find your own placement every year?

During your first year, the School of Pharmacy will allocate your placement for you. There is an online portal whereby you can list the top three suburbs you’d like to be placed in. I suggest if you are an international student, definitely get an early headstart and fill out the portal as soon as it opens. For your future placements, you are required to find your own community locations. It can be a stressful part of the semester because places get filled up quite quickly, specifically those pharmacies allocated within the Toowong and Brisbane CBD suburbs. My suggestion is to get an early head start. If your preceptor is kind enough, and you have impressed them, then you may even be able to complete your future placements at the same pharmacy. Just as an extra tip, if you are unsure where you should start looking for pharmacies, Google will become your best friend, but also ask friends who are in higher years to see if they can perhaps give you the contact information of the pharmacies they completed their placement at.

Are there any assignments or tasks you have to complete prior to placement?

Each year, there will be a set of required tasks you will need to complete over the course of your placement. It is important that you pay attention to each of the patients you encounter as well observe your preceptor’s interactions. You will be required to write out a diary online of what your placement shift was like and what you encountered, learned, observed, and areas you think require improvement. In your later years you may be required to dispense a certain number of scripts prior to placement finishing or you may be required to set a number of goals you’d like to achieve prior to completing your placement, such as improving your over the counter (OTC) skills to a certain level etc.

Are there any documents you have to fill out prior to placement?

Preparing for community placement is fairly simple, however, before hospital placement there are quite a few things which need to be completed. You must complete a number of online modules prior to the commencement your placement. I suggest you start on these modules as soon as the links become available as some take longer than others to complete, and a certification will be obtained at the end of the modules, which you will need to print out and take with you to your placement. My suggestion is to print off a couple of the certificates to have on file for the following year(s) otherwise you will be required to complete the modules every year. Some of the modules, however, are required to be completed annually. Don’t panic, all of this information will be outlined to you when the time comes.

In addition, immunisation is key when working in a hospital environment and therefore, every year, you will need to show proof that you are immune to certain viruses such as Hepatitis B, chicken pox, whooping cough, tetanus etc. My suggestion is to make sure you are vaccinated prior to starting the program. This will once again save you a lot of time, stress, and last minute scrambling. In addition, for every individual working in the healthcare environment and with children, a Blue Card is required. I suggest you apply for your Blue Card at the beginning of your first year. It is a key requirement and you may be required to show it prior to placement starting.

Do placements lead to potential part time jobs?

Placements are one of the best ways of not only expanding your knowledge but also allow you to network. Remember to always arrive at least ten minutes early for any placement shift to make a good impression that you are keen. Little things like this may give you the chance to complete your placement at the same pharmacy again, but also may also land you a part time job. Be polite, kind, and respectful to everyone you meet, that is a basic life skill you should all be mature enough to know already though. Most of my fellow pharmacy friends have been offered part time paid jobs at the pharmacies they have completed their placements at. Working at a pharmacy is something I do strongly suggest, as it will help you gain a better understanding of how the environment works and whether community pharmacy is really where you see yourself in the long term.

Does placement define how well you’ll do in the future as a pharmacist?

Placement is designed to be a positive and uplifting experience. I’m not saying it is easy but once you get set in your groove, it will be smooth sailing. Placement can be more difficult for those students who have never worked in a pharmacy before or haven’t stepped into a pharmacy for years. I was one of those students and being an international student made the whole process slightly more frightening for me. I worked hard though and was lucky enough that my preceptor has been one of the kindest souls I’ve ever come across. I have been doing my placement with him for the past three years and I have learned so much from him about the profession. He has been nothing but patient and understanding which has definitely helped ease up my nerves. You’ll find that most preceptors are like this and they just want to pass on their knowledge to you.

A pharmaceutical profession comprises of a lot of medications and there are a lot of details when it comes to medication usage, their individual side effects, contraindications, indications, etc. Which is why placement exists. It allows us to apply our knowledge to real life situations and make the best decisions when it comes to patient care. In reality, it is a learning process and at the end of the day, you will evolve into the pharmacist you aspire to be. Pharmacy is a continual learning process where practice really does make perfect, or close to.  

To ignite your passion in pharmacy, the below is a video of various drugs dissolving in macro, which further supports why drugs really are the coolest - and why having the opportunity to deal with them on a daily basis makes our job the best in the world.


About the author...

My name is Sakina. I am currently in my third year of pharmacy at UQ. I was born and raised in Canada and made my big move to Australia two-and-a-half years ago. I am a chemistry nerd at heart so pharmacy seemed the best fitting career for me. I aim to be a high achiever but I don’t like to get consumed by classes or work, so in my downtime, I love to explore the outdoors such as going on hikes, to the beach, traveling, going on road trips, and hanging with friends. Fashion is another passion of mine so that is another aspect of my life that I really want to continue to develop.


Last updated:
16 August 2016