JCU Pharmacy graduate talks about practicing in Australia

8 June 2020

What does studying pharmacy in Australia look like for someone from the prairies of Canada? JCU Bachelor of Pharmacy graduate (and former OzTREKKer), Matthew, shares his experience:

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Why did you choose to study pharmacy?

The selection of pharmacy itself was really out of left field. I was in my third year of my undergraduate degree in Canada taking a kinesiology elective in nutrition and realized that I felt a certain vibe towards healthcare-related sciences. This immediately lead to my interest in pharmacy. At the same time, my girlfriend at the time—now my fiancée—had recently moved to Australia, to begin her medical degree at JCU. As time passed, I eventually made the decision to also move to Australia and pursue the Bachelor of Pharmacy at JCU.

What is the Bachelor of Pharmacy program at JCU like?

The Bachelor of Pharmacy degree was excellently laid out. We have a small faculty and small class sizes, with weekly tutorials and practical (lab) sessions to help students reinforce the content. In general, this helps students to develop instant rapport with the lecturers and allows for easy identification of strengths and weaknesses that can be improved upon over the four-year degree.

The first two years develop the student’s foundation in pharmaceutical practice knowledge, compounding of pharmacy products, legislation, knowledge of the healthcare system, rural and remote practice, and the scientific concepts of chemistry and biochemistry that are essential for pharmacists.

The second half of the degree focuses on clinical practice subjects, so for instance, you would spend an entire subject learning about cardiovascular pharmacology, clinical guidelines, and incorporate the latest evidence into practice. Each clinical practice subject has an oral exam (OSCE) that focuses on whole topics, like hypertension/heart failure, that requires the student to discuss the physiology of the condition, treatment options available, and lifestyle changes that the patient should make throughout the disease management process.

The second half of the degree also develops the student’s knowledge of counselling and dispensing of medicines in practice. Pharmacy students get the opportunity to participate in 6 weeks of clinical placement in third year, and 9 weeks of clinical placement in fourth year, with opportunities available to complete a placement in Canada.

During the last semester of the four-year degree, the students will take a capstone subject that integrates all the clinical knowledge and assesses your understanding of all pharmacy concepts before you enter practice. (Please note that JCU has recently changed their degree to include honours for all graduates. This may affect the flow of some of these subjects, but the overall learning process should be similar.)

What’s been your favourite experience in Australia so far?

My best Australian experience was when my mother came to visit, and we went to the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns. Being from Saskatchewan, these visuals are a lot different from what you see in the prairies. This was a great experience. I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing the sights of the Gold Coast, Brisbane and Sydney (including the Harbour and Opera house). My advice to any prospective students would be to take some time to travel and explore Australia. This helps with the transition and makes Australia feel more like home.

What advice do you have for Canadian students thinking of going to Australia for pharmacy?

Canadian students in their final year of their degree should look into the specific visa called Temporary Graduate Visa, Work Stream (subclass 485). This visa will allow the students to complete a pharmacy internship and beyond in Australia, and usually is of a two-year length. However, as the pharmacy landscape is ever-changing and the demand for pharmacists is very high at the moment, pharmacists may be put on the list of professions eligible for applications for permanent residency in the future. This is an exciting possibility, and I encourage all students to research these changes continuously while they are studying.

In addition, I advise all students is to consider utilizing a migration agent in this process. It can be done independently, but since the fourth year is a busy year, not only for writing exams, but also finding work, it may not be a bad idea.

In terms of job prospects, this is generally straight forward, as a lot of community pharmacies and even hospitals are looking for interns. If you can convey to employers that you will have a valid visa once you start internship, they generally have no issues in hiring you if you’re a suitable candidate.

During internship, you must complete 1,824 hours of supervised practice, pass a written and oral exam, and complete an intern training program. Upon completion of these tasks, pharmacists are granted general registration and finding work at this stage is not too challenging.

What is the process to practice in Canada?

Returning home to Canada is entirely possible as well, as I’ve had colleagues do this successfully. You need to first submit an application with your passport and degree, and then pass an evaluating exam, followed by a written and oral exam. This is prior to undertaking supervised practice and obtaining licensure.

In summary, no matter what path you choose, there are many opportunities available for pharmacists at this time. Studying overseas is very challenging and rewarding. If you are a student that welcomes a challenge, has a desire to be a healthcare professional, and would not mind a bit of a change, I would certainly recommend the JCU Bachelor of Pharmacy to you!

Matthew is currently employed at Bluewater Pharmacy, a community pharmacy based in Yabulu, right outside of Townsville, Australia.

Fast facts about the JCU pharmacy program

Program: Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours)
Location: Townsville, Queensland
Semester intake: February
Duration: 4 years
Application deadline: No set application deadline

Entry Requirements

1. Completed high school diploma
Completed a high school diploma with a minimum average of 84% in top six Grade 12 courses, including successfully completed prerequisite studies in Grade 12 English, chemistry and maths B.

2. Completed bachelor’s degree
If you have commenced or completed a university degree, the grades from your most recent studies will be assessed. If you have not completed the prerequisite subjects in your post-secondary studies, your high school transcripts will then be assessed for prerequisite subjects. The minimum average for admission for those who have completed university studies is a cumulative average of 68%. You must submit official academic transcripts from both university and high school.

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Do you have any questions about studying pharmacy? Contact OzTREKK’s Pharmacy Admissions Officer at pharmacy@oztrekk.com to see if studying in Australia is right for you.

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