The importance of community pharmacies not only to the health of patients and communities but also to local economies in regional, rural and remote areas has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
And it’s something the President of the National Australian Pharmacy Students' Association (NAPSA) Ethan Kreutzer sees as important for his members to recognise and act on.
“The local community pharmacy is often a major employer in regional, rural and remote communities as well as being a health hub, an economic hub and a community centre,” he said.
“People find full-time, part-time and casual work in their pharmacies and these are often stepping stones for great careers.
“Even a small pharmacy in a small town can employ a lot of people, even if some are employed for only a few hours a week or fortnight.
“I know many students going through pharmacy schools at present had their interest in pharmacy as a profession nurtured while working in these local pharmacies.”
And Mr Kreutzer said the geographical spread of pharmacies meant this impact on local economies was vast.
“Just about anywhere you travel in this country you will have access to a community pharmacy,” he said.
“In fact, in some areas the community pharmacist might be the only health professional available to local residents.
“For example, community pharmacists in regional, rural and remote areas are the logical health professional to whom members of the community turn to for advice in the treatment of minor illnesses.
“Currently 20 per cent of Australia’s 5,800 pharmacies are in regional, rural and remote Australia, some of which are one-pharmacy towns.
“They are providing jobs and all the flow-on economic benefits to their local communities that come from this.”
Mr Kreutzer said the pandemic has also underscored to students the need to support pharmacies in regional, rural and remote communities.
“NAPSA works closely with the Pharmacy Guild and we both support the ‘Go Local First’ campaign which encourages patients and consumers to shop in their local businesses.
“”We need these pharmacies and so we are actively supporting the campaign for people to go to their pharmacies for their health needs.
“Smaller communities will suffer greatly if people decide to go online or wait to get their medicines and health needs when next they visit a major city.”
Mr Kreutzer said he was also heartened by the increased interest from pharmacy students to work in regional, rural and remote areas.
“NAPSA has a scholarship program with the LocumCo and this is encouraging students to take the opportunity to experience working in regional, rural and remote pharmacies,” he said.
“The scholarship program gives them a great opportunity to expand their fields.
“There is still a bit of uncertainty about working in these areas but this scholarship program is helping to break this down.
“Compared with past years the interest in going bush and working there has certainly increased.
“We are seeing people looking to explore their opportunities further out than metropolitan areas.
“That interest has been increasing yearly and that is a really good sign.
“We ensure we get the information about these scholarships out to our members so they are more aware of what their opportunities are.”
Mr Kreutzer said this renewed interest was also a positive for the pharmacy businesses in these areas.
“I have no doubt that some, if not many, of these students who go through the rural experience on a scholarship will end up looking for careers in these regions,” he said.
“This is good for them, and the pharmacies they go to.
“It helps to reinforce the community pharmacy as a health and economic hub for many areas.”