Transforming care: consumer and pharmacist perceptions of expanded practice

  • Three students playing bingo at night in a restaurant
  • Two medical women standing either side of a Dajarra Primary Health Clinic sign
  • Medical student standing next to Mt Isa township road marker sign
Ruby Schembri, Rachael Turiano, Shelby Joyce and Joshua Swain
James Cook University

Timely access to healthcare professionals is plummeting, having a major impact on those living in rural and remote communities and predisposing them to a higher prevalence of chronic disease and poorer health outcomes.

Pharmacists hold a unique position within the community to be able to address the current gaps within rural healthcare. This involves participating in expanded practice services such as immunisations, screening and management of chronic illnesses, control of infectious diseases and working in areas such as health promotion. 

As part of the James Cook University Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours) program, Professor Beverley Glass and Dr Selina Taylor are supervising and supporting students to undertake a research project where they gather data on a particular rural topic over a two year period and present a manuscript with their findings.

Ruby, Rachael, Shelby and Josh are investigating consumer and pharmacist perceptions of expanded practice in rural areas,  through a series of semi-structured, face to face interviews in a variety of rural locations including Emerald, Weipa, Barcaldine and Mount Isa. 

In doing so, the students' research aims to identify the current services offered by community pharmacies and what services both consumers and pharmacists would like implemented in the future. They also aim to understand the barriers to implementing services in order to develop recommendations for successful implementation of expanded practice services that is compatible with the health needs of the demographics the pharmacies serve. 

Below are their personal accounts of their experiences so far:


During my data collection, I spent two weeks in Emerald and one week in Mount Isa, Queensland. In both locations I found that patients were experiencing wait times of anywhere up to six weeks for an appointment with their general practitioner (GP) and due to this the emergency departments at the local hospital were overwhelmed with patients. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in both Emerald and Mount Isa and felt very welcomed by the communities. It has been most interesting to see the complete contrast in demographics of patients within the communities and hear their stories of living in the bush. 


During my placement in Mount Isa and Barcaldine, I was able to talk in depth with patients and pharmacists about expanded scope of practice. The significance of pharmacists offering services like ear checks, vaccinations, and UTI consultations was evident in easing the pressure on other health professionals, while ensuring timely consumer access. Expanded scope meant more to patients than just the service itself. It was about familiarity, trust, and escaping the feeling of being just a 'number’ caused by frequent locum turnover in rural locations. Witnessing the impact pharmacists had in these remote communities, left me feeling not only inspired, but truly excited for the future of pharmacy. 


I spent my time in Emerald for two weeks and Mount Isa for one week to collect data for our honours project. It was great to be able to speak with patients and pharmacists in their communities and conduct interviews in an open and honest environment. While working within these rural communities, it was evident that the workers within the pharmacy had built a strong relationship with their respective communities, and the patients were very grateful for the services that the pharmacy offered. Overall I had an amazing time on placement and it was rewarding to be a part of a pharmacy team who is helping to address the barriers of accessing healthcare in rural communities. 


For my Honours project I travelled to Weipa and Mount Isa for a total of 3 weeks, immersing myself within the community and their healthcare providers. The data collected within the towns’ community pharmacies highlighted the health gap that people in rural communities face. These health gaps consisted of long wait times for GP appointments, a lack of permanent doctors and acute presentations of non-severe aliments clogging the emergency departments. I greatly enjoyed my time in both Weipa and Mt Isa collecting data and conversing with the locals about their experience living in rural towns. 


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