“The first time I labeled a box, the pharmacist told me that a crooked label means a crooked pharmacist. It was the first lesson I learned from a pharmacist, and so, now, I always have to have the label very straight on each box that I dispense.”
So says Master of Pharmacy graduate Liam Nguyen, who is now living out his childhood dream of working in healthcare.
“When I was younger I liked rearranging the medicine cabinet and I didn't know why. I thought it was really unusual how this little white pill could go into your body and save your life.”
Years later, Nguyen embarked on a journey to become a pharmacist where he learned the art of the little white pill and the “delicate balancing act” of medicine.
UTS’s Master of Pharmacy was Nguyen’s second attempt at the degree. In his early 20s, Nguyen left a Bachelor of Pharmacy for a Bachelor of Pharmaceutical Science in Canberra. Armed with an undergraduate degree, confidence and much more experience working in community pharmacies, Nguyen was attracted to UTS’s practical approach to study.
“They were saying, ‘We'll prepare you for a career in hospital, industry or community depending on what you want’. I found that really attractive,” says Nguyen. “And they followed through!”
Nguyen’s arrival at UTS coincided with the opening of the university’s state-of-the-art Science and Graduate School of Health building. But he attributes his success to the people at UTS.
“A lot of my success is due to Cherie,” says Nguyen of his Clinical Practice Subject Coordinator Cherie Lucas. “She really pushed me out of my comfort zone.
“In the beginning, I didn't realise that I'd actually become a hospital pharmacist. I thought community pharmacy like everyone else because hospital was so competitive.”
But, Nguyen says, undertaking almost 500 hours of clinical placements and another 90 hours of virtual community and hospital placements in the simulated pharmacy and hospital rooms on campus, gave him a competitive edge.
One four-week rural placement even took the young pharmacist to Grafton Base Hospital.
“It was challenging working in Aboriginal health because a lot of the people I met didn't want to speak to anyone who wasn't Aboriginal,” recounts Nguyen. “I found out that in rural hospitals there's an extra member of the healthcare team, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioner. They're the bridge between doctors and pharmacists and those who don’t feel comfortable speaking directly with us.”
Since finishing his degree last year, Nguyen has been interning full-time at the Sydney Eye and Hand Hospital. At the same time, he’s preparing for his written and oral exams in June this year. It’s the final frontier in his nine-year journey to becoming a registered pharmacist.
Despite the long journey, Nguyen’s fascination with medicine remains.
“My goal is to eventually become an antimicrobial stewardship pharmacist. The extensive overuse of anti-infective agents in healthcare means resistance is rapidly developing to the most commonly used drugs.
“A lot of people think that all pharmacists can do is label their medications on a computer. But, there's actually so much going through our minds when we first see a script: What interactions might occur for this patient? What allergies do they have? What side-effects would put them most at risk?
“Ensuring the quality use of medicines and patient safety; they’re the two most important goals of a pharmacist.”