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Aboriginal dot painting artwork

USYD pharmacist: life in the Northern Territory

23 October 2018
Acute care and outreach pharmacy in the outback
Angela Young is making an impact to the lives of central Australians in her role as Director of Pharmacy at Alice Springs Hospital. Learn how she copes servicing a catchment area of 1.6 million square kilometres.
angela young

Ange Young in front of the mural at the Alice Springs Hospital.

Ange grew up on the Central Coast and finished high school in “the big city” with a passion for pharmacy she enrolled to study at the University of Sydney.

After graduating in 2005, Ange completed her Honours project and was supervised by now Head of School and Dean Professor Andrew McLachlan.

She then commenced her intern training program and was looking forward to working in England after becoming registered. But new regulations came into effect, which made it more difficult for Australian pharmacists to work in the EU.

Taking this setback in her stride, Ange began searching for alternatives to achieve her working holiday dream. It was at this time, Professor Andrew McLachlan supported Ange to present her work at the National Medicines Symposium in Canberra, where she happened to sit in on a life-changing presentation on Indigenous health in the Kimberly region.

This sparked an interest in rural health and led her to accept a 12-month contract at Alice Springs Hospital where she discovered her passion for renal medicine.

I enjoyed establishing connections with patients, who were blessed, yet burdened, by having to frequent the largest dialysis centre in the southern hemisphere in Alice Springs. That was 11 years ago and I’m still here now.

The Director of Pharmacy position became available in 2011, and Ange asked if she could “have a go”. Just like that, she was deservingly appointed into the role. She had recently completed a Diploma in Clinical Pharmacy and felt clinically equipped for the role, but found it to be a steep learning curve in management, leadership and emotional intelligence.

Today, Ange is focused on how she and her team can improve the health of central Australians. She manages acute care and outreach pharmacy services for the Central Australia Health Service, which has a catchment area of 1.6 million square kilometres.

She also manages and supports the clinical pharmacists that fly to Tennant Creek Hospital with the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Ange with the team returning from Tennant Creek Hospital on the Royal Flying Doctor Service plane.

Her days involve a hefty mix of supporting the skilled pharmacist and technician workforce, leading medication safety initiatives, managing pharmaceutical and vaccine distribution in extreme climates over vast distances, advising on technological improvements to enhance services, integration and transitions of patient care, and establishing and maintaining effective working relationships with the healthcare and industry workforce.

I keep my finger on the pulse by getting into the dispensary a few times a week, it is the vital organ of our service.

Ange says, “it’s not just about medicines – our hospital seeks to offer a holistic approach to healing that encompasses both the Western model of health and local Indigenous beliefs about health and spirituality.”

“Ngangkaris [traditional healers] can be requested by patients and contacted through our Aboriginal Liaison Office. Their traditional healing services are intended to support ongoing treatment by the medical team.

“I was fascinated the first time I saw a Ngangkari treating one of our renal patients who had an ongoing, severe gastrointestinal infection.

“It was inspiring to see the respectful understanding that existed between our team and the Ngangkari.”

Now as a manager of pharmacy, Ange aims to guide new staff to approach individual patients in a holistic way and encourages them to always look beyond their medication chart.

She finds her job very rewarding because of the direct impact she makes to patient care.

Ange is inspired by her colleagues who “continuously generate ideas about how they can improve patient services”. She “loves seeing the satisfaction amongst staff when they propagate an idea and see the positive impact it has on people”.

“Change is inevitable in my workplace, and so are the opportunities,” she says.

Ange is looking forward to the future. They are commencing the Northern Territory's first resident pharmacist program. Next year they are implementing a rotation with an interstate metropolitan tertiary hospital pharmacy department. They’re also planning to expand services in central Australia, and they're aiming to share their incredible work with other areas.

Excitingly, she is also contributing to the design of a medicines management component of the first integrated electronic core clinical system across the Northern Territory, which will track a patients journey across primary and acute patient care.

Ange believes the best thing about working in the Northern Territory is the “incredible opportunities that are frequently ripe for picking. You just have to have the courage to give it a go, and be prepared to be shaped and supported by the Territory’s ‘growing our own’ approach.”

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