Welcome to Your Pharmacy Career Podcast, proudly brought to you by Raven's Recruitment, Australia's leading specialist pharmacy recruitment agency. The podcast series is being created to shine a light on the diverse and inspiring careers of Australia's pharmacists. Each episode will focus on the varied career opportunities within the pharmacy industry by exploring the career paths taken by leaders in the fields of Community Pharmacy, Hospital, Industry, Government and Professional Organizations. Careers never follow a defined path. Everyone's story is different and unique in their own way. The podcast series will help you discover the world of opportunities that exist and reveal pathways to achieve your dreams and aspirations. Whether you are a pharmacy student, early career pharmacist, or simply looking for a change at any stage of your career, the podcast series is designed to help you navigate ways into a career and a life that you love. Your host of the podcast series is Allie Xu. Allie, herself a pharmacist, is now the founder of Global Pharmacy Entrepreneurs and a passionate advocate for pharmacists to grow, innovate, excel, and make a lasting impact in the world. It's now over to our host, Allie Xu.
[Allie Xu] Hi, Faye, how are you today?
[Faye McMillan] Morning, Allie, how are you?
[Allie Xu] Good, thank you. Thank you so much for joining us on the show. We can’t wait to hear your story. What an amazing achievement you’ve had over the years. So tell us about your story, your personal story. Where did you grow up?
[Faye McMillan] Can I firstly just start by acknowledging the traditional custodians on all of the lands in which people will either listen or see this podcast and acknowledge the continued connection to land sea and country for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations and thank them for their collective wisdom that they share every day with the broader Australian community. With regards to my story, I, you know, grew up sort of moving around a little bit, but I think most of my really formative years — so, you know, starting primary school and things like that — was in my hometown of Trangie, which is Central West of New South Wales, so, a town of 1000 people. And grew up with my mum and my grandmother, and my four siblings, in a very loving house. Not always wealthy, but we were certainly wealthy in love and connectedness. And, you know, did move away to Queensland, but then ultimately ended back up in Trangie, which is where I started my career in pharmacy as the shop assistant. And then moved to a dispensary technician after the pharmacists supported me to do the dispensary technician course. And then the rest, they say, is history, I think. With regards to, you know, through life circumstances, I ended up having to move away from Trangie, in looking at what were my career options. And I had loved working in pharmacy, being part of the community. Which I see, you know, pharmacists are very much part of the communities in which they serve. And so, really enjoyed that aspect. So thought, “I’ll study to be a pharmacist.” I was 27 and a little naive.
[Allie Xu] Wow. So let's explore a bit further. So during your time as a pharmacy assistant, was there moments that you realized you want to do this, to become a pharmacist? What are those moments during your work in the pharmacy?
[Faye McMillan] Those moments were, I think, when people would come in not just for their medications. That people would come in with good news stories about what's happening for their family, you know, birth of children, grandchildren. But also would just generally come in for overall health, it wasn't just dispensing of medications and like many small pharmacies, you know. It provided a lot to the community with regards to giftware, and it provided cosmetics and just a raft of things that made me realize that community pharmacy was really something that was about community. And that's what I really loved. I loved that opportunity to interact with people, good and the challenging times. And so being able to actually know who was in your community and who you were working with was a really important factor of when I chose to study pharmacy. I did, as I said, when I moved, I hadn't done science at high school, to the degree that I certainly knew would be needed to do pharmacy. And so when I left Trangie to go to support my family in another place, I thought I'd enroll in TAFE to do science, and redo my high school certificate to look at joining pharmacy at a later date. But the universe had other plans and so I essentially ended up looking — you know, 20 odd years ago, online was a little bit different to the ease it is now — but certainly looking at schools across Australia that were doing pharmacy and I found out that Charles Sturt University was going to be offering pharmacy in 1997, the year I was looking to start TAFE. And so, ultimately, had phoned the university to see what sciences I needed to do at TAFE to prepare myself. What happened was I ended up speaking to the Head of School, who asked me to travel the two and a half hours to come down and meet with him, and chat about what I thought my career in pharmacy might look like. And by that afternoon, when I’d traveled back from Wagga Wagga to Cowra, the head of school had rang and left a message. And I'd got home and my mum was, “Please call them back.” And it was, “Would you consider starting pharmacy at university rather than going to TAFE?” And I did.
[Allie Xu] Mmm, wow. So glad the head of school called.
[Faye McMillan] I'm very thankful for it.
[Allie Xu] So next question is really asking about your role models in your life and mentors in your life. What are some of the lessons you've learned from those people who shaped your career?
[Faye McMillan] So there's obviously family role models that I certainly look to and continue to do so today. And they are my mother and my grandmother, mums’ siblings, as well as my own siblings. You know, they are amazing human beings in their own right and I'm very thankful that not only do I love them because they’re my family but I also admire them for their tenacity and role modelling. When I did more back to Trangie, one of the great things was the opportunity to spend more time with my maternal grandmother, who was an inspiration to all of her family with regards to her resilience in the face of adversity, particularly growing up in an era where being Aboriginal was very, very challenging. And understanding what that meant, but it also gave me such a beautiful insight into her as a person, not just as my grandmother. But certainly the pharmacist in Trangie at the time, Peter Dixon, he was so supportive of the opportunity that I could have to go to university. So Peter and there was, you know, other pharmacists around the Trangie area, you know, in Warren and Gilgandra, and other small, rural and remote towns, that Peter worked with that I was very fortunate to be able to be part of that extended network. And so they really did shine a light for me as to how crucial the role of a pharmacist is to the health and well being of people. So, you know, they were certainly role models. And then, obviously, as my career has progressed, I've had the great fortune to meet a number of people in different spaces, that their knowledge and contribution to their spaces have really influenced me. Professor Tom Calma, you know, a number of other people, Mr. Tom Brideson, who's the CEO of the Gayaa Dhuwii. You know, just their resilience. And I think the thing that I did learn was that the only person who can be on your journey is you and you need to take from your own journey, what it is that sustains you and allows you to keep moving forward, and be mindful that there are times where there will be challenges. You may look like you're taking two steps backwards. You know, these are all part of your own journey. And not to compare yourself to others. Because nobody knows what you know, nobody's experienced what you've experienced. And so, being mindful that whilst we're doing similar things, we are all very unique. And creating our own spaces is really important.
[Allie Xu] Yeah. So as pharmacy student now, we have a lot of uni work that we feel like we're stuck at uni at all times, and some of us have part time jobs at, you know, community pharmacy. We feel like we don't yet know a lot of mentors. You know, where can we find all the mentors and role models and learn from them? What's your advice?
[Faye McMillan] You know, pharmacy, it is a career, it's not just a job. You don't go home and that's the end of your day. There's still learning and there's still things that you need to do to stay in touch with your profession. I think when you’re looking for people that can support you and mentor or be a role model, consider the things that you value in a person and look to see, where do you see that? You know, it can be anything from the knowledge that they hold from the profession but it also can be the soft skills, the kindness, the ability to listen, the ability to be empathetic, and create, I suppose, the people around you with the things that you want to develop further or that you admire and that you think, “How can I incorporate what I admire about the people that, you know, are mentoring me, or I see as a role model? And how can I, you know, learn from their journeys so that it can help inform mine, not direct it, but just to help inform it?” And I think they’re the things you do need to do, is certainly look for congruence. The other part about having a mentor, too, is being really honest about the things that you need and want to develop. Because, you know, as you pointed out, doing pharmacy is a very complex and challenging time. Many students in part-time or sometimes even full-time equivalent hours of, you know, 37 upwards hours a week. Particularly around, you know, the market-driven. So, you know, pharmacies are opened seven days a week, often, you know, late at night, and things like that. So, I know that students and I know, in my own journey that I worked full time, and I studied full time, and that was challenging. So when I did see somebody that had something that I admired if I was asking something of them, that I was very clear, what I was asking of them. So I think that's one thing, when you do see somebody that you'd like to mentor, be honest about what it is that you need from them, so that they can make a decision as to whether it can be an informal or a formal arrangement, so that they don't feel that they're letting you down and that you don't feel that you're being let down because they're not engaging with the way you thought a mentoring relationship should work.
[Allie Xu] Wow, yeah, that's so true. So in your current work, what are some of the opportunities? I guess, as students, we also feel a bit sheltered that we're always studying throughout University. We know there's hospital pharmacists, and the community pharmacists, the big general or industry, pharmacists, but what other opportunity or area of growth that we can get into or start preparing or get to know while we are at uni?
[Faye McMillan] Yeah, I think, certainly when I started pharmacy, I never thought a career in academia was something that, you know, would be open. But I think there are ancillary spaces that pharmacists do need to occupy that support the profession overall. Certainly, being able to teach the next generation of pharmacists is a critical factor to the positive experiences that we're seeking the students to have, although, you know, it's challenging. So academia’s one. Certainly research is another area that I think when we start on these journeys, these weren’t areas that I really knew existed. You know, I think, like many people in the community, thinking of a career in pharmacy really wasn’t on many people’s radar. And certainly, as I said, those other ancillary spaces that are really complementary to community and hospital pharmacy which is where most of, I suppose, the every day Australian sees the role of pharmacists in our communities, more broadly as being. But I think there are certainly other areas that we really need to be informing. And I know that, you know, the research that goes into pharmacy reis ally critical, as is the ability to grow a workforce that teaches the next generations of pharmacists, is really critical as well.
[Allie Xu] Mmm. Wow. So next question is, so in your career so far, if you could change one thing in your pharmacy career, what would it be? Any regrets?
[Faye McMillan] There's no regrets about becoming a pharmacist. None whatsoever. So categorically, no regrets there. I think what some of my regrets are, is that there were some opportunities to do things, I suppose, that supported me as a whole person during my studies that I probably didn't take full advantage of, which was the networking with other students, and the opportunity, I suppose to enjoy University for what it was and that, you know, it is a very unique space and that it's not a space that everybody gets to occupy. And so, really revel in those moments when you are at university in taking every opportunity to inform you as a person. So not just as, you know, the expert in medications, but as a person that is dealing with people. What are other areas that, you know, at university, life can offer. And I think that’s my biggest regret, is that through being so busy of working and studying and things like that, that some of the social elements, I think, got left behind. And it’s the social elements that often sustain us more than anything else.
[Allie Xu] Yeah, especially during COVID or really difficult times, relationships really help us to keep going, yeah.
[Faye McMillan] Yeah. It's really important that we do sustain and find things that sustain us and allow us to keep inside of who we are as a whole person. And that can be challenging, particularly when, you know, the environment that we are working in is also challenging. Because I think, you know, the conversations around frontline workers are, you know, very much medical-orientated around our doctors and nurses. And who are doing amazing work, so don't get me wrong, but we have so many other essential or critical people in that space that support the work that are allowing other people to continue to do their jobs. So we need to take into that consideration that, as you said, a lot of people are doing more than they probably have done in the past. You know, I know of pharmacists that have worked months without a break, because really trying to support the whole community, in this pandemic. And creating the spaces that eases the burden on our hospital system has meant that more people are engaging with their pharmacy, whether it’s community or whether it’s asking questions online to try and reduce the impact on other aspects of pandemic workforce. But also trying to create the space for themselves to stay well, both mentally and physically.
[Allie Xu] Yeah, yeah, definitely. And often pharmacists, we’re giving a lot, giving advice, giving care to other people, but we're not actually looking after our own health, our own mental health and physical health. Yeah, so it's so important.
[Faye McMillan] And I think COVID has really shown the interconnectedness of mental wellness to our overall experience of what this pandemic looks like now as we are in it. And then as it will look like as we move through it, and, you know, one day to a post-COVID world, and that we'll be able to look back and acknowledge that it was challenging, but we also did things to look after ourselves.
[Allie Xu] Mmm. Yeah, definitely. Well, speaking of mental health, we know that you’re an advocate for mental health and closing the gender gap, and, of course, for Aboriginal people. So tell us about your work and your passion around that.
[Faye McMillan] As you said, mental health is something that affects everybody. Or mental wellness, social, emotional well being. And being able to, I suppose, act in a space, where the ability to talk about mental wellness or mental health issues is really an important factor. We talk about removing the stigma, or allowing people to feel that there is no judgment around moments where they may be mentally unwell, or whether they do engage and experience, you know, a lived experience of a person with a mental illness. And so you know, it’s really something that pharmacy more broadly is considering now, which is the mental health of our entire community. But I think being able to look at mental health specifically is really an important factor. And COVID has just shown us how much we need to pay attention to our mental wellness, because it has a huge influence on our physical wellness. It also has a huge influence on how we interact with family, with communities. So you know, I think being able to be in this space is a privilege and acknowledging that you know, we have so much to offer, if we are vulnerable. And I think, you know, there are so many things now that you can access online that talks about that ability to be vulnerable, to be seen as being vulnerable so that others can have courage to be as vulnerable as they are at particular moments. So, I think being able to work in the mental health space is really important. And we know that, statistically Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, through the impact of colonization, and the ongoing, you know, health inequities that are being faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities, is something that we need to take seriously. And you know, that they don't become a ticker box. You know, that we recognize the importance of creating opportunities to allow all Australians to engage is really critical to our overall health and well being, but particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as we try and navigate difficult spaces. And we try and navigate modernity as well.
[Allie Xu] So from a pharmacy student point of view, what are the things that we can be more mindful of if we decide to find a job around Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander community? What are the things that we can learn from you so that we can be prepared and to, you know, respect and be mindful when we're serving the people there.
[Faye McMillan] I think the recognition that, irrespective of where you are in this country, that you are actually on traditional lands of a nation, knowing what is the name of that nation, who are the traditional custodians of the lands in which you are living, working, going to university is one step. And also being mindful that, you know, the health system has played a significant part in the health statistics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and that you actually do have a lot you can do, understanding the history of this country. Since colonization in the impact is one way, you know, embracing the opportunities to cultural safety, which is now part of AHPRA regulations for people registered as health professionals through them, that, you know, it's really incumbent upon the individual to take some of these journeys on their own, but it's also a responsibility of the educational providers of the profession more broadly, to really start to consider the issues that are impacting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and how we can work with them to try and change some of those statistics. Because at the end of each statistic is a human being. So you know, when we talk about the life expectancy, or the comorbidities, or chronic illness, that these are actually things experienced by people. And that like everything, we want to be considered more than a statistic that needs to be addressed by governments, we want to be more than a statistic that needs to be addressed by the profession. And part of the responsibility of being a pharmacist, as I said, is knowing, not just who you are, because that is really important to your own journey. You know, your lived experience, and then how that influences the way you view the world and what are some of the things that you need to challenge about that lived experience that you know hasn't been experienced by everyone. So that you can consider, you know, what are some of the things that I might need to challenge myself on and how can I do that, that allows me not to feel that I own problems? Because, you know, we're not saying that the individuals who are engaged in these services are necessarily responsible for, you know, everything that happens. So it's the leadership that’s shown from organizations, the leadership shown through educational providers, to stamp out some of the huge issues that still impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and many other minority cultures in this country. And one of the most significant ones is racism. And the racism in our health system is, you know, still rife, and even during this pandemic, it's something that we have seen as an impacting factor on people engaging with the health system. So, you know, that's really something we do need to address. And racism is the experience by the person that is experiencing the racism, it's not about whether the person that they’re working with considers themself to be racist or not. Because, you know, we are human beings. And if we don't learn through listening to what others tell us about how they respond to the way we're engaging with them, then, you know, simply saying, “Sorry,” is not enough. We need to change behaviors. And those changing behaviors need to be seen and felt, I think, before we really start to see some of the changes in our more broader health system and those close-the-gap targets that government has, but also, you know, that the pharmacy profession should be wanting to close as well.
[Allie Xu] Mmm. Yeah, what you said about the racism about, “It's the person who felt the racism,” and same as the bullying as well, “It’s the person that felt the bullying, not the person, you know, thinking if they're bullying others or not.” I guess, yeah, being pharmacy students early on, in our pharmacy career, start to become more mindful of how we’re interacting and really reflect on each interaction with each customer.
[Faye McMillan] Yeah. And I think that, you know, if we're always mindful of, “What are my own experiences and how do I use them to be a more empathetic and engaged health professional?” will mean that, I think, we will have many more people who feel that pharmacy is a safe space. And, you know, for lots of people it is, but as you said, if you're different. It's just even sometimes checking yourself before something comes out of your mouth, you know, the old saying that you have two ears to listen and one mouth to respond. So, you know, make sure that it's measured with that sensitivity of, “How's it going to be experienced by the other person who's receiving this?” And, you know, it's easy, I think, to go, “Oh, I didn't intend.” What we know from history around the globe is that sometimes great intentions haven't produced great results. So we have to move just beyond what is our intention to, “What are the actions and how are our actions demonstrating that this is something that we take very seriously?” And then when we take it seriously we do something about it.
[Allie Xu] Mmm. Wonderful. Wow, thank you so much for sharing that with us. Then we also know that the original Torres Islander Pharmacy Scholarship Scheme is something that people are able to apply. So tell us more about this, and how to get in and how to apply?
[Faye McMillan] Yeah, look, I think one of the things that the pharmacy profession has recognized is, you know, we need diversity. And whilst the pharmacy profession is very diverse, you know, that doesn’t mean we don’t have scope for more. And engaging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to consider pharmacy as a genuine career opportunity that can make a difference is really something that we are doing. And we’re improving, you know, to try and increase the number of pharmacists that are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. And one of them is the pharmacy scholarships. Whilst there’s not a lot of them, there’s not a lot being taken either. So, we know that the uptick of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to pharmacy programs is really still below what we would like. Which is, you know, we want to be on parity with our representation within the community, which, you know, the statistics, you know, are around that 3%. You know, what we know in pharmacy is we have less than 1% or our pharmacy profession that is made up of inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. So, you know, actively promoting that the scholarships exist, working in collaboration to increase the awareness of the fact that these exist, you know, is one thing that we could do better. You know, working with indigenous organizations that do have connections across Australia and into communities where the scholarships can be spoken about, advocated for, and then, you know, supported for applicants to submit an application for scholarships is really a critical, critical thing. Because what we need to do is, I suppose capture the imagination of people early about, you know, what's rewarding about being a pharmacist on different levels and going to that value proposition of being such a valued member of our society and community. You know, I think pharmacy can be proud that we are, you know, amongst the highly trusted professions in the community but we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. We do need to be doing more and we need to be doing it every day.
[Allie Xu] Yeah. Wonderful. Thank you. Yeah, so for everyone who are listening to definitely pass this on and share with friends and family. We want more people to be included and want to see more of the Aboriginal and Torres Islander pharmacy students around.
[Faye McMillan] Yeah, and we certainly do. And I think, you know, as I said, supporting your peers when you are a pharmacy student is a really critical thing, but supporting them to be authentic to who they are, being able to acknowledge their history prior to coming into your pharmacy program, and making sure that there are those safe spaces where people are able to talk about that without fear of retribution for you know, a number of different reasons. And as I said, you know, pharmacy is diverse, but we have more opportunities to be more inclusive of that diversity.
[Allie Xu] Yeah, definitely. So what are your advice for our aspiring pharmacists, or pharmacy students intern, pharmacists, or early career pharmacists.
[Faye McMillan] Consider rural, remote and regional, you know, consider that our workforce is geographically dispersed, we're dispersed across a number of industries, and that, you know, don't be blinkered by what you think pharmacy is. Look more broadly at what pharmacy can be, and how we influence in so many different spaces. Take opportunities, you know. Consider short, medium and long term aspirations of what you want for yourself, what you want for a family, or how you see yourself engaging in pharmacy as a profession. So I think it's easy when we're in that moment of busyness, to not keep looking towards the horizon, because it seems such a long way off and so distant. But I think, you know, being mindful that sometimes, you know, maybe not a door’s open, but a window’s open that you can look out into something a little bit different. And that, you know, working across this beautiful landscape of the Australian country, really is something that is unique. And, you know, the diversity of those different places, really has something to offer. And so, you know, when you're in university and looking for your placements, or whether you’re where you’re considering doing your intern program, don't just look at what's usual. Look at what’s unusual, look at opportunities that, you know, may not have been there in your first year and that get opened up to you as you are going through your pharmacy program. Or the opportunity, as I said, to be part of an intern program in some space that you’d never seen yourself before is really something that I ask people to be open to. And acknowledge that sometimes we can find little gems in spaces that, you know, we had never considered before.
[Allie Xu] Great advice, thank you, thank you. As the Aboriginal/Torres Islander pharmacy student when you're studying, what was the challenge as a pharmacy student, as well as in your pharmacy career.
[Faye McMillan] Mhm. I suppose the challenge for myself personally, as a student was obviously the education that I'd done prior to going to university, but the other part at that time, so you know, 20 odd years ago, as you said, to become the first western-trained pharmacist. ‘Cause I’d like to acknowledge that, you know, Indigeonous people across the globe and in Australia, have practiced pharmacy since they've been connected to their countries, looking at what does the landscape offer them, and, you know, they looked at not just to nutritional but also to the medicinal properties of plants and things. And acknowledging that that existed, but to acknowledge that, you know, even as short as 20 odd years ago, that we didn't have Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people in the profession is really something that's profound. But I think the other part that it did say and still continues to say to a degree today is that education, educational institutions aren't necessarily based in an inclusion criteria. You know, university was — and still to this day, to some degree, is still very much beyond all Australians. You know, it costs a lot. You know, there are a number of different factors. But for me, personally, it was certainly the lack of representation. You know, and as I said, now, with accreditation and things like that of pharmacy programs across the country, the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples into the curricula is a critical issue, that is being addressed. But you know, when I was at university, and we had any conversation about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, it was done by a non-indigenous person to this country. You know, I had a Māori academic CO, was a wonderful academic, but, you know, when you're speaking to the issues of the First Nations, people of the country in which you’re planning to define and develop your craft, then, you know, it's really difficult for people to truly understand the importance of, “Why I should do this,” when they're not being taught by the lived experiences of people of why pharmacy is important to our health and well being.
[Allie Xu] Mmm. Definitely. Wow, so it's great that you’re here for us, for our future Aboriginal/Torres Islander pharmacy students as a role model. So yeah, thank you.
[Faye McMillan] Thanks, Allie. I mean, you know, I think what — and even myself — is to recognize that whilst we’re in the moment and, as you said, many students have part time jobs and don’t probably consider that they are in a privileged space. But with privilege comes responsibility. And we have to acknowledge what that responsibility is, but we also have to act on what that responsibility is. And as I said, start, some of those are actions as I said, simple things. Usually when I'm on Zoom, for example, you know, your name comes up — I make a point of putting what nation I'm sitting on. And for me, I'm lucky, it's a Wiradjuri nation, my nation. But it also then lets us acknowledge the diversity of the nations that are spread across this country, and start to consider. And as I said, when people recognize and reflect on their own lived experiences and the influences that that has, then they're able to go, “Okay. When I embrace this responsibility, I'm going to do something with it.”
[Allie Xu] Mmm. Wow. Thank you so much, Faye, for this wonderful discussion, we've learned so much. And yeah, just thank you so much for being the role model here for us, for our future pharmacy students, and to understand more about the first nation and more about our Aboriginal and Torres Islander community. So yeah, thank you.
[Faye McMillan] Thank you, Allie. And I just, you know, really do acknowledge that, you know, this space is being opened up more to create more knowledge around the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples into the professions as a professional themselves, but also the embracing of First Nation’s communities, and, “How do we work effectively within our communities to try and be the change that we want to see and be very much part of a change that we need for our future?”
[Allie Xu] Mmm. Great. Thank you.
[Faye McMillan] Thanks, Allie. I hope you have a wonderful day. Hope everybody has a wonderful day.
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Your Pharmacy Career Podcast, proudly brought to you by Raven’s Recruitment, Australia's leading specialist pharmacy recruitment agency. If you enjoyed this episode and know anyone else who you think would benefit from it, we would be grateful if you could share it with them. Together, we help even more pharmacists develop a career and life they love. If you have any questions or suggestions about future podcast episodes, please reach out to us via email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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