Graduation address given by Lee Ausburn

Lee Ausburn gave the following occasional address at the Faculty of Pharmacy graduation ceremonies held at 9.30am and 11.30am on 15 March 2013 in the Great Hall.

Mr Ashburn is an Independent Director of Australian Pharmaceutical Industries.

Graduation address

Pro Chancellor, Fellows of the Senate, Dean, graduates, families and friends, ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be back here today in this beautiful hall. Actually, it’s the first time I have worn the master’s degree academic dress - I was overseas for my masters graduation - so it’s good to finally wear it.

Pharmacy was very different when I went through university in the early 70s. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but the mantra in those days was that pharmacy was a good job for a girl. So here I am, and I am grateful that I chose pharmacy, as it prepared me well for a very enjoyable career.

My memories of my student days are of endless days in the laboratory conducting organic chemistry experiments, or of making obscure creams and potions in pharmaceutics. On reflection, I don’t think anyone ever mentioned a patient then.

The nearest we came to a living thing was a twitching rat muscle in an organ bath, in pharmacology. And, there was the alcohol experiment -when half the class were given orange juice and the other half orange juice with a very large dose of ethanol in it, to see whether our reflexes were impacted differently (I suspect that doesn’t happen now- especially without any informed consent! ). Fortunately, pharmacy undergraduate education is very different now.

It was when I started the hospital diploma, and began interacting with patients, that pharmacy came alive for me.

Looking after people’s health is what it is all about, and if you put the patient first, no matter in which field of pharmacy you work, you will have a very satisfying career. This also applies to research - focusing on research, which could ultimately lead to new treatment options, has the potential to benefit a large number of people.

One of my earliest and unusual memories was when I was working in a hospital. I picked up the phone in the pharmacy and it was a man who said: “I was on the way back from picking up the milk at the shop and I saw a fantastic brown snake on the road; I picked it up and put it in the boot”. Then he got home and, yes, when he took the milk out of the boot, the snake bit him. So he rang the pharmacy to ask us to get some anti-venom, as he was driving himself to hospital (he knew the process and how long he had to get treated, as he’d been bitten before).

After arranging a helicopter to deliver the anti-venom, and doing some swift reading with the resident doctor to learn about snakebite and the correct treatment, we managed to save him, and 24 hours later he was back home with his pet snakes. I suspect he may have been back for a return visit sometime in the future.

Pharmacists, if they do their jobs well, really get to know their customers and their health needs, as they are often the first line health professionals. They also see how health policies are impacting the community. I urge you to take an active role with your local health care team and to contribute to any discussion on health policy, both at a local and national level. We have a very good health care system, but there are opportunities for improvement. You can make a difference.

Governments in Australia are putting a lot of effort into improving the quality of health care, through new programs and systems. I have had an opportunity to be involved in the design and implementation of some of these, and it is very apparent that they have the best outcomes when the healthcare team in a community, or a hospital, works well together, with the patient at the centre. For those of you moving into community pharmacy, be sure to connect with the local doctors, allied health professionals and community nurses- and not just when you have a problem. As a team, you can learn a lot more about your patients and be much more effective.

During my time in the pharmaceutical industry, I hired many pharmacists in all parts of the world. They have been successful in various roles- in research, clinical trial and regulatory work, as well as in less traditional roles such as marketing, strategy and general management.

There are many opportunities for pharmacists, some of which may not be immediately obvious. I have found pharmacists to be excellent people to work in the industry, as they have the knowledge, but also understand the health system and can relate to health practitioners, on a professional basis.

Pharmacy is a field where the drugs and technology are changing rapidly. Your university education has provided you with the analytical and scientific knowledge to evaluate new innovations, and there will be many of these.

So your education is just beginning. As well as staying up to date on pharmaceuticals, and possibly completing post-graduate pharmacy qualifications, consider other qualifications and training which will help you in your career, such as health economics, public health or a business degree.

For those of you graduating with PhDs or planning to move into academia or research, it is important that you stay connected with the profession and become leaders in health care reform and pharmacy education, as well as in your research area of choice.

Don’t be afraid to take up opportunities when they arise.

In my case, it was an opportunistic meeting with the MSD Managing Director which lead to me being offered a trainee position there. I had no idea about industry at the time, but taking on the role was one of the best things I ever did.

You have been privileged to have a wonderful education at this great University. With this, goes the responsibility to be a leader in the community. If you commit to this with energy and passion, I can guarantee you will have a very satisfying career.

And finally - don’t forget to stay in touch with your friends from university and to stay connected to, and support, your University.

Congratulations to all of you on this first stage of your journey.