Learning Pharmacy on-the-job

After pursuing other career fields, Arzhay Heslop found a passion for pharmacy and wanting to fit her studies around work and family, made the decision to study online with Open Polytechnic.

Having completed the New Zealand Certificate in Pharmacy (Pharmacy Technician) (Level 4), Arzhay is now working towards gaining the New Zealand Certificate in Pharmacy (Pharmacy Technician) (Level 5) which will give her the skills and knowledge to work as a senior pharmacy technician.
“I decided to study further because I wanted to learn at the top of my scope and be a pharmacy technician expert, I also want to help train new technicians,” Arzhay explains.

Taking the first step

Leaving school and not knowing what she wanted to do except that she enjoyed helping people, Arzhay’s study journey took all sorts of twists and turns from starting a degree in social science, to having her son. “My son was born very ill with a bowel condition and throughout his tiny life had 19 procedures and surgeries. So, my study plans were put on hold for a while and I had to adjust to being a mother of a sick child,” she says.

Having determined that a pharmacy career was right for her, Arzhay decided that distance study was the best choice, letting her work full-time at West Huntly Pharmacy, whist studying part-time and looking after her son. She says, “My son was my inspiration for pushing myself back into study and especially for pharmacy where my passion is.”

Online and practical

Arzhay especially likes that Open Polytechnic’s pharmacy courses are very practical and on-the-job. She gets to learn on the go, applying what she’s picked up in her studies directly into her day-to-day work in the pharmacy. “You are able to learn about topics and skills and put them to work in the pharmacy that gives you a better and deeper understanding, allowing you to fully understand the whole process of what you are doing,” she explains.

Working at Huntly West Pharmacy, Arzhay also benefits from learning from an industry expert, asking her employer questions as she goes. “My employer is always supportive with my studies and always asks what topics I am working on and gives me great resources to use like pharmacy textbooks and online links too. They are always interested in what I am doing which I find very supportive and it helps me become more motivated.”

Open Polytechnic’s pharmacy courses combine online learning with working and learning on the job from industry experts. Arzhay says, “What I found good about online learning is that you can study at your own pace and the materials are fantastic and available anywhere, at anytime.”

Arzhay is well on her way to completing the New Zealand Certificate in Pharmacy (Pharmacy Technician) (Level 5) and says her studies have opened up a whole new world of opportunities.  “Studying has changed my outlook on life and my career exponentially. Having the knowledge under my belt has given me that extra confidence I need. I have joined the Pacific Pharmacist Association this year and I know that what I will be able to offer them comes directly from the knowledge I have gain through my studies.”

Passion for Pharmacy  

Helping others is what attracted Arzhay to a career in pharmacy. She says, “Helping people is what I love to do, seeing a patient come into the pharmacy with questions and seeing them leave happy and with knowledge of their medicine and condition is priceless.”

“I enjoy working alongside other healthcare providers in the community because I feel that the pharmacy plays an important role of being a bridge between hospitals, medical centres and the community, which is very special.”

Study support

Throughout her studies, Arzhay experienced the challenges of losing loved ones and looking after her ill son. She explains, “This was a difficult time for me and emotionally I didn’t have the energy or motivation to go on. What helped me was the support from my employer and the support from Open Polytechnic.”

“At one point I couldn’t get my assignment in on time but my tutor was very understanding and gave me an extension.”

Community is key

Arzhay’s passion for community work along with her passion for pharmacy led her to being featured in Pharmacy Today for her community focused Halloween initiative that she started with her two sisters. The idea ‘Trunk or Treat’, is a safe alternative to door knocking in a controlled environment.

Arzhay explains, “The idea is that trunks or boots of cars would be decorated and filled with candy and children will trick or treat between cars rather than houses.”

Local businesses got involved with the initiative including her employer at Huntly West Pharmacy, the local fire department, St John Ambulance, the NZ police and many more.

Arzhay’s workplace chose to have a boot that spread awareness about throat swabbing in pharmacies and how strep throat can lead to Rheumatic Fever (RF). She explains, “We gave out handmade information packs to 250 children and swabbed 4-19 year olds who had a sore throat as this is the funded age group.”

“I am very passionate about RF prevention, I am both a Pacific Islander (Samoan) and Māori, and these ethnicities are mostly affected by RF and lots of children are dying each year from this disease. I feel it is my duty to spread awareness and help my people. We have run the event for the last 2 years and this year we have been approached by the council to have the event funded and be a free event for the community, which is so fantastic!”

The future is Pharmacy

Arzhay’s long term goals are to become a Pharmacy Accuracy Checking Technician, and focus on her special interests in gout and diabetes.

Arzhay offers a few words of wisdom for anyone thinking about studying; “Do it! Get out of your comfort zone, gain skills and knowledge, extend yourself and make a difference in your community!”

You are able to learn about topics and skills and put them to work in the pharmacy that gives you a better and deeper understanding, allowing you to fully understand the whole process of what you are doing.