Leanne Kaiaruna (55), Elizabeth Bryson (21), Tarita Mulholland (23), Mereaumate Messine (28) and Terepai (Ben) Numanga (19) are now all qualified pharmacy technicians with a diploma in pharmacy.
“This is a fantastic achievement for these students and for the Cook Islands,” said Cook Islands chief pharmacist Andrew Orange. “We need more pharmacy staff here to make sure that people get good access to the medicines they need, and that people know how best to use the medicines they have.”
The pharmacy technician course at CITTI was set up by Dr Ruth Ferguson, a visiting consultant pharmacist from New Zealand who has been travelling to the Cook Islands since December 2013 to assist with the introduction and improvement of pharmacy services here.
One of the problems she faced in her role was getting enough formally trained staff into the pharmacies on Rarotonga.
While certain overseas courses were considered as options for training staff, none was suitable due to either the cost or travel required.
“The only way to solve this issue was to set up a course here for the Cook Islands that was run on the island, and use local staff to actually educate people,” said Ferguson.
With a PhD and 40 years’ experience in pharmacy, Ferguson was well-suited to that task, researching various different international courses to see what would be relevant to a Cook Islands pharmacy course.
Seven students initially enrolled in the course, which required a year’s commitment of three nights a week, three hours each night of class time.
While two of the five that graduated already worked in pharmacy, three were new to the industry and have jobs. They said the course could be “stressful” at times – “but it definitely gave us a better understanding of medicine”, said Tarita Mulholland.
“Plus all the law – what we can and can’t do, or what happens if we make a mistake,” added Elizabeth Bryson.
Another pharmacy technician course is already in the planning stages for 2020, which is when Ferguson predicts a new batch of graduates will be needed.
“What these people are going to do is provide a backbone for pharmacy services in the Cook Islands, so what it means is that people should be able to get more reliable information on medicines when they go to buy them,” she said.
“That’s what the aim really is – to make the whole practice of pharmacy services safer for people.”