Pharmacist in Profile: Specialist in Poisons Information

PIP specialist in poisons information

Nicole Wright, Deputy Manager NSW Poisons Information Centre gives us an insight into working at the PIC and her top tips for young pharmacists.

Tell us a bit about your background before you became a Specialist in Poisons Information.

Prior to working as a Specialist in Poisons Information (SPI) I was employed as an intern at the Children’s Hospital Westmead. A significant proportion of poisons centre calls continue to involve accidental ingestions or therapeutic misadventure in infants and toddlers, hence, my paediatric training has proven a useful foundation for my current role. Hospital training confers additional advantages such as face-to-face interaction with healthcare professionals, appreciation for the Emergency and Intensive Care environments, interpretation of pathology results/other investigations, and more diverse exposure to a range of medicines.

What does a typical day look like at the Poisons Information Centre?

Working as a SPI can be intense, responding to a phone call as often as every few minutes during peak periods. Call taking involves advising medical professionals on the management and prognosis of poisonings, as well as assessment and triage of patients exposed to various toxins or medicines in the home, and subsequent treatment advice or referral to a healthcare facility. SPIs also advise on bites and stings, and respond briefly to medicines information enquiries, providing advice on drug interactions and pregnancy/lactation outside of business hours, when other specialist services are unavailable. The centre can be a hive of activity when numerous staff are receiving calls, and even more so when the seniors are discussing research, toxicovigilance and clinical training/development concurrently.

What do you enjoy most about being a SPI?

Definitely teasing apart a deliberate overdose with a scant history in a patient that is acutely unwell, which involves correlating a patient’s clinical symptoms with a known toxidrome (or numerous), and considering the medicines a patient has access to. Additionally, there is great deal of gratitude expressed by the public for the efficient emergency service we offer, and respect received from junior clinicians accessing the service for patient management advice.

What can pharmacists do if they’re interested in a role as a SPI?

Toxicology is considered a specialist practice area and as such SPIs are employed as Grade 2 pharmacists with minimum three years clinical experience. Developing excellent interpersonal communication skills and history taking capability, and consolidating your knowledge (particularly of clinical pharmacology) during this time is imperative.

What advice would you give to today’s pharmacy students and interns?

In the competitive environment faced by pharmacists today, be open to alternative and non-traditional roles and opportunities. Keep informed and up-to-date, stay in touch with the profession, and always continue to develop new skills and challenge yourself.

What do you think are essential skills that pharmacists should be taught but aren’t?

The ability to employ critical and analytical thinking to problem-solving; an answer will not always be located in a reference, in which case you need to be adaptive and practical. Also, development of effective and improved communication with patients and practitioners using simulated patient/practitioner scenarios, and role-based experiential learning. Active listening; the patient is your best source of information, remember this and ask lots of questions.

Finally – what is the best advice you’ve received (business or personal)?

To ‘live your life with passion, without it there is no point in living’…and, to ‘never cease asking why!’

NSW Poisons Information Centre

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