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An award-winning student’s commitment to improving mental health in pharmacy

The PDA recently caught up with Adam O'Neill, the winner of the 2023 Northern Ireland Pharmacy Student Leadership Award, to highlight his inspirational dedication to improving the mental health of his fellow students and the wider pharmacy community.

Thu 15th June 2023 The PDA

The annual Northern Ireland Healthcare Awards is an event designed to bring together pharmacy professionals from across the industry and celebrate their achievements. Each year, the PDA sponsors the Student Leadership category of the Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish Pharmacy Awards to celebrate the successes of future professionals. Adam O’Neill, a PDA member and student at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), was this year’s winner.

The PDA recently caught up with Adam to discuss his pharmacy journey so far.

The Pharmacy Student Leadership Award

I was presented with the Pharmacy Student Leadership Award for my work to improve mental health both on campus and in the pharmacy community. I believe that it is crucial for pharmacists to begin integrating mental health into patient counselling and general patient care. This is an aspect that I feel has been neglected up to now and requires further development to truly fulfil the holistic patient-centred approach we strive for as healthcare professionals.

I am a trained mental health first aider on campus, and I hold a key role as a core member of the School of Pharmacy Mental Health and Wellbeing group. This is particularly through the podcast we started this year called PharmaCast, which has proved to be a very useful tool in educating my fellow students and university staff alike. In this podcast, we speak with guests such as individuals doing amazing mental health work in the community. We discuss common mental health issues that students face, the real-life implications of mental health conditions, and any advice to cope with these pressures, such as anxiety and the effect this condition has on exam preparation.

It means a great deal to me to have been presented with the award as all the finalists have been doing great work and were all equally deserving of the award. It is also great to have my hard work recognised by qualified professionals within the community. It has let me know that I’m on the right track and from this point, I can really kick on. It also meant a lot to be involved in a prestigious event such as the NI Healthcare Awards as it massively helps to make students feel like a real part of the wider pharmacy community, providing further motivation and inspiration for future projects.

Studying pharmacy

My main reason for studying pharmacy is to help people in their everyday lives and hopefully improve treatment options and outcomes for patients. My family has experienced the hardships of loved ones having serious conditions such as cystic fibrosis, dementia, and leukaemia and so if in the future I am able to improve the circumstance of even one person, that would be amazing.

There are also so many different aspects to pharmacy now as the field continues to grow. Many jobs are being created outside of the traditional three routes, which are community, hospital, or industry, and this allows for a lot more career progression than previously available to pharmacists.

At the minute almost everything in the field still fascinates me however, during the past academic year I have become increasingly interested in drug delivery. Over the summer I am going to complete an internship in the labs at QUB regarding this area of study. The research possibilities are endless and I am very excited to learn more over the next few months.

Even though there may have been a few challenges during my time studying pharmacy, I probably wouldn’t change anything. I am happy with where I am now and the goals I am working towards and so, if I changed anything it may have led to a different path I wouldn’t have been as excited about.

My tips for first-year pharmacy students

The tips I would give to students who are just starting their pharmacy course are to:

  • Get involved in groups, societies, and just general campus life as quickly as possible, you will not regret it!
  • Organise and plan from the start of the year. It is so important as pharmacy is such an intense course.
  • Stay open to all areas as you will change your career aspirations throughout the course of the degree. You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity that might be perfect for you.

By  Adam O’Neill, Queen’s University Belfast student pictured with Una O’Farrell, PDA National Officer for Northern Ireland, and Cathy Harrison, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer

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