2021 Medal of Merit oration

Kerry Fitzsimons

BPharm, GradDipHospPharm, MClinPharm, FSHP | Manager, Medicines and Technology Unit, Department of Health, Western Australia

[Pharmacy GRIT Article No: 20231383]

Oration presented at Medicines Management 2022, 46th National Conference of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia, 1–3 December 2022, Brisbane, Australia.  

To the SHPA President, Tom Simpson, the former President Peter Fowler, colleagues, and distinguished guests, I am incredibly honoured to receive this prestigious award.

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land upon which we meet today, and I pay my respects to their Elders, past, present, and emerging.

I would like to sincerely thank the SHPA WA Branch for nominating me for the 2021 Medal of Merit. I would especially like to thank Deirdre Criddle and Peter Smart for supporting my application and to the Federal Council for selecting me for this award, I am truly grateful. I would also like to acknowledge my fellow nominees and say thank you to those involved in the nomination and selection process. I recognise the pivotal role SHPA has played in supporting and shaping me as a hospital pharmacist throughout my career thus far, so being recognised by my professional organisation is indeed the highlight of my pharmacy career. It is at such a challenging time in health care when there are so many amazing hospital pharmacists in Western Australia, and across the nation, contributing to clinical excellence and patient-centred care.

To be acknowledged by your peers for doing the work that you love is very humbling, especially considering the outstanding calibre of previous recipients who have received this award and who have left me awe-inspired in their wake. I feel very fortunate for having the opportunity to have met so many wonderful people on my pharmacy journey so far, and I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the support I have received along the way.

I have been very privileged to have had so many inspiring mentors and leaders who have guided, trusted, and supported me throughout my career, giving me the confidence to step forward and keep going, even when the tasks sometimes seemed difficult. There are so many people I would like to thank, but in particular, I would like to give special mention to the following people as I would not be here today without their mentoring, support, and guidance.

The first pharmacist who was one of my earliest influencers is Peter Tenni, who during my hospital internship year constantly gave me on the spot challenges, fueling the need to constantly question everything, awakening a thirst for knowledge and the ability to speak on my feet.

The next pharmacist was Linda Fellows, the Chief Pharmacist during my time working at Graylands Hospital, who taught me the importance of planning, being a progressive leader, and embracing the multidisciplinary team approach.

Richard Wojnar-Horton was the Chief Pharmacist when I worked at Fremantle Hospital. He provided me with many opportunities to improve and extend myself, supporting innovative ideas and projects that I wanted to be involved in and which I would not have been able to do without his guidance. This included creating the first medication safety position within Western Australia (WA) Health and undertaking the project which led to creating the business case for first Pre-Admission Clinic Pharmacist position in WA, along with winning the 2011 Healthy WA Award for “’Improving the Patient’s Journey Award’. It was also during this time in my career that I started my medication safety journey, and my first time to lead medication safety for hospital accreditation. I instantly knew this was going to be my area of specialty.

During my time at Fiona Stanley Hospital, Barry Jenkins (Chief Pharmacist) always inspired me with his ability to make things happen — sometimes with what seemed the near impossible — by sharing a vision across the team and providing a superb leadership example.

I met Deirdre Criddle with our paths crossing in medication safety and SHPA WA Branch spheres. Deirdre showed me the importance of making a difference. That it is possible to break down barriers to provide the ultimate in patient-centred care and continuity of medication management, as well as the importance of mentoring and supporting both other pharmacists in their development and SHPA membership as a whole. Working with Deirdre as co-coordinator of the Medicines Management 2016 conference was an amazing experience, and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.

Neil Keen was the Department of Health Chief Pharmacist when I first started at WA Health, and he has been instrumental in guiding me through the bureaucratic maze at the Health Department and has helped me develop a system-wide lens on problem solving. It was a significant leap of faith for me to step away from the hospital setting to working in government, so having his ear and mentorship was invaluable.

I first worked with Chris Hopps at Fiona Stanley Hospital during the commissioning days and through the first couple of rounds of accreditation. It was in early 2020 when I received his phone call for assistance, and it is his faith in me to take on the role of tackling the logistics and guidelines for the WA Vaccination Program that I am most grateful. Chris provided guidance in developing strategies to navigate and negotiate challenging problems during uncertainty and the importance to stand firm and speak your truth, especially when escalating the requirements for quality manufacturing practice to ATAGI.

I have worked alongside Naomi Burgess as a member of the Health Service Medication Expert Advisory Group since 2012. Naomi has been a wonderful role model of national leadership, demonstrating the importance of advocacy and collaboration for the benefits of patients across the nation, and for being available to provide a reality check-in, especially during these last two years of pandemic chaos!

I know how incredibly busy all of these people are with their roles, but they have always been generous with their time to provide mentorship and guidance. I am indeed indebted and in deep gratitude to them all.

My passion, as many of you know, is medication safety and quality improvement. I have always wanted to make a difference, no matter the work I have been involved with. Some of my biggest rewards have been the opportunity to mentor others and seeing them develop into the leaders of the future.

Through my pharmacy career I have faced many challenges, including leading medication safety for multiple hospital accreditations, assisting in preparation for commissioning of a new hospital, and navigating the bureaucracy of government to introduce statewide safety initiatives. As a medication safety pharmacist, I am a strong advocate for speaking up for patient safety. There have been times when there were struggles, but I have always had the support of my peers to keep me focused and on track for success.

These challenges have boded me well in developing skills and strengths for future challenges, such as the COVID-19 vaccine experience, as well as navigating what was required for the COVID-19 medicines for WA Health. Knowing that when high-level decisions need to be made rapidly, there is the need to stand up and flag potential issues promptly so that safe and quality medication practices are always central to all considerations.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf once said “Our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble but by the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off, and move forward”. This could not be a truer reflection of my career to date. We cannot be expected to succeed at everything we do, we are human after all. It is the ability to learn from experiences that takes us to the next challenge which makes us better equipped and more likely to succeed.

There are four words that sum up my career that I hope imparts some inspiration to you all.


One of the greatest benefits of working in the hospital pharmacy profession has been the opportunity to work with like-minded, patient-centred, and enthusiastic professionals. This has fostered a learning and quality improvement environment that has created a sense of purpose and value to the work that we do. Being part of a team provides a sense of togetherness and achievement that cannot be underestimated.

I don’t see this award as for ‘me’ alone, but as a ‘we’ collective. All that I have achieved has been due to an awesome network of pharmacy colleagues, friends, and family who have collaborated, supported, and fueled my passion to achieve my goals. One of my favorite sayings is an African proverb: ‘[i]f you want to go fast, go alone — if you want to go far, go together.’

Working collaboratively as a team has always been very important to me; whether it be within my department, with other disciplines, or collaborating across hospitals for statewide change or at a national level. It is imperative to work towards a common goal to make things happen.

I would especially like to recognise the fabulous teams I have worked with at Fiona Stanley, Fremantle, and Graylands Hospitals, working alongside the WA Chief Pharmacists Forum members, the SHPA WA Branch team, the fabulous SHPA Medication Safety Leadership Committee, and the amazing team I work with in the Medicines and Technology Unit, Patient Safety and Clinical Quality Division of the WA Department of Health. I would also like to acknowledge my colleagues from around the nation for their sharing of information and support, especially over the past few years of COVID-19 chaos, including the Australian Commission for Quality and Safety in Health Care medication team, the members of the Health Service Medication Expert Advisory Group, and the Council of Australian Therapeutic Advisory Group.


 My life’s motto is ‘[n]ever let an opportunity pass you by’ — and although this has got me into trouble a few times — it has certainly opened many doors.

Challenges extend and help you grow in your learning.                                                                                                                                        

Every opportunity is a new challenge. We might not always be 100% prepared, but the best things in life do not come easily. It gives us the focus to learn and grow.

There is usually a reason why challenges are presented to us, to prepare us for the next stage of our career.

Pharmacists have the perfect skill set for tackling challenges and problem solving, and often make the best project coordinators. Our attention to detail, detective skills, ability to adhere to a process, and excellent collaboration and communication skills, often go underutilised, and should be a focus for research and quality improvement for patient care.


The importance of dedicating yourself to the process and seeing things through to the end. Not all rides are smooth, and you sometimes need to hold on and strap yourself into the rollercoaster to make the journey a success. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Some of the most difficult rides take us to the best destination. Passion, grit, and determination result in realising visions to achievements.

Finally, there is courage

Courage to step outside your comfort zone; to be brave and want to try something different. It is in these moments of courage that we open ourselves to new opportunities and skills that we would not necessarily have found if we had not taken the chance.

For my career journey I have found there is always support if you ask for it. It takes courage to ask for assistance, but I have found the reaped benefits are always greater than taking the risk.

To conclude, I again would like to thank the Society for this prestigious award, one that I am very proud and privileged to have received.

I would also like to give thanks to my family. My parents, my sons, Tim and Chris, and my husband Peter, who is here with me today. I am indebted for their unwavering support, patience, and understanding in my efforts to follow my passion, and strive to continue to make a difference in my work, for quality and safe patient care, and my contributions to the pharmacy profession.

Finally, I would like to implore you to strive to lead in the work you enjoy.

It doesn’t matter what position you hold; you can always demonstrate leadership qualities and activities. We all have leadership skills within us to take on the challenges, we just need to lean in with conviction, courage, and collaboration to make it happen. There are so many opportunities for the taking.

Great leaders don’t set out to be leaders, they set out to make a difference. It’s never about the role — always about the goal.

Thank you.