Made in the Illawarra - National Bereavement Training Module for Community Pharmacy

6 December 2021

A national training module to help people who work in community pharmacies better support their clients who are dealing with grief has been written and filmed in the Illawarra. The module is being launched this week during National Grief Awareness Week.

Funded by COORDINARE – South Eastern NSW PHN, the module content has been written by local Illawarra Shoalhaven Health District (ISLHD) subject matter experts. The video vignettes feature a local pharmacist and were filmed at the University of Wollongong campus pharmacy.

Dianne Kitcher, COORDINARE’s CEO said building capacity in community pharmacy is an important component to supporting primary care to be consumer-centred, accessible, and coordinated across all parts of the health system. 

“We have funded the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) to develop and make available this online module to equip community pharmacists and pharmacy staff with the skills to support families and caregivers who are dealing with grief,” said Ms Kitcher.

Retired Illawarra pharmacist Dianne North appears in the video vignettes. Dianne is passionate about equipping pharmacists to respond well to someone who is bereaved.

“We pharmacists play an important role in our community, we're generally the first port of call and are regarded as a trusted source of advice and support. In fact, all pharmacy staff often get to know their customers over many years so are well placed to recognise people who are struggling with their grief,” said Dianne.

“People need be allowed to show their grief and to be able to cry. In most cases people just need an ear to listen and sometimes a sit-down and a chat over a cuppa, it’s not our role to fix or cure them” she said.

“As a young pharmacist I would have benefitted from this training, it is impossible to teach this sort of thing when students are at university.

These skills are best learnt once someone is on the job and relating to people in a pharmacy setting every day,” Dianne said. Illawarra Shoalhaven Health District’s Bereavement Coordinator Bianka Eifler and Clinical Service Manager Dr Pippa Blackburn wrote the content and provided advice on the filming of the videos.

Bianka said she hoped the training would build the confidence of both pharmacists and non-clinical pharmacy staff in responding to someone who is grieving.

Sometimes people believe they need specialist training to assist people who are bereaved, but in most cases the main thing people need is compassion and warmth. Being our authentic human selves is often enough and will be powerful for the person who is grieving,” said Bianka.

“It is helpful to remember that people who are grieving don’t need to be fixed, and most people are incredibly resilient. Grief is our natural human response to loss. We will all experience loss following the death of someone significant in our lives in our lifetime; the grief may last many years, but the intensity might change.

“As community pharmacies provide relationship-centred care, they are well placed to support people who are grieving, as they have an existing connection and understanding,” Bianka said.

“Allowing time to sit with someone who is feeling that overwhelming sense of sadness can be very helpful and reduce their sense of loneliness. Some people might want to talk about their feelings or thoughts with someone who they know isn’t going to judge them. However, generally what you say isn’t as important as how you say it,” Bianka said.

ISLHD’s Bereavement Service provides free counselling to all bereaved members of the Illawarra and Shoalhaven community. Anyone can self-refer for grief and bereavement counselling via the service mobile number 0436 914 142 or email

“On occasions, specialist support is needed and it is helpful to be able to identify when people do need to be referred to a specialist service,” Bianka said.

Dianne Kitcher added, “I would encourage anyone who works in a pharmacy to take the opportunity to do this Bereavement Module. By doing so they will be able to understand how best to support their customers who are experiencing grief.”

To access the free National Bereavement Training Module for Community Pharmacies click here

Community, Illawarra Shoalhaven, Learning and workforce development, Media release, Southern NSW