If all goes to plan for Peter Rowlands, in a year's time the pharmacist will have traded the dispensary for fulltime study as possibly the first Kiwi to train in America to become a href="https://www.nzherald.co.nz/te-awamutu-courier/news/article.cfm?c_id=1504325&objectid=12270611" target="_blank">physician associate.
Medicine runs in the family for Peter, whose father is a doctor, so even after a career as a pharmacist, he would prefer to work more closely with patients where he believes he can be more helpful.
This week he completes his application to Loma Linda University in California to undertake the two-year training, beginning in the new academic year in the US (the September semester).
Peter grew up in Auckland and trained as a pharmacist before heading overseas.
While on his travels he met, and subsequently married, his American wife Jana.
The couple moved to the United States for 12 years before Peter convinced his wife New Zealand was the place to raise a family.
They came to Waikato in 2000 and Peter went back to school — taking papers at Waikato University to try and qualify for medical school, but his plan didn't work out.
He went back into pharmacy and won a job at The Warehouse when it operated a dispensary. Then, about seven years ago, a new head of The Warehouse Group changed the business plan and Peter found himself redundant.
He secured a job in Otorohanga and loved the small rural community.
In January 2017 he got a position at Te Awamutu Pharmacy — the best of both worlds as he still had the rural town workplace with less of a commute from Hamilton.
In June this year pharmacists were invited to attend the GP Conference in Rotorua, a first as far as Peter can recall.
Looking at the programme he saw there was a presentation from physician associate Tiffany Hodgson, accompanied by Dr Paul Kennedy, from the Te Awamutu Medical Centre.
Peter attended the conference and was excited to meet Tiffany and discuss the role of physician associate.
They kept in touch and Peter contacted New Zealand's two medical schools to see if they had any plans to offer physician associate training.
He says they were pretty non-committal, so he looked overseas.
With a grown-up family, the Rowlands would be able to travel together so the timing was right.
While he will apply as an international student, Peter does have the advantage of holding US citizenship, plus his wife has her American family so they would have accommodation and plenty to do in the US.
One of the requirements from Loma Linda is that potential students shadow a practising physician associate for two or three days for experience.
Peter says working with Tiffany at the Te Awamutu Medical Centre has confirmed this is what he wants to do.
He can see how physician associates can be part of New Zealand's solution to the doctor shortage and believes they offer many advantages to patients.
"Looking at how Tiffany works, I can say patients get a great deal," he says.
"She gives them a good amount of her time, consults with experienced GPs before making any final recommendations and has an excellent manner with patients."
Peter says there is a real niche for this middle tier of medical professionals.
In his experience in Te Awamutu he has also seen how Dr John Burton works with the Kawhia community and says he epitomises a real hands-on approach to medicine that makes a difference in the community.
Peter believes that could be similar to the results PAs could achieve working in a medical centre.
He is also impressed with Te Awamutu Medical Centre's walk-in system, where patients who cannot make an appointment with their doctor can still be seen the same day by a professional and get the care they need.
"It's a system fully suited to the PA role that other busy and understaffed centres could adopt," he says.
Peter hopes his application will be successful so he can join the growing ranks of PAs in New Zealand and help make a difference in rural communities that struggle to attract and retain doctors.