‘I was in a cot in the pharmacy’: Pharmacist Zamil Solanki has a unique and special relationship with his mentor… who happens to be his mum, Anita!
With about 40 years’ experience in community pharmacy under her belt, including in ownership, Anita Solanki has not only mentored her two pharmacist sons but many others as well.
She has paved the way for Zamil as well as countless students and interns to find their passion in pharmacy.
Anita must have done something right—Zamil was the TerryWhite Chemmart (TWC) Pharmacist of the Year in 2017 and his pharmacy was a finalist in the 2019 Guild Pharmacy of the Year awards.
He now runs his own consultancy to help other pharmacy businesses succeed, while Anita works part-time at Chempro Bilambil Heights.
Here the AJP finds out more about their mentoring relationship.
1. What has been your journey in the pharmacy industry?
Anita: “It was my mum’s suggestion that I do pharmacy in the first place. I did my pre-reg in New Zealand, and then moved to and worked in Melbourne, where I owned a pharmacy for nearly 10 years. Then when we moved to Brisbane I had young children, so I worked for other people.
“The pharmacy in Melbourne was crazy, it was my first pharmacy so I was very passionate – I was only 22 when I bought it. So I worked 9am-9pm, 365 days of the year, even Christmas Day I worked the whole day! I didn’t want to go home I was so passionate about it. We even had a BBQ in the backyard, and we had a TV at work, and I even had my ironing board at work and my sewing machine – it became my second home.
“I then moved across to Queensland, so have been in Brisbane ever since, now working between Coolangatta and working in NSW makes it more interesting as well.
“I actually have two sons that did pharmacy and I was the mentor for them both. All the universities—I’ve even had students from Townsville come over to me—they would ring up and ask, ‘can you take a student?’ I would always try my best to accommodate any students at any level, whichever stage they were at. I began with one pre-reg at a time, and then ended up having two pre-regs at a time.
“I’ve now been in pharmacy for about 40 years. I just feel very lucky that I’m in a profession that I thoroughly enjoy, and I find very rewarding.”
Zamil: “So, it’s quite funny—my grandma told my mum, but my mum never encouraged us specifically to do pharmacy. She was quite shocked when we enrolled into pharmacy, just thinking that it wouldn’t want to be a path that we would want to go down.
“But I guess definitely seeing the ability to make a discernible difference in the lives of others in a community really resonated with me since a young age of being in the pharmacy.
“Going back to those ownership days that Anita had in Melbourne, I was born in Melbourne, I was in a cot in the pharmacy. I’m 35, and I’ve been 35 years in the industry. Even when I was 14 years old, I was teaching fourth-year students how to dispense.
“So I think that passion was definitely instilled from the early [formative] years of just seeing that…. But also what really interested me was the fact that you were running a business as well. That attention to running it like a business is even greater than other healthcare professions and that’s what really sparked my interest as well, following graduation. That allowed me to build our first pharmacy, where mum had bought a pharmacy and I totally redeveloped and redesigned it during third-year uni.
“I now work in business, to work on business. With my one-on-one clients I put on the jacket, work in their business like it was my own … and identify or validate issues and then work strategically with the leadership team but also the entire team on those issues.”
2. Anita, how do you approach mentoring in the pharmacy? And was mentoring your son/s different from mentoring other people in the pharmacy?
Anita: “Different in the sense that I’m more strict … I really cracked the whip with my boys compared to everybody else because you’ve got to set an example for the others to follow.
“They in turn would help me teach the students that came along. We would have two pre-regs and three students coming in and going out of the pharmacy. I would always try my best to accommodate any students at any level, whichever stage they were at.
“It’s just the joy in teaching and you learn so much from young people, the pleasure of teaching when someone is keen to learn. It’s not just the knowledge, it’s also the passion and I think that’s what pharmacy needs is the passion, the wanting to help people. It’s not just all about money, we’re a profession where we take care of people’s needs in all sorts of forms.
“We’re the first port of call, late at night when they’re wanting a shoulder to cry on or they’re wanting some advice, or maybe just they’re upset about something or maybe they’re cranky and they come in and yell at you.
“Part of my mentorship was trying to get the students and the young people to understand that they’re probably just having a bad day, it’s not you, you just happen to be the person in the path to get yelled at – especially with these COVID times where there’s a lot of stress in pharmacy. If everyone’s prepared for that from a young age, they can cope with it. I think that’s important.”
What have I learned from mum? I would have to say 100%—grit and resilience.
3. What have you learned from your mum?
Zamil: “I would have to say 100%—grit and resilience. Going back to where mum started off, it was extremely humble beginnings and she didn’t touch on that. She came to this country with absolutely nothing. Hence that work ethic was created, working 365 days a year literally, not one day off, 9am-9pm, 12-hour days as well, that work ethic and that determination to create a better life is definitely one of the biggest things that I’ve received from my mentorship.
“But also the ability to explore new opportunities and to really jump into and seize opportunities as they present because at the end of the day, opportunities are fleeting as well.
“The final thing I’d say though is passing on the knowledge. It was that ability to then become a mentor myself, which I think is the greatest gift of any mentor, is the ability to then pass on that knowledge.
4. What are the most important traits of a good mentor?
Anita: “The willingness and the patience to be able to teach. You’re going to have students at varying degrees [of experience], I had ones come through that hardly spoke English, ones that were maybe going through personal issues themselves which they brought into work and you’ve just got to work your way through it, be a listening ear and be patient and be there for them so that they can be there for everybody else.
“It’s almost like a life choice, pharmacy, you’re not just there dishing out drugs, it is business but at the same time, no matter how big the pharmacy is, because we had quite a large TWC pharmacy – and I’ve had small pharmacies as well – in every one, it’s the personal touch that makes the difference.”
Zamil: “You read a lot in these forums about the relationship between interns and preceptors, and all of that. One of the biggest missed opportunities I feel from a mentor-mentee relationship is that intern year, and even the student connection as well.
“We’re in a talent crisis at the moment, with staff shortages and things like that. At the end of the day, mentors and leaders have the opportunity to create the talent that they want. It’s about their ability to invest the time and effort on their end. Also, the mentee to invest the time and effort on their end as well, to actually then take on board the lessons and to step up into what could be amazing opportunities.
“I was reading an article in the AJP about an intern being disgruntled about walking the dog, running errands, and I looked at that and I couldn’t believe it. The sentiment was, yeah, it was their job to do that. And then you wonder why we’ve got a talent crisis! If this is the sentiment for future generations and the mentor-mentee relationships that are being formed at this stage, unfortunately I believe it’s only going to get worse.
“It really was a missed opportunity by that mentor, the leader in the business, to actually grow somebody, to actually invest the time and effort into somebody that is wanting to learn. That’s why our community pharmacies are seeing astronomical drop-off rates in the community sector to hospital – because of workplace culture as well.”
5. What are the most important traits of a good mentee?
Zamil: “I think it’s about firstly looking at it in the mindset of opportunity rather than challenge. There’s so many challenges that always face pharmacy.
“But it’s about changing those challenges into the mindset of, where are the opportunities in this and what can I learn from it?
“The second part is a willingness to learn and receive information, and also to receive constructive criticism and to find the lessons learnt from that and to grow from it, rather than utilising signs of the ego which then deflect blame, justify, deny – things that we might get triggered by.
“Utilising those skills as a mentee is critical to make sure that we are open to receiving the information that we’re given but also then to be able to lean in and go, well, can I do that little bit more? Actually getting in and doing the work is probably the biggest takeaway from being a mentee, you’ve got to do the work, it’s not going to be handed to you.”
Do you have an awesome mentor or mentee? Please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org so we can share your story!