Flying high through troubled times

Qantas jumbo

Handling the pressures of pharmacy is no mean feat… but we can take a few lessons from one aviation hero, writes Vanessa Lontos

On November 4th 2010, Captain Richard Champion de Crespigny was the pilot in command of Qantas Flight 32.

QF32 was a scheduled passenger flight that suffered an uncontained engine failure and made an emergency landing at Singapore Airport following an almost catastrophic air disaster. 

I don’t remember hearing of this flight emergency at the time, but recently on SBS’ Insight, Captain de Crespigny shared, in intimate detail, the extremely high-stakes experience of being in charge of that flight, and what it took to manage the aeroplane, control the situation, keep all crew safe and calm and ultimately bring all 400 passengers down safely. 

While pharmacy is very different to aviation, it is not uncommon for pharmacists to be working in high-pressure environments every day while serving hundreds of patients in often complex areas of health and chronic disease. 

This left me thinking about what it takes to be a leader when you are under pressure and what it takes to consistently making a contribution to the health outcomes of your patients every day.

Here are three quick tips:


Have a ‘flight’ plan

Captain de Crespigny shared that many pilots follow three rules when flying an aeroplane: ‘Aviate – Navigate – Communicate’. 

Aviate means to know how to fly the plane and where you are going; navigate means to follow a path and make adjustments along the way, and communicate is something you have to do every step of the way. 

Starting your day with a plan around what you want to achieve helps you all remember what you’re all aiming for. 

Then navigating and spending time communicating with your team, while making adjustments along the way, can help keep everyone on track and greatly increase your chance of creating success with your patients.


Find your stress

After spending many hours travelling around Australia coaching pharmacists, I have found that almost all pharmacists, when asked what do they enjoy most about their work, have answered, “I love to help people with their health”. 

Interestingly, the same number are experiencing very high levels of stress and pressure and find spending time with their patients challenging. 

The quickest way to identify the cause of stress and pressure is to ask yourself the question: “What makes me feel overwhelmed, and how do I manage it?”

Building effective stress-busting strategies can fast track your road to success.


Take control and talk to your patients

Your ability to manage the high-pressure demands of a pharmacy business and still build toward better patient outcomes, often comes down to one thing – taking control. 

One of the most powerful ways to take control is through the decisions you make every day.  Especially the decisions you make around how much time you have to talk to your patients. 

Sometimes the time we spend communicating with our patients is the first thing to go when we are busy. Spend some time today bringing awareness to what decisions you are making around patient time and communication.  

Finally, a thought: maybe this time of high pressure in pharmacy isn’t so much an emergency, but the perfect opportunity to show all the different ways we can fly.


Vanessa is a community pharmacist, former pharmacy owner, certified coach and director of The Care Project. Vanessa helps pharmacy owners, pharmacists and pharmacy assistants improve patient health outcomes and pharmacy business success through engagement, change leadership and professional service implementation. You can find out more at

Image courtesy Qantas

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