“On the ground, day in and day out”

In our latest Staff Spotlight, AJP chats with Michael Troy, managing partner of two pharmacies in South Grafton, on the north coast of NSW

1. Tell us about your pharmacy background.

I started my pharmacy pathway by doing my school work experience in year 10 at the local pharmacy in Berry, on the south coast NSW where I grew up. I had received a bit of a health upbringing as my mother is a midwife, so knew that the health arena was somewhere I wanted to be. I so thoroughly enjoyed my work experience (even rolling the end-of-year calendars) that I put it as my first preference to study at university.

I studied my Bachelor of Pharmacy at Charles Sturt University in Orange. There was no way that I was going to a metropolitan pharmacy school – while I wasn’t a country bumpkin, I couldn’t deal with the city lifestyle.

I thoroughly loved my uni days, being a small campus at Orange and getting to know everyone, both on your course and the other courses offered at the campus, was a highlight. And as a result my two best friends from my uni days are now a dentist and a wool classer.

While at uni I didn’t work at any of the local pharmacies. Rather I worked part-time in the local bike shop, but would do some holiday stints back with Ross at the Berry pharmacy as part of the mentor programme with the Pharmacy Guild Rural Pharmacy Scholarship.

Once completing uni, I did my internship in Cooma, southern NSW, starting in 2013.

It took me 18 months and two attempts at my oral exam to finish my internship, and must admit came out of it very disenchanted with pharmacy and the industry.

There was much doom and gloom about the accelerated price disclosure which the government implemented in 2013. I also didn’t enjoy my work environment and was quite seriously looking at pulling out the university applications booklet to see what to study next.

But thankfully a great lifeline came along, and I was approached and was asked to come and start working at a pharmacy in Culburra Beach, south coast NSW.

It was my new employers’ passion about pharmacy, plus the wonderful working environment and community at Culburra Beach and Culburra Pharmacy that reignited my passion about community pharmacy and what a role we can take and become in your local community (rural or metropolitan).

2. How did you get into ownership?

I was approached by my employer and asked if I would like to be involved in the business venture, which has resulted in me being where I am up in South Grafton.

3. Do you have tips for other pharmacists interested in breaking into ownership?

Ownership is not out side of anyone’s limits, if that is where you really want to go with your pharmacy. I was 28 when I bought my two pharmacies, and had been registered for less than two and a half years.

It is certainly a challenging, and very daunting prospect. The hairline on my temples has significantly receded over the last 18 months, and there are many days where I do not feel like a pharmacist, but just a business owner dealing with HR, IR, rosters, holidays…

But when you do own, embed yourself into the community like I have tried to do. I sponsor the local women’s League Tag, the local Rugby Union club, golf club and am about to make a donation to the local Headspace, plus your patients see you there at your shop day-in and day-out and recognise you, and then start recognising you outside of work, yes sometimes asking you what is the rash they have while at the supermarket grocery aisle. But often just to say hello and talk about the weather, or the fishing or any other topical conversation.

But if you do want to get into ownership, demonstrate your value to your current employer, but also the value of your character. And if you are lucky to come across an opportunity, with a like-minded person, who also has a similar vision about pharmacy (they don’t always have to line up exactly), and you are up for the challenge.

4. What’s good about pharmacy at the moment?

There are plenty of great things happening in pharmacy at the moment. The implementation of influenza vaccines to be provided by pharmacists, with talk of further services being added in the future, or access to the National Immunisation Program.

Paid MedsChecks, getting paid by the government for what pharmacists have been doing for years (unfortunately the argument from some parties is that it’s small compensation for reduced dispensing fees/markup coupled with lots of paperwork).

“Ownership is not outside of anyone’s limits, if that is where you really want to go.”

Both of these programs open up opportunities for health conversations with people. I’ve had lots of new customers come into my shop this year for the flu shot that otherwise wouldn’t have come to me (as I was the last pharmacy in the Grafton area to have stock, plus one of few/only qualified immunisers).

This has meant over 200 new opportunities for a health conversation that I’ve been privileged to have, in that one-on-one situation in my clinic room.

The implementation of the MHR is also going to be a huge benefit to the clinical capabilities for pharmacists, and while I expect there to be a hiccup or two, the information that we will finally be able to access to make informed clinical choices about, rather than just hope.

I admit that I believe it will create workload pressures incorporating the new areas to look for information, but the overall benefit will certainly be beneficial to the patient, but also increasing our scope and hopefully increasing pharmacists standing in healthcare circles and demonstrate our quality and attributes as medication experts.

5. Can you name some challenges that you think need to be addressed in the pharmacy sector?

Workforce issues are certainly a giant issue. Pharmacist numbers in rural areas are abysmal.

I know lots of pharmacies that have a full-time equivalent load going begging, and these would just be in rural areas, not even remote. Although apparently Grafton is befitting of a PhARIA 1 [highly accessible] status, which is an issue that I have raised.

Meanwhile we have peers being paid minimum wage, which I think is atrocious (I don’t pay any of my employee pharmacists minimum rates), and according to the survey by the PPA are more likely to be employed by a discount chain (I would love to have a postcode attached to that survey!), where I know Grafton’s quality of living is better, with shorter commute times, cheaper rent, and only 2.5 hours from the Gold Coast or an hour to Coffs Harbour.

I think also the regular battle with other health care professionals or their leading bodies is detrimental to pharmacy. Why do arguments need to break out over pharmacist-led health care provision, when access is such an issue?

It takes me six weeks to see a doctor, when a pharmacist is the most accessible health care professional. For example, I’ve just had someone walk in off the street and been able to give them their flu shot within five minutes of entering the store.

Some view these discussions as a turf war, us versus them. When it really should be seen as, what is the best patient outcome in terms of timely access to health care professionals, minimising medication misadventure, hospital admissions and improving the quality of life of our joint patients.

And that goes with the upscheduling of codeine, which I will say, I strongly believe was a poor decision, poorly informed and poorly implemented. Pharmacists are the medication experts, we have already demonstrated time and time again that we are appropriate guardians of medication, Project Stop being a perfect example of what codeine could have been, while still providing access to pain relief for short term acute pain relief.

And when leading doctors’ bodies stated that none of their members would be prescribing sub-therapeutic products, I think that every pharmacy is dispensing them, and also having issues with stocking them.

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