‘We’re one of the lucky ones.’

An award-winning pharmacist reflects on how pharmacy has been impacted by COVID-19 and shares her story with the Australian public

The last couple of months have probably been the most chaotic in the pharmacy’s history, Karen Brown, owner of two TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacies in Brisbane, has told the ABC.

“But I’m a firm believer that it’s our time to step up in our community.”

Ms Brown, who won 2018 TerryWhite Chemmart Pharmacist of the Year and 2016 Guild Pharmacy of the Year – Community Engagement, shared what has and hasn’t changed since the pandemic hit Australia’s shores.

“People still get sick … Parents still ask you about head lice. They still want to talk to you about worms,” she said.

However Ms Brown pointed out how some forms of patient support have become difficult in the era of social distancing.

“A young mum doesn’t want to talk to you about her sensitive thrush from 2 metres away,” she said.

And a clinic the pharmacy ran for new mums every Wednesday night has so far been cancelled.

“People handle stress differently. I think as a community, we feel like we’re not in control right now and that can make some people short-tempered,” said Ms Brown.

“I think to myself: ‘Be patient, maybe they’ve just lost their job.’ But sometimes I wish they could see my side of things, too.

“I’ve heard stories of fellow owners who’ve had staff resign because they don’t feel safe at work anymore,” she said.

“Some have even had to hire security staff at their pharmacies to deal with the violence.

“I feel like we’re one of the lucky ones. Our local community has been pretty understanding and I would say most people are grateful.”

(L-R): Nick Munroe, TerryWhite Chemmart National Operations Manager, Karen Brown – 2018 Pharmacist of the Year, TerryWhite Chemmart Samford and Duncan Phillips – Chief Operating Officer, TerryWhite Chemmart

Ms Brown also shares what the experience has been like for her family, and how fighting this pandemic is “a team effort” for everyone on the frontline.

“I sense a light at the end of the tunnel as restrictions are slowly lifted here in Queensland. Already over the weekend people were keen to have more in-depth conversations about their health,” she added on social media.

A few weeks ago, pharmacist Chrysa Giannellis shared her own experience with AJP about what life has been like working in pharmacy during a pandemic.

“There is only one word which describes the pharmacy situation currently – intense. Every day feels like we are fighting an uphill battle. My colleagues and pharmacy staff around Australia are part of a silent overlooked army of humble frontline soldiers dealing with hysteria, fear and uncertainty, whilst we do our best to stay calm ourselves,” she wrote.

“Definitely the greatest change I found … was how frustrated and anxious people have become because of changes that have taken place with many processes within the pharmacy.

“Safety measures to protect both ourselves and our patients include creating barriers, plastic sneeze screens at counters, patient flow arrows on the floors determining direction of traffic, hand sanitiser stations for both patients and staff as well as limiting the number of people in the store at once.”

However she added that despite the challenges, “pharmacists are treating more patients than ever.”

“Pharmacy has proven time and time again that it is the champion and cornerstone of primary healthcare in Australia,” she said.

Read the full ABC article with Karen Brown here and Chrysa Giannellis’ piece here

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