Meet the Foodie Pharmacist

WA pharmacist Geraldine Dartnell has long had an interest in wellness – and she’s now leaving pharmacy to help Australians support their health with food

Ms Dartnell, who has been a pharmacist for 35 years, has just left her job in Port Kennedy to concentrate full-time on being The Foodie Pharmacist.

As well as having penned a soon-to-be-published book, she plans to run workshops based around food preparation and nutrition education, and ultimately hopes to run weekend retreats, potentially in several Asian countries.

She told the AJP that she made the decision because while as a pharmacist she is able to counsel patients about their food choices and how they affect their health, she sees a disconnect between this advice and how patients act upon it in practice.

“You see your GP and are given medication to address an issue, which of course is very important, but it’s a quick fix,” she explains. “There may be an improvement, but it’s difficult to actually tell people that there’s other issues that will evolve, and that they must address the core issues causing the problem.

“People need to understand that your body shows you certain signs because it’s trying to get you messages, you need to find out what it’s trying to tell you.

“And that’s difficult in a pharmacy, because 95% of the people I speak to would listen to this, but they’d still think it was too hard.

“That’s what prompted me to say that I need to spend my energy and my time making all this practical, so that people can understand it and do it in their own time – and reach more people than I was doing.

“That’s why I wrote the book, and why I had to say I can’t work a full-time job and still put my energy into it. I don’t believe in just being dependent on medicines for the rest of your life without addressing the core issues, and I can’t be trying to educate people one way and earning a living from leaving them in an illness rut.”

She says that as food is such a central part of living, it’s one of the easier ways for people to make a significant lifestyle change.

“We eat every day, we shop for it, we prepare it, we might as well do it with the right food and in the right way,” Ms Dartnell says. “And it’s a fun way, especially coming from my Asian background, which is very food-oriented as a social aspect as well.”

Ms Dartnell was born in western Malaysia and has Chinese heritage.

“I’d love to do workshops and presentations in Malaysia, and China as well,” she says. “In those countries they’re very much more into preventive medicine. They get upset if their practitioner doesn’t educate them about ways not to get ill. Over here it’s more like, ‘don’t fix what’s not broken,’ while the Chinese people are more about, ‘what can we do, we don’t want to get sick or age’.”

As well as discussing the role of microbes in the gut and the influence of different foods upon them, The Foodie Pharmacist also has a strong focus on stress management.

“That’s a big part of it – you can do food, but if you don’t learn how to deal with stress in today’s society it’s not going to work as well. So it’s about methods of incorporating that into a busy lifestyle,” Ms Dartnell says.

With some controversy surrounding the issue of wellness through food at the moment, she says she believes that her pharmacy background will stand her in good stead. She plans to retain her registration for now and investigate remaining registered as a non-practising pharmacist.

“I’ve been with the same pharmacy, managing it for 18 years,” she says. “They started a naturopathic service there, and we were getting a reputation as the centre for integrative health care.

“You’ve got to have credibility, and you need a qualification to show that you understand the science, you understand the studies and the research; you also need experience.

“To me, you’ve got to love what you do. You’ve got to have passion. And I have passion about this, but I’ve only been able to spend a small portion of my energy on it, maybe 10%. But this will be 100%.”

She urged pharmacists to consider learning more about preventive health through nutrition, particularly in the light of ongoing uncertainty in the sector.

“Some are so drug-focused – with the way the industry is suffering, gross profit margins down, you need to stop pigeon-holing yourself, start looking at your customers and think about their health rather than the dollar.

“The way to making a dollar is not really a straight line,” she says. “It’s about looking at other angles, ways to get there, and the care factor. If you’re thinking about that dollar and not your patient, people can see through that.

“We’re all talking about sending SMS reminders and making sure people come back to that pharmacy for repeats, and everyone can see you’re trying to make a dollar, everyone’s pushing the same line. At the end of the day, they can tell what your ultimate goal is, and it should be to look after them.”

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