A much-loved pharmacist is to be remembered with an endowed scholarship in Pharmacy at the University of Sydney
On what would have been Andrew Tu’s 34th birthday, his widow, Eva Tu, and a group of his friends went to one of his favourite bars in Sydney, the Baxter Inn, to celebrate and remember his life.
“It was there one of his best friends said to me, ‘Imagine if we could leave a legacy in memory of Chewy—Andrew was affectionately known as Chewy amongst his mates—perhaps in the form of a scholarship which would further research in mental health,” Ms Tu told the AJP.
The group talked about how such a scholarship could benefit others for years to come – but also to help prevent a similar tragedy to that which claimed Andrew’s life.
Mr Tu, who had worked at the Yass Pharmacy in regional NSW, lost his life to suicide in April 2017.
At the time, tributes from his patients poured in to the pharmacy, praising him for his hard work and the strong connections he built with his community – one patient wrote in that “his smile lit up the shop as we walked in”.
“Andrew was a wonderful husband, brother and son. He was dearly loved by his customers, colleagues and friends for his fierce intelligence, warm and caring personality and his infectious laughter,” Ms Tu said.
“His presence was definitely was felt by everyone around him and his passing will forever leave a deep hole in the hearts of many.”
“I loved so much about Andrew, but most of all how much he genuinely cared about the people around him, and how he made those closest to him feel so loved and cherished every day.”
Three years on, Ms Tu said that in a way, talking about creating a scholarship “connected us towards something that we all felt so strongly about, it was a way for us to give back to the pharmacy profession and school, in hope that the future of our profession is mentally well”.
Andrew and Eva are both alumni of the University of Sydney, which Eva approached – receiving “phenomenal” support from both the University itself, and the Dean of Pharmacy, Professor Andrew McLachlan.
“From the moment we proposed the Scholarship they have been behind us 100%,” she said.
Funds are now being raised for the scholarship, which is, at the time of writing, almost three-quarters of the way to its goal of $135,000.
The group hopes to create an endowed scholarship which will be awarded in perpetuity; however if the crowdfunding target is not achieved, the scholarship will be awarded annually as long as funds support it.
“For us to have enough money for an endowed scholarship every year of $6,000 we have to raise $135,000 which we began in May of 2019,” Ms Tu said.
“Recently [before restrictions related to COVID-19], we had a very successful cocktail fundraising event where Prof McLachlan and members of the faculty joined us in raising over $15,000 in one night. To date we have raised $100,000 and are very close to making this vision of ours come true.”
As well as helping future pharmacy students, the scholarship has a deeper meaning: raising awareness of mental health, both among the wider community and among the profession itself.
Ms Tu said that as a society we have come a long way in terms of talking about mental health, as well as improving access to support and services – but more can be done.
“Even since I graduated University in 2008, the curriculum has changed a lot,” she said, pointing out the implemention of mental health as a core unit of study for pharmacy graduates, which she sees as “positive not just for the pharmacists but also for the patients they will come into contact during their profession”.
“There are some amazing organisations that are wonderful advocates for mental health illness and mental wellbeing, and I am sure we all agree that the more we talk, the more awareness we raise, which only helps reduce the stigma around mental health,” she said.
However, “It’s very difficult for people who may be going through a hard time to reach out, no one wants to be a burden on their loved ones, and unfortunately prefers to stay silent even though they need help”.
“I would encourage everyone to be more aware, if someone you know just don’t seem to be themselves, please don’t wait for them to say something but pick up the phone to check in.”
While she no longer works regularly in community pharmacy, Ms Tu said that now more than ever, pharmacists and pharmacy assistants are working under a lot of pressure – not only dealing with increased workload, but helping patients who are worried about COVID-19.
“Certainly, my thoughts are with the rest of the pharmacy profession during these challenging times, and I hope that they not only identify those in need of help but be able to seek help for themselves if they need support,” Ms Tu said.
“Now more than ever, we all need to be there for each other.”
Donations to the scholarship (tax deductible from $2 and above) can be made here.
Pharmacists can contact the Pharmacists Support Service on 1300 244 910 for peer support related to the demands of being a pharmacist in Australia.
Lifeline is available on 13 11 14.
Members can call PDL on 1300 854 838 for support from a Professional Officer.