Would you work in an ‘underground town’?


coober pedy

What life is like as a pharmacist working in this built-into-the-earth town

Coober Pedy is an outback opal mining town in northern South Australia, where the desert climate has temperatures reaching an average of 47 degrees in the summer months, with annual averages between 14.1 and 27.5 degrees.

Coober Pedy Pharmacy is the only pharmacy servicing the community of about 3,500 residents, some of whom live below ground in order to avoid the heat of summer—no matter what the temperature is outside, underground homes and hotels are a constant 23°C.

But what’s it like living and working in this unique town?

Pharmacist Jamal has been in Coober Pedy for six years.

He came to the town after migrating in 2011, with hopes of gaining permanent residency and pharmacist registration.

“It was very hard to get a job in the city so I had to move to Coober Pedy,” Jamal tells AJP.

“I started out as a pharmacy assistant, working in the front, serving customers and selling OTC medicines.

“It took me two years to pass the exam then I got my internship,” he says.

“My wife got a full-time job in a nearby store and our daughter settled into school really well.”

Jamal serving a customer. Source: Facebook.
Jamal serving a customer. Source: Facebook.

The community spirit it what makes Coober Pedy a fantastic place to work, says Jamal.

“Coober Pedy is amazing in all senses. The people are wonderful, most are very old and they really take the time to talk to you. If you’re out of town for a week, people will ask where you’ve been, if everything’s okay.

“We stayed for the people’s love and affection.”

Sadly Jamal’s leaving Coober Pedy for Victoria with the hopes of providing his daughter with more higher education opportunities.

He also has his sights set on pharmacies that are highly involved in “exciting” professional services.

To fill his place, Coober Pedy Pharmacy has put out an ad for a full-time Pharmacist in Charge to join the team of three other staff.

“A lot of people are attracted by something that’s a bit different – and this is certainly a bit different,” says Sue Muller, director of LocumCo, which has put a call-out for the job.

Coober Pedy Pharmacy shopfront. Source: Facebook.
Coober Pedy Pharmacy shopfront. Source: Facebook.

“While it’s a six-month contract, all accommodation is provided and utilities are covered. It’d be a great way to save.

“[The owner] is also willing to take someone who is newly registered or provide sponsorship.”

And while it’s an outback town, it’s “fairly accessible” to Adelaide, served by daily flights and coaches.

Ms Muller says her company is still finding it difficult to fill rural, regional and remote jobs.

“The situation is getting worse,” she tells AJP.

“We’ve got eight locum jobs we need to fill by Monday.

“Pharmacies can’t find people to commit on a long-term basis, so it’s easier to get locums back to back just to keep the pharmacy open.

“But at the same time, nobody will commit to two month’s work at a time.

“Pharmacists are leaving and they aren’t any people around anymore,” she says.

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