‘You used to measure success by how many scripts you could dispense that day.’

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“Not just putting stickers on a box”: How much has pharmacy really changed over the years? Leading pharmacists weigh in

Community pharmacy has changed significantly over the past few decades – and it will continue to do so, according to a panel session hosted by NAPSA Congress last week.

Panellist Rebecca Young, whose dad was a community pharmacist, has been in the industry for many years since working in his pharmacy from a young age.

Ms Young is proprietor of Capital Chemist Chisholm in the ACT, which won Guild Pharmacy of the Year in 2020 and as well as the the Excellence in Business Management category.

Capital Chemist Chisholm
Pharmacy of the Year 2020, Capital Chemist Chisholm in the ACT.

With over 10 years’ experience as a manager and working with Capital Chemist, Ms Young explained that her pharmacy – and pharmacy in general – has made significant changes over that time.

“I’ve witnessed no consult rooms to having automation, multiple consult rooms, having the pharmacist right at the front and not just in the dispensary – a lot of changes,” she said.

Ms Young added that there weren’t that many female owners present when she was a kid.

“That has certainly changed,” she said. For example, Capital Chemist Group now has more female than male owners.

“My experience had been really positive and there’s many pathways to ownership. I started with no money; I was about to get married. I have two children and worked right through. I had a great team,” said Ms Young.

You can do it, anyone can do it, there’s plenty of opportunity there – it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. As a group we certainly encourage anyone to be an owner.

Brad Butt, managing partner of Cooleman Court Pharmacy in the ACT, also got involved in community pharmacy from a very early age.

“It was a very forward-focused pharmacy and under good mentorship, we were probably ahead of the curve at that time offering professional services – wound care, diabetes expertise – and that pharmacy to this day probably outperforms many pharmacies in regional NSW,” he said.

Brad specialises in offering men’s health services in the ACT.

“Fast forward 10 years in Canberra now, I’m in a professional pharmacy in a professional group doing professional services,” he said.

“It’s a bit of a buzz phrase, everyone likes to think they’re doing ‘professional services’ by taking someone’s blood pressure, but I think we’ve progressed beyond that to vaccinations, injectables beyond vaccinations, the mental health space – we’re probably pushing the boundaries a bit,” said Mr Butt.

“Pharmacists are far more than putting a sticker on the box and sticking back in the dispensary now – it’s getting face to face and offering health services, asthma education, diabetes education… Palliative care would be a good space to work.

Many students are doing pharmacy not to make money but to care for people. So I think where we’re headed is being in a multidisciplinary team and not just putting stickers on a box.

Community pharmacist Michelle Bou-Samra, who started in the industry 30 years ago, said that pharmacies used to measure success by how many scripts they could dispense that day.

“It’s good to see over time that pharmacies are really providing services – not just blood pressure checking,” said Ms Bou-Samra, who is currently president of the Australasian College of Pharmacy and a pharmacy consultant.

Michelle Bou-Samra

“It’s really the health services you see in a lot of pharmacies, especially as a Pharmacy of the Year judge, you get to see a lot of amazing pharmacies in a lot of different areas.”

There have also been changes among the younger cohort, for example with more ECPs getting involved in policy and advocacy.

“I think there’s some really major changes that have happened. Seeing younger pharmacists involved in policy early in their careers is a really big change and really positive,” Ms Bou-Samra said.

“Pharmacy is a fantastic career,” she added.

“ECPs – don’t think where you choose to be, or what you want to do – is what you’ll do forever. Pharmacy provides so many opportunities, there are so many things you can do that still has an impact on the patient which is essentially why we’re here, to be of service to people specifically in health.”

Meanwhile Capital Chemist Calwell pharmacist-in–charge Lucinda Kenny, who was the the 2019 MIMS/Guild Intern of the Year, said it is “amazing” how sophisticated pharmacy has become since she started working in community pharmacy 13 years ago.

Lucinda Kenny

“I was 13 and my parents had to sign a document to say it was actually OK for me to work,” she told delegates.

“I never looked back really and since that day I can’t imagine doing anything else. In those 13 years I’ve seen community pharmacy change a lot, coming from no consult rooms, no pharmacist out the front, to seeing how sophisticated how things have got now and the trajectory of that too has been amazing.”

On the business front, pharmacy broker Natalie Sirianni said while things have gotten tougher, pharmacists have innovated to keep up the pace.

Natalie Sirianni
Natalie Sirianni

“From my point of view, it’s gotten economically tougher from five years to where we are now. Through the CPA, everyone wants more for less, not necessarily cheaper but better value,” said Ms Sirianni.

However she added: “Pharmacists have had to step up to the plate. If you look at what’s being offered now, managers have stepped up, things have gotten tougher but pharmacy has innovated and is providing more value, even though economically things have gotten tougher.”

NAPSA Congress, the leading annual conference for Australian pharmacy students, ran from 22-28 January 2021.

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