Why a career in Pharmacy was the right choice for me

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of being part of a webinar held by the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) which highlighted the wide variety of opportunities a career in pharmacy can deliver.

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Ten pharmacists shared where their pharmacy degree had taken them, and the range and diversity of their work and work environments really illustrated just how many doors a pharmacy career can open up. If you’re a PSA member you can view the webinar here , but for those who aren’t I thought I’d share some of the key turning points in my own story here.

My career in pharmacy started while I was still at school in the 80’s, where I worked part time in a local pharmacy in country Victoria after school refilling the shelves and vacuuming the floors. By the time I started Year 11 the pharmacist owner had convinced me to aim for a career as a pharmacist, and I continued to work in that pharmacy for the remainder of my time at high school and then throughout university.

It was a really interesting time to be in pharmacy as it saw the widespread introduction of computers, not only in the dispensary but also the point of sale systems. Despite my status as the ‘after school nappy stacker’ that same pharmacy owner recognised my interest and allowed me to play a significant role in the install and ongoing management of the systems. The insights gained from running the reports and sharing the information with the rest of the team unsurprisingly shaped my ongoing belief in the importance of data driven decision making, so I’m forever grateful to him for the opportunities he provided me with and their lasting impact on my own career.

By the early 90’s I’d moved to Melbourne, and while still working in community pharmacy was closely following the emergence of the new remuneration models that for the first time were seeing pharmacists paid for activities other than dispensing prescriptions. I was one of the first group of pharmacists in Victoria accredited to perform Medication Reviews, despite not actually doing any nursing home pharmacy work at that time, but I was really interested in exploring the new service and remuneration models and understanding what opportunities they could create.

The best businesses are always built on identifying problems and delivering the target market with a solution. When Stuart and I were first starting our business lives together, we identified two problems that we thought we could solve. The first was in aged care, where the introduction of accreditation standards created the opportunity to deliver the aged care facility operators with a clear pharmacy solution that was specifically tailored to meeting the requirements of those accreditation standards.

The second was in private hospital pharmacy, where the problem we identified was transparency of costs. Hospitals were having to negotiate their remuneration agreements with health funds with no idea as to what actually made up their pharmacy costs, as at that time the standard model was around bundling everything into the mark up on the drugs. We reduced the mark up on drugs and charged a service fee negotiated on the specific services we were delivering at each location, providing a clear and transparent solution.

This strong focus on professional services led to the formation of the Pharmacy Practice Unit, a specific division within the business charged with not only measuring and monitoring the professional activities across the pharmacies, but also in developing, documenting and sharing new and innovative practice models. This focus has provided pharmacists and pharmacy technicians with their own career development opportunities not only internally, but also via the opportunities to share their work with the wider profession at industry conferences and events.

That same commitment to professional services also was a key driver in our move from pharmacy service provider to hospital operator. We’d told the doctors who owned the cancer care hospital group we were the pharmacy service provider to that if they ever wanted to sell the business we were very interested buyers, and while we didn’t come to the table with the biggest checkbook, the professional relationship that we’d built, and our focus on strong clinical service delivery meant we were the ones they chose to partner with and the foundation for what today is Icon Group was born.

One of the other questions I was asked during the webinar was this – ‘What advice would you give anyone looking to innovate and have influence such as you’ – and this really caused me to pause and reflect.

Influence is a funny thing – it takes time to achieve, and it isn’t easy to come by. While I think in the large part now Stuart and my influence in the pharmacy industry is viewed pretty positively it definitely hasn’t always been that way.  When we first started out our business model was not popular, and many in the industry didn’t like us at all.  We were changing the status quo, and every aged care facility or hospital contract we won came from the loss of that work in someone else’s business. Some of the things that were written about us in the pharmacy media in the late 90’s early 2000’s were awful, and at times bordering on libellous! 

But our number one focus has always been on really strong, high quality clinical care that met the needs of our partners, and providing an environment where pharmacists who were equally committed to that approach could not only survive but thrive.  The only time we ever bit back on one of those articles was when it insulted our team and the quality of their care, and the publication concerned was forced to print a very quick retraction.

If you’re going to do something different you have to be prepared that it isn’t going to easy – lots of people are much happier with the status quo being maintained, and are challenged by those who want to push the boundaries.  If you truly want to have influence and deliver change you can’t have a thin skin, and you can’t expect your industry to embrace you overnight

After more than 30 years working in pharmacy I’ve never regretted the career choice I made, and will always be grateful for the opportunities it has provided.

Graduation!
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