Date: 10 January 2017
Graham Beissel says loyal community support has helped him overcome the challenges of operating a pharmacy in a remote Queensland town of just 300 people.
Originally published in Retail Pharmacy
Name: proprietor Graham Beissel, Wallumbilla Pharmacy, Queensland.
What motivates you as a pharmacist? Being able to deal on a daily basis with the health issues of different people in the community. Community pharmacy is me.
How long have you been a pharmacist? Forty-two years.
What is the size of the pharmacy and how many staff do you employ? We are about 150sqm and I’m the only pharmacist. I’m alone on Mondays, we are closed Tuesdays and I have an assistant on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, as well as a schoolboy assisting a few hours a day in the afternoons.
How long have you owned or operated your store? We’ve been open for nearly a year.
Do you offer professional services? We’re part of the National Diabetes Services Scheme and I also do MedsChecks, clinical interventions and dose administration aids.
What kind of customers do you attract? We attract locals from the town and the surrounding properties.
What is the philosophy for your pharmacy business? I love what I do and I love working with the community
Describe your day-to-day challenges working in remote Australia and how you overcome them. We’re a remote pharmacy and getting medicines can be a challenge, but our wholesaler, API, has never let us down.
What has been your most satisfying moment in the pharmacy? Opening my pharmacy here at Wallumbilla and getting the huge support from the local population
What is the most successful OTC category in your pharmacy and why? Analgesics, cough and cold medicines, anti-fungal medicines and first-aid supplies – all of which are essential in remote stations and isolated towns.
Opening a new pharmacy in a remote country town, with a population base smaller than any adviser would suggest was viable for such a business, has certainly presented its challenges – and rewards – for Queensland pharmacist Graham Beissel.
However, after one year in the town of Wallumbilla, five hours west of Brisbane, Mr Beissel’s Wallumbilla Pharmacy hasn’t looked back and he sees nothing but positives ahead.
It is Mr Beissel’s positive approach that drives the business.
“What motivates me as a pharmacist is being able to deal on a daily basis with the health issues of different people in the community,” he said. “Community pharmacy is me and I wake up every morning happy to go to work in a job I absolutely love.
“I’ve been a pharmacist for 42 years and I was lucky to train in Tasmania where there weren’t many in the course and, by my final year, there were only 10 of us.
“What this meant was that every lecture was basically a tutorial, because we could all interact with one another and with the lecturer.
This gave me great experience and I learnt a lot from the lecturers that I’ve been able to utilise in my pharmacy career ever since.”
After graduating at university in Tasmania, Mr Beissel returned to his home in Melbourne and from there moved to Brisbane.
“I saw an ad for a job with AFS Pharmacies in Rockhampton and decided to apply for it. I had $240 to my name and nothing else, so when I got the job I ended up spending $180 on an old, secondhand Austin Cambridge and headed up north with $60 left.
“The signs were good because, on my first night in Rockhampton, I met my future wife.”
So began two love affairs, one with Queensland, where Mr Beissel has owned and worked in a number of pharmacies in both metropolitan and rural areas.
“I always wanted to work for myself, so, in 1980, I bought a small pharmacy in the main street of Rockhampton,” he said.
“This Row and Co pharmacy, established in 1864, was the oldest pharmacy still on its original site in Queensland.”
After stints owning two pharmacies in Rockhampton, he sold up all of his possessions and in 2001 bought a cattle property 60km north of Blackall. There Mr Beissel, his wife Bev and their son Craig began their “fantastic experience” with the bush.
However, primary producing, wasn’t all “beer and skittles” he says, and after two inches of rain in twoand- a-half years, it became obvious that living off the land could be a very tough experience.
Mr Beissel found locum work at Blackall, Barcaldine, Longreach and Winton to help with the cashflow, but in 2003 he returned to his first love: pharmacy ownership. This time, he settled on the Barcaldine Pharmacy, which he owned and operated until December 2007.
“Sometimes you just have to sacrifice something in order to keep going forward,” he said, adding that family life and his partnership with Bev were put on hold in order to make a go of things. The Barcaldine people supported Mr Beissel, who found owning a small pharmacy in a remote country town to be hugely rewarding.
His wife Bev had her first brush with breast cancer in 1999. After chemotherapy and radiation treatment, she was in remission until 2006, when another lump was found, requiring surgery. Mr Beissel sold Barcaldine Pharmacy to support his wife.
Bev’s condition was put on hold after further radiation treatment and the Beissels bought Taroom Pharmacy in 2008 to continue to embrace their love of the bush.
As Bev’s health continued to deteriorate, Taroom was sold and Mr Beissel started working two days a week in pharmacies in Roma, taking Bev every Tuesday to Toowoomba for more chemotherapy.
With things on a continual downslide with Bev’s health, Mr Beissel committed to being a full-time carer, but he needed his “pharmacy fix”.
“We were living not far from Wallumbilla and I decided that the area needed a pharmacy,” he said. “The locals were having to travel long distances to get their scripts made up and I saw a market for a pharmacy.”
With no pharmacies between Roma to the west and Miles to the east, Mr Beissel says he believed the small town deserved a better health service.
In going bush, he could not have chosen a town more stereotypical of the outback than Wallumbilla, in the Maranoa region of Queensland, about 40km east of Roma.
“I liked the idea of Wallumbilla because there was no pharmacy there and I’m one of these pharmacists who likes to own their own business,” he said.
“Owning the business creates the bond with your patients that’s important in pharmacy.
“Wallumbilla gave me an opportunity to build a pharmacy from the ground up.”
Hardly a bustling township, Wallumbilla has a general store, a pub, a stock and station agent, a post office – and now a pharmacy.
Mr Beissel says the pharmacy provided a service that meant people didn’t have to travel hundreds of kilometres to have their scripts made up.
The acceptance of the locals has been amazing, he says.
“You have to remember that Wallumbilla has a population of only 300 and the whole catchment area for my pharmacy is 1,250 people, which is way below what is considered viable,” Mr Beissel said.
“What makes it work is that the locals are so supportive of me and the pharmacy. They’re so proud of having their own pharmacy that they go out of their way to use it and to support me in what I’m doing.
“For instance, they drop their scripts on their way into Roma to do their shopping, and pick up the medicines on their way back.
“They could just as easily use a pharmacy in Roma while they’re there, but they’re very loyal and committed to their own little pharmacy.”
The pharmacy opened in November 2015, since then Mr Beissel says he has filled about 8,000 scripts.
“It’s not a huge number, but then again you have to remember we’re not dealing with a huge number of customers,” he said. “On a busy day, I might have 40 to 45 customers and on a slow day 20 to 25.
While Wallumbilla Pharmacy may not cater for patient volumes that metropolitan pharmacies would consider the norm, Mr Beissel has ensured it provides the best standards and latest services.
“We provide a range of professional services and, of course, we’re part of the National Diabetes Services Scheme,” he said. “I also provide MedsChecks, dose administration aids and I perform a lot of clinical interventions for my patients.
“When I remodelled the building, I made sure we had a private consultation room where I can talk to patients and provide the professional services they want.”
Wallumbilla has a nine-to-five hospital run by a nurse with a doctor from Roma visiting every Wednesday to provide a clinic for patients in the area.
“The hospital was under a lot of pressure, so the pharmacy opening has added a whole new dimension of healthcare in the town,” Mr Beissel said.
“I work very closely with the nurse, who is the only healthcare professional at the hospital except on Wednesdays … We have a very good relationship with the doctors and nurses.
As we’re the only health professionals available on most days, we have to work closely so that our patients get the best service and treatment.”
The 150sqm pharmacy has a full product range and a small gift area that Mr Beissel says he has introduced because the town’s only other store, the general store, mainly focuses on consumer food and household items, as well as fast food.
“It’s about providing what the locals want,” he says. “If they want a small gift for someone then I can offer them that, rather than them having to travel another 40km or so.
“In the medicines area I find that, with OTC products, the biggest demand is for things like analgesics, cough and cold products, anti-fungal medicines and first-aid items.
“There is also strong demand for complementary medicines and the vitamin range is an integral part of our health service.”
Mr Beissel has also structured the pharmacy so that it is open only four days a week – Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Initially this was so he could take his wife for medical treatment on Tuesdays.
Bev tragically lost her battle with cancer on June 12 this year, but the pharmacy has given Mr Beissel the drive to face his life without his “best mate”. He still opens only on the four days each week, saying the community is satisfied with these trading hours.
“The opening days work well for the locals and fit in with the local hospital,” he said.
“On Mondays, I’m here by myself, but on the other three days I have an assistant. I also employ a schoolboy as an assistant after school a few days a week.
“The two staff are locals and I believe it’s very important to give back to the community that supports you.
“The support I’ve been given – and continue to get – from the community here is remarkable.
This little pharmacy in this small community only works because of the attitude and commitment of the community. It’s very humbling to be involved in such a unique health service.
“They’re just so proud that they have their own pharmacy that they’re determined to support it.”
One of the daily challenges the pharmacy faces is maintaining supply of medicines.
Mr Beissel says he deals with API and, despite the logistical challenges of getting medicines out to his remote pharmacy, he has never had a major problem.
“Going bush was the best thing that my family and I could have ever have done – it has been, and still is, a most wonderful experience,” he said, describing himself as a “lucky old pharmacist”.
Contact: Nikki Watson
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