Culture of encounter

Date: 9 November 2022

By Suzanne Greenwood, Executive Director

I recently had the opportunity to address the Pharmacy Assistant National Conference and to meet many of these wonderful people who are so important to the profession and to the communities that our pharmacies serve. It was my first time addressing the conference as I unashamedly pulled rank to get the conference program changed so that I had this opportunity to speak. I wanted to talk to the delegates and stress how important pharmacy assistants are to improved patient care and our community pharmacy sector.

It’s been an amazing couple of years with all the pressures and challenges that the pandemic has thrown at us, so I wanted to go to the conference to personally thank them all and to reinforce just how valued pharmacy assistants are.

I am in a very lucky situation in that my wonderful daughter is a pharmacy assistant at the University Pharmacy for the University where she studies, so I get the inside word on life as a pharmacy assistant. She has some heart-warming accounts of the difference that the care the pharmacy team is able to provide makes in people’s lives. But she also tells me about some of the challenges pharmacy assistants face every day.   For instance, she told me of an occasion when a person walked into the pharmacy and tore strips off her because the pharmacy didn’t have the product he wanted – in this instance an A4 ream of paper!

As illogical as it was, it highlighted what pharmacy assistants face so often and when I mentioned this at the conference, I saw a great many heads nodding in agreement. In other words, it happens far too often that pharmacy assistants need to manage and soothe some inappropriate behaviours from people who come into the pharmacy - and I only hope the positive encounters more than counterbalance such bad experiences.

But it also brought to mind the need for what I call a culture of encounter.

Often people walking into a pharmacy are at their most vulnerable. They may not be well; they may be caring for someone who is not well so that they as carers might be struggling to keep their own emotions in check. People are raw and stressed and so may even find themselves lashing out at the one person who is standing in front of them trying to help, the pharmacy assistant.

Pharmacy assistants more often than not are the first face a person meets when they go into a pharmacy and it is an opportunity for pharmacy assistants to promote this culture of encounter and be the person who is providing hope and healing to them. So in speaking at the conference, I encouraged everyone to look beyond the sub-optimal behaviours to understand the vulnerable person who is presenting to the pharmacy in need of help.

This doesn’t mean doing much above what our pharmacy assistants already do and do exceptionally well.  But it’s about walking up to someone and engaging with them. It’s about introducing themselves and asking how they can help and listen to what the patient’s problem may be and what the challenges are that they want to address. It’s about being there to help them.

It’s also about pharmacy assistants recognising they are integral to patient care and to the profession and recognising how valued they are by their colleagues and patients.

The ambition of community pharmacy is no small one. It’s a very patient-centric approach we are embracing – where we look after the health and wellbeing of all Australians, and pharmacy assistants are at the frontline.

On that note I want to stress that we have to get over the almost apologetic approach that is embedded in the Australian culture and which many pharmacy assistants take to their role. How often do we hear our pharmacy assistants say “Sorry, I’m just a pharmacy assistant.”

The two words that should never be used in this context are ‘sorry’ and ‘just’. Pharmacy assistants are not ‘just’ anything. They are trained and highly professional members of teams in a health environment where their role is crucial. Crucial, highly valued and a very important part of the whole pharmacy eco-system.

Blowing your own trumpet may be frowned upon, and there is nothing wrong with being a bit humble about your achievements. But we should never downgrade our own self-worth.

I encourage all pharmacy assistants to recognise that others see them as incredibly important, so it is imperative they see themselves this way and one way to start achieving this goal is to use the right terminology.

Pharmacy assistants should never refer to themselves as retail assistants or shop assistants - they are community pharmacy assistants, just as their colleagues are community pharmacists, not retail pharmacists.

And that is something to be very proud of.

Contact: The Guild
Phone: 13GUILD

Page last updated on: 16 December 2022