Stories from the frontline: leading with kindness and purpose during the pandemic

Local pharmacies have grown into more than just medicine dispensaries; they have become community healthcare hubs, with local Pharmacists providing advice, key health services, and emotional support.

Many Pharmacists have responded to and embraced their communities’ complex and evolving needs – especially when enlisted by the government to be a key pillar of support for the enormous vaccination efforts against a once-in-a-generation pandemic.

Our network of pharmacies has taken this to the next level and developed a comprehensive vision for the future of our industry, Pharmacy 2030. We see our future as an integral part of the healthcare system; through the adoption of new technologies, increasing professional development of our Partners and their team members, and with government support, helping to ease the burden on our primary healthcare system.

While technology will be key to optimal pharmacy healthcare delivery into the future – enabling patients to better manage their medication and monitor their health issues – finding ways of understanding the community and their unique cultural context more deeply will be even more important.

One pharmacy located in the epicentre of Sydney’s second lockdown, which resulted in some of the harshest restrictions, was David Tran, Pharmacist-Owner of Blooms the Chemist Padstow. This pharmacy has been on the frontline, not only as one of the first pharmacies to be administering COVID-19 vaccines to its culturally and linguistically diverse community, but also providing important mental health support through our Healthy Mind Check-ups. The Check-ups are a Blooms The Chemist initiative, giving the community a space for a private conversation with their local Pharmacists, many of whom are trained mental health first aid team members.

David Tran says they’ve had a spike in locals taking up the Healthy Mind Check-ups during the extended second lockdown. One poignant example of the way his pharmacy is building supportive relationships with its local residents and putting their training into action is Tran’s interaction with a regular customer and a mum of four, who came into his Padstow store asking for pain relief treatment.

“She kept coming in for the same items, with high frequency, and we realised it was a more complex issue that she was going through,” says Tran.

“After a conversation with her, I found out the stress of home schooling, work, restricted travel and fear of going out to buy goods and bringing things home to an unvaccinated family was causing her a huge amount of tension.

“This manifested itself as a pain in her ribs, which further exacerbated her anxiety. In this case, we gave her an under-the-tongue vitamin spray that relieved her tension and really helped her condition in the longer term. I think what was even more welcome for her was the fact that she knew she had someone else she could lean on for support, someone else to talk to.”

Tran also tells the story of a long-standing customer, an elderly man who has been a regular at the pharmacy for years. When this gentleman picked up his usual medicines, Tran noticed he was slumped and looking more troubled than usual.

“I asked him if he felt OK, and he let it all out. He explained that loneliness was affecting him; his wife had passed away and he only gets a text message from his daughter once in a while as she is a busy healthcare worker.

“He had this all bottled up – not having the ability to communicate with people and living alone was the factor; when I asked him, ‘Are you getting out?’ ‘I haven’t seen you lately’, ‘Have you been taking another route?’ he replied that he hasn’t felt like leaving the house. Those cues are what we‘ve learnt to look out for in our Blooms The Chemist mental health training.”

Tran says while his elderly customer wasn’t open to treatment suggestions at first in terms of remedies and other supplements, Tran was able to encourage him to reach out to his daughter a bit more, that perhaps she didn’t always have to be the one to initiate the conversation. Tran also suggested he get out of the house more often – even for a chat at the pharmacy.

“And you know what? I did start to see him out more often. I think that the fact that we showed empathy and some care made him feel valued to a degree.”

One in six Australians[1] are currently experiencing a mental health condition and the local Pharmacist is sometimes the most accessible health professional for people who need immediate advice – especially at the height of COVID-19 when people were reluctant to visit their GPs and were hesitant or unfamiliar with telehealth.

October being Mental Health Month, Tran reminds people to reach out for support: “You don’t have to know your local Pharmacist to have an open conversation; whether I know you or not, know you’re not alone.

“I may not be able to provide all the answers up front, but I will do my best to find appropriate supports and contacts during challenging times.”

These conversations and human connections illustrate the extended role a Pharmacist plays on the frontline of our healthcare system, a critically important role in our society.


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