Meet Cathy Surace, TerryWhite Chemmart Milton

We chat with the NSW South Coast based veteran of 36 years’ service, who won the 2023 TerryWhite Chemmart Retail Leadership Award, about her role, her career, her advice to other pharmacy assistants, and more. 

If you could describe pharmacy assistants in three words, what would they be? 

  • Talented
  • Amazing
  • Efficient

Tell us about your background and how you came to work in retail pharmacy. What roles did you have in pharmacy?I’ve worked in pharmacy for 36 years, since I left school. I worked in a pharmacy, in the dispensary, then moved to Melbourne and worked in a pharmacy there for seven years and worked my way up to helping four owners manage three stores.

After having our first child, I moved back to my hometown, Milton, near Ulladulla on the NSW South Coast, and worked at TerryWhite Chemmart Milton.

My current role is Pharmacy Manager/Human Resources. I also run the DAA Webster packing system.

Tell us about the pharmacy where you work. What services does it offer? What types of customers typically come through the pharmacy doors? TerryWhite Chemmart Milton is a strongly community-based pharmacy where we know a lot of customers. We offer services such as vaccinations, blood pressure checks, diabetes management, [TWC] Health Checks, medication reviews, dose aid administration (Webster packing) and UTI services.

The types of customers that visit the pharmacy range from young families to the elderly.  They’re very loyal and have helped the pharmacy flourish [and become] as successful as it is today.

How would you describe your pharmacy team? The team are caring, diligent, efficient, supportive and never hesitate to show selflessness by always putting customers and patients’ needs first.

Within pharmacy, is there something that you specialise in or have a particular interest in? I specialise in doing the dose aid administration (Webster-paks) and find this very rewarding, as I’m honoured to help patients meet their health needs to live long and fulfilling lives.

I also specialise in pharmacy management where needed. I encourage, support and guide staff, ensuring the pharmacy runs in an efficient manner.

What have been some of the highlights in your career as a pharmacy assistant so far? I have to say that in my 36 years of working in pharmacy, it’s winning the 2023 TerryWhite Chemmart Retail Leadership Award.

A huge thank you goes to my bosses, Andy and Leeza Vuong, for all their support and encouragement. Their commitment in helping the community is inspiring. Working for them at TerryWhiteChemmart Milton is very rewarding.

I also find helping customers with their Webster-paks and needs, which is most rewarding in my work. I enjoy doing fundraising for various organisations, such as those involved with ovarian and breast cancer – I’m a breast cancer survivor, so this is very important to me – and R U OK Day.

The most impactful highlight was when I helped at a Thrive Festival last year, doing health checks for the homeless and those in need. This was very touching, hearing their stories.

I’ve completed mental health training, which I also found very fulfilling.

What has been the most challenging part of working as a retail pharmacy assistant?  The bushfires of 2019. We had to make sure all our customers’ needs were met during this difficult time. There were 80 houses lost in our community, which included many patients losing their vital medications and having medical needs.

As a pharmacy assistant, what impact do you hope to have within your community?I hope to be the change others wish to see in the community, by encouraging a positive work environment and creating a safe space where the community feels safe, welcomed and accepted by being a part of a family.

More broadly, what impact do you think pharmacy assistants have within the wider pharmacy industry? Pharmacy assistants have a great impact on customers within the community. Their encouragement and guidance in helping with customers’ health needs is critical. Pharmacy staff can empower patients towards greater health and help to reduce their loneliness – which will improve quality of life but can also result in greater health outcomes.

 How important is ongoing professional development for retail pharmacy assistants? Ongoing professional development is very important as it keeps us up to date with changes in legislation, new systems and how we can further improve the way we support and help our customers.

How would you describe working as a retail pharmacy assistant to anyone new to or considering the profession? It’s very rewarding. I tell all new employees there’s so much to learn on this ride. Helping customers with their health needs is the most impactful thing you can do for them, and they’ll be forever thankful for your service.

What is your advice to other retail pharmacy assistants in terms of achieving career goals? 

Take one step at a time. There’s a vast amount of pharmacy knowledge out there, meaning there’s something for everyone. There are always things to learn. Training and learning are always a good way of achieving goals.

Always try your best to go above and beyond – reach for the summit, I say.

 Retail pharmacy and the healthcare industry have faced some serious challenges over the past few years. What has helped you and your team members get through these difficult times? What’s your advice on overcoming challenges? Being there for each other, encouraging and supporting each other. In addition, having strong communication between each staff member, ensuring everyone’s on the same page, and understanding each other. This allows everyone to work together as a team.

Also, being respectful of each other.

Where do you see the industry headed in the next few years? I see the pharmacy industry heading in the direction of taking pressure off doctors and being able to more and more services. Most GPs are at their limit with patients, so if pharmacists can help take the load off, I believe this would have a strong impact on both doctors and pharmacists.

This Pharmact Asistants Profile was first published in RPA April emagazine