Meet Madison Low of TerryWhite Chemmart Arana Hills

Pictured: Madison Low (centre).

In the June issue of Retail Pharmacy Assistants magazine, we chat with the pharmacy assistant based in the Moreton Bay, Queensland region about her role, the pharmacy she works at, her career highlights, her advice to other pharmacy assistants, and more.

How long have you been working in retail pharmacy? What’s your current role? 

I started my pharmacy journey at Samford [Moreton Bay] as a junior when I was 15, stacking shelves after school. I quickly started to love all things pharmacy and then took on a full-time role after I graduated in 2017. I’ve now worked close to eight years in Karen’s [managing partner Karen Brown] team, moving from Samford to TerryWhite Chemmart Arana Hills in 2021. I completed my Certificate III in Community Pharmacy and am now currently training to become a retail manager.

Talk us through what a day in your life would look like. 

A typical day in my life ranges from helping patients with their everyday health requests to doing the delivery run for our local Webster-pak patients. I oversee certain categories, including ordering, invoicing, and planograms. I’m also in charge of setting up our catalogue promotions. Our pharmacy administers lots of vaccinations each day, so I assist with the check-in process. Sometimes this can mean distracting the kids before their vaccination, as it can be quite scary for the little ones.

Tell us about the pharmacy you work at. What services does your pharmacy offer your customers? 

I’m proud to have a seat on the famous ‘team Arana’ bus! Our pharmacy has administered more than 30,000 COVID vaccinations and has become the local vaccination hub for our community. We also administer flu and whooping cough [vaccines] and easily accommodate walk-ins, as we all understand that committing to a time can be tough.

We also offer the only Men’s Health Downunder program in Queensland. Our men’s health pharmacist Peter [Fairgray] assists men, and their partners, with rehabilitation following prostate surgery. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, we have a baby clinic where our midwife, Asha, has one-on-one appointments with new mums and babies in the community. Asha also provides two types of classes – ‘Preparing for birth’ where she goes through what to expect pre- and during labour, and ‘Bringing baby home’ classes, which inform both mum and dad about what to do when the baby arrives home for the first time.

What drew you towards a profession in retail pharmacy? 

I’ve always been interested in health and beauty, so when I answered a phone call from an old family friend asking if I’d like to join the team as a junior after school, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for me. I then decided I could definitely make a career out of pharmacy and asked if there was a full-time position for me.

What have been some of the highlights in your career as a PA? 

One of my favourite highlights is being voted by my team as ‘team member of the year’. Acknowledgment is always nice, but when it comes from your peers, I always think it means a little bit more. Another career highlight was when our team was crowned 2021 National TerryWhite Chemmart of the Year. We’d all worked so hard that year with COVID lockdowns and lots of COVID and flu vaccinations.

What has been the most challenging part of working as a retail PA? 

I think for me, personally, it’s always being looked at as ‘just a pharmacy assistant’. We’re so much more than that and do so much more. Although it’s always nice when I can give some advice, the patient still asks the pharmacist, and they say the same thing.

Is working in retail pharmacy something you think you’ll be doing in the long term? 

Absolutely. I love every part of my work and am lucky enough to work for such an inspiring leader, Karen Brown, who always keeps me engaged. I truly can’t imagine myself doing anything else.

How important is ongoing professional development for pharmacy assistants? 

Training is extremely important in our industry, to keep updated on the constantly changing advice. I’m lucky enough to go to the Pharmacy Assistant National Conference every year to learn more about the industry and products we sell, and network with other like-minded pharmacy assistants. I also try and attend most brand training nights that I’m invited to, to learn more about upcoming products coming to our shelves, so I’m always prepared for customer queries. I recommend attending as many training nights as possible, as they’re a really great way to meet new people and learn about current products in your store, and are free to attend. This year I’m also fortunate to be undertaking a leadership course to assist in my development to become a retail manager.

How would you describe working as a retail PA to anyone new or considering the profession?

Working as a retail pharmacy assistant is so rewarding because of the relationships you build with patients. My favourite thing is when you help a patient with, for example, a skincare product, or sickness, or a seamless vaccine check-in, and they return weeks later to say, ‘Thank you – what you gave me worked’ or ‘thank you for helping calm my child before their vaccination’. It’s more than standing behind a counter handing out prescriptions or selling Panadol. You get to truly help people every day, and no person is the same as the last. You’re constantly learning, teaching and problem-solving, both for patients and in the store.

What’s your advice to other retail PAs in terms of achieving career goals and stepping up within the industry? 

My advice would be to speak to your employer about doing training and going to networking events. The events are packed full of information to bring back to your workplace and team and definitely show your employer that you’re serious about the industry. They can also help put your name out there for opportunities for new training programs, speaking at events, writing for a magazine, and even awards.

Retail pharmacy and the healthcare industry have faced some serious challenges over recent years. What has helped you and your team members get through these difficult times? What’s your advice on overcoming challenges?

One of the biggest challenges for our industry has been COVID. I’m lucky enough to work in a team that was very selfless and went with the flow when things changed, which they did a lot. We all supported each other, whether it was through buying each other chocolates to get through the day, singing and dancing before we opened for the day, or prepping all the vaccination paperwork for the team working the next day. All these small things together helped our team bond and work better with each other during a time of uncertainty.

Where do you see the industry headed in the next few years? 

I’m really excited to see where the industry is heading because I see us being able to help patients even more than we can now. Although the new [full] scope of practice [initiative] is predominantly for pharmacists, pharmacy assistants will be heavily involved in the triage of patients, and instead of bearing the bad news that we can’t help them with their expired prescription, we’ll soon be able to say we can.

If there was one thing you’d like to change and/or improve about the industry, what would it be?

A pharmacy can’t run without pharmacy assistants, so I’d love to see even more pharmacy assistants rewarded for their hard work. We work so hard to keep the show running, and sometimes I feel we’re overlooked. This is why I love the PATY [Pharmacy Assistant of the Year] award, but I still think there could be more within the industry [in terms of] recognising us for the amazing work we do.

This feature was originally published in the June issue of RPA magazine.