Interview: Sally Edwards, Nothern Territory PATY State winner

How did you get started in pharmacy?
I was an optical mechanic by trade, manufacturing contact lens in Adelaide. I was 30 years old, pregnant with my daughter, and my husband and I had just bought a house in the Adelaide Hills when the company we were both employed by closed down.

I had been in the same industry, and the same company my entire life and thought I would stay there. I was looking for flexible, part-time work and somewhere I would always be able to find a job, so naturally, I found my way into pharmacy.

My husband and I ended up relocating to the Northern Territory because he got into the police force. So it was a really big year for change, new careers, and new city! I had never really given any thought to living in a small country town, having always lived in the city, but we really ended up in the middle of nowhere, and we’re never been happier!

What qualifications do you have?
I have my Certificate II in Community Pharmacy, and I’m currently completing my Certificate III in Community Pharmacy. I also have a Certificate IV in Supervisory Management and I’m Trade Certificated in Optical Mechanics.

How do you think training has benefited you in your career?
Training really opens up more doors and gives you better opportunities! When you’re starting out in pharmacy, you could end up serving customers at the till, however, further training allows you to get more involved in the pharmacy process.

I’m a fairly reserved person, and when I first started out in pharmacy, I was always really nervous serving customers. However, I always have my training to fall back on and it really helps to build my confidence.

I really think pharmacy in Australia offers some of the best customer service you’ll get anywhere!

What was the workshop day like?
The workshop was great! I was definitely out of my comfort zone!

I actually got nominated last year but I didn’t respond to my nomination because we had holiday plans. This year when I received the nomination, I hadn’t really given it much thought! It wasn’t until a customer encouraged me to give it a go that I decided to respond. I thought it’s only going to benefit me, and I really have nothing to lose!

My husband and I had to drive 1000km, one way to get to the workshop and my husband said “you better win this thing” ha-ha!

It was definitely worth the 2000km round trip!

What were you most apprehensive about?
I’m just a bit shy, I don’t really like all eyes on me, and so I was a bit nervous naturally but everyone was so lovely! I think there is a lot to learn from other people’s experience, and it’s just good to get that fresh approach.

I honestly didn’t think for a second that I would win, it was a lovely surprise!

Would you encourage others to participate in PATY in the future? Why?
I just think it’s such a great opportunity to recognise outstanding people. You also have a great opportunity to learn from others in the workshop. I really stopped and thought about our role in the community and how valued community pharmacies are.

I think one of the best parts of our role as a pharmacy assistant is the connection we have with our customers. I find it really easy to connect with our customers, offer them some advice and really focus on building a trusting relationship. It’s a really nice feeling to offer advice and be able to have a positive impact on someone’s life, no matter how small! I guess that’s what I took away from the workshop, and what a nice feeling to suddenly realise how valued pharmacy assistants are!

What have you gained for PATY so far?
I have had lots of positive feedback from my colleagues and customers, which I wasn’t expecting! It’s really nice to get that positive recognition from your colleagues! It’s taught me how important feedback is, whether it’s good or bad because that’s what makes you a better pharmacy assistant.

My motivation really kicked in after I won and returned to the store! I really wanted everyone I served to walk away thinking that I was a great pharmacy assistant. It really made me give just that bit extra to each customer!

What do you hope to achieve?
I think training is so important, so I’m hoping to get more experience and training through this process! It’s an opportunity to see our roles from the offset and really evaluate how we can improve, what is working and what we can do better.

Every community has a pharmacy, and if a member of the community isn’t feeling well, they can always come into a pharmacy and get a smile! That’s what’s so great about pharmacy, it’s so accessible and we care about our community!

What would you like to see change in pharmacy?

I would like to see more pharmacy’s get more involved in mental health programs. Suicide is a massive issue in remote and small farming communities, and community pharmacy is the most accessible health services in these areas. It would be great to start seeing pharmacies become more proactive in the mental health space.

What do you love about pharmacy?

I love the connection that we have with our customers. Growing up, I was always very shy and often had a hard time talking to strangers. Working in pharmacy has really built my confidence, not only because I’m talking to people every day but because you really start to build great relationships with your customers. You can approach someone in pharmacy, and have a conversation about their health, and really get to know and care about that person’s wellbeing – that’s what I love!