Career Path

Caring for the community

by Andrea Ng

Community pharmacist
Margaret Lau
Head Pharmacist

Margaret Lau, Head Pharmacist, began her career as a community pharmacist in Watsons 17 years ago and she has fallen in love with her job.

She enjoys talking to people in the community, listening to their stories and sharing their worries and joy.

In the early days when she was still practicing in the UK, an elderly lady's words took Margaret by surprise. She said to Margaret at the pharmacy counter, "without foreigners like you, no one is going to take care of us."

When she was working at a Watsons' pharmacy in the New Territories, an old man often visited her bringing fruits and gifts and the country folk treated Margaret as their trusted friend and listened to her advice.

"In the health care retail industry, the community pharmacist has to be on the frontline," says Margaret. "A community pharmacist is a walking encyclopedia of medicine within easy reach of the general public."

Community pharmacists offer health and pharmaceuticals-related information to the community. They prepare and give out prescribed medicines, advise customers on the effective use of medicines and other health products, health issues and lifestyle choices.

"Success at any stage of your career depends on your outlook and attitude. Reach out with your heart!"

"To qualify as a pharmacist, one has to have a degree in pharmacy, followed by a one-year pre-registration training or internship in a pharmacy before getting a license," Margaret says.

She graduated from the University of London in 1984, registered as a Pharmaceutical Chemist and a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain in 1985. Returning to Hong Kong, she joined Watsons in 1986 as pharmacist and was promoted to Assistant Manager/Pharmacist in 1988. In the same year, she was promoted to Store Manager/Pharmacist.

"Community pharmacists must have good communication skills, patience, problem-solving skills and listening skills, so that people feel confident to ask questions and talk about their private problems," Margaret says.

"Knowledge of reference material, alternative health treatments and practices is also helpful when advising customers. Every customer that comes in has a problem that one has to solve and come up with the best professional solution. I am so happy whenever a customer comes back to tell me that their pain is gone or problems are solved."

The pharmacists' education doesn't stop after graduation. Pharmacists have to stay up-to-date with the latest health information. Margaret left Watsons in early 1989 to sit for an examination to be registered in Canada. She rejoined Watsons afterwards and was promoted to Senior Pharmacist in 1995.

Her promotion to the top is directly related to the personal qualities of a community pharmacist, which she pays attention to during recruitment. "Community pharmacists need to be proactive, enjoy dealing with the public, and they should be good listeners, friendly, patient, helpful and able to give information to people in an appropriate manner. Pharmacists deal with sensitive information about people, so they must be able to keep the information private," Margaret explains.

A community pharmacist at a senior level must be active in community education. Margaret, promoted to the position of Head Pharmacist in 1999, heads the pharmacy teams of 31 Watsons pharmacy stores and she has a mission. She is responsible for the design, development and execution of Watsons' award winning 'Health and Fitness Advisory Training Programme'.

"I am now launching the 'Pharmacy Self Care Programme'. It is a major health education initiative supported by the School of Pharmacy of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I have to train other health professionals (nurses, care workers) on pharmaceutical products, work with specific groups in the community, such as the elderly and give talks and lectures on pharmaceutical issues for community groups or other health professionals," says Margaret.

"I feel very positive about the future in this profession as more and more people are paying attention to their health, but opportunities will not fall into my lap. I believe that pharmacists have to reach out actively and promote their role as medicine experts and equip the public with the knowledge and understanding of how to utilize our professional services effectively."

With an increasing number of inquiries at their counters and increasing concern about preventive health care, supplements and nutrition, Margaret gains immense job satisfaction from her career. Her advice on success: "Success at any stage of your career depends on your outlook and attitude," she says. "Reach out with your heart!"

China Opportunities

Pharmacists in Hong Kong usually work in one of the four areas: hospital, community, pharmaceutical trade or government. "At present there is no corresponding professional licensing system in the PRC. However, there are still areas where pharmacists can apply their professional knowledge, like pharmaceutical trade and industry research. With the PRC's accession to the WTO, there may be an adoption of a professional licensing system in line with international standards and practice," says Ms Lau, optimistic about the vast potential for the pharmaceutical profession in mainland China.

Figures are provided by the Hospital Authority.
Remark: The above positions require a certificate of registration and a valid practcing certificate by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board, Hong Kong.

Taken from Career Times 01 November 2002, p. 28
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