In this exclusive interview, Pharm. Bridget Okocha, chief executive officer, Mebik Pharmaceuticals Nigeria Limited and zonal coordinator, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), Surulere and Coker Aguda Zone, Lagos, recounts some of her experiences over the years, noting the numerous attractions, as well as challenges in the profession. She also has valuable advice for young pharmacists willing to embrace community practice. Excerpts:
How would you assess community pharmacy practice, especially in your zone?
There are several challenges and, to be sincere, we are not breaking even because of the activities of charlatans. The regulators are not helping us, either. Take, for instance, a civilised environment like Lagos. I don’t see why they [the regulators] should still allow the activities of charlatans to continue to thrive to the extent that people no longer know the difference between fake and genuine medicines. Charlatans have gained enough power all over the country, to the extent that their activity is hindering the attainment of good pharmacy practice.
Personally, my major challenge is human resource management. People keep asking me how I cope with managing my staff, especially in the aspect of loss of goods through theft or breakage, which we called ‘shrinkage’. It is so bad that if you are not the hardworking type, you could close up business because of the level of shrinkage.
Also, there are issues of staff not living up to expectations, not representing you well before your clients, not practising what you taught them, coming late to work, not utilising working hours properly and many more. Considering these, you will discover that if care is not taken, the owner of the business will be at the losing end. That is a major challenge we are facing and it is not possible for a pharmacist to be on ground all the time to monitor them.
Ironically, the challenge is not only applicable to the non-pharmacists staff that we employ. These days, even the pharmacists that we employ hardly deliver. Get some fresh graduates from the university and interview them. You will find out that most of them do not even know the dosage of paracetamol. What they are looking for is to learn from you and thereafter leave you in search of bigger pay elsewhere.
What I do to tackle the challenge is proper monitoring of my staff. They all have my phone numbers and we communicate all the time. Even though this is not too good because the ideal thing is to allow them the independence to practice. But I have come to realise that nobody can do your thing the way you want it done.
So, how lucrative is community pharmacy practice?
Community pharmacy is very lucrative because the chances of making it in the business are very high, as long as you understand the business and have a passion for it. I do tell people that before one can become successful in a particular profession, being passionate about it is very important.
For me, community pharmacy practice is beyond buying and selling like market people.It requires commitment, passion and dedication. A lot of people have advised me to come into importation business but I tell them that my joy lies in talking directly with my clients, making them happy and solving their problems; and when they come back to say ‘thank you’, it makes me happier.
What are the commonest health conditions that bring patients to your pharmacy?
The commonest one is malaria, followed by infection, and I will attribute them to the challenge of non-conducive environment.
We need a lot of orientation and awareness to promote good health and proper hygiene in this country. In the case of malaria, we thank God it is reducing and the reduction is as a result of the introduction of Artesunate Combination Therapy (ACT) compliant drugs, which are becoming more common now. But we are not there yet, as the disease is still a burden in the country.
Also about infection, it is common in both children and adults because we don’t take care of our environment. If you see where some people live, you will feel sorry for them and this has nothing to do with whether they are rich or poor. It’s about their orientation towards creating a healthy, conducive environment.
If you were not a community pharmacist what other aspect of the profession would you have chosen and why?
If I was not a community pharmacist, I would have gone into teaching. The reason is that I love teaching and despite the fact that I am into community practice, I still do a lot of mentoring and teaching for the youths. I believe that if I am able to mentor somebody and the person comes back to appreciate me, it is still the same with what I am doing presently at the community practice level.
What is your advice to young pharmacists who are willing to come into the practice?
My advice to them is that they should ensure they have a passion for the practice before venturing into it, and they should be well prepared to face all the challenges that come with it.
However, the most important thing is that they should build their reputation around the practice. In whatever they want to do in life, integrity is very important and they should also place value on themselves, so that people around them will believe in them and respect them, whether they are rich or poor.
I am using this opportunity to tell them that there are lots of opportunities in community practice, as long as they are ready to do the right thing and not like quacks, thinking that the fastest way to make money is to cut corners. They should not get involved in whatever will put them in trouble, and they should uphold the motto of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), which says “As Men of Honour, We Join Hands.”