Podcast Transcript: Karen Brown - 2018 TerryWhite Chemmart Pharmacist of the Year

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Welcome to Your Pharmacy Career Podcast, proudly brought to you by Raven's Recruitment, Australia's leading specialist pharmacy recruitment agency. The podcast series is being created to shine a light on the diverse and inspiring careers of Australia's pharmacists. Each episode will focus on the varied career opportunities within the pharmacy industry by exploring the career paths taken by leaders in the fields of Community Pharmacy, Hospital, Industry, Government and Professional Organizations. Careers never follow a defined path. Everyone's story is different and unique in their own way. The podcast series will help you discover the world of opportunities that exist and reveal pathways to achieve your dreams and aspirations. Whether you are a pharmacy student, early career pharmacist, or simply looking for a change at any stage of your career, the podcast series is designed to help you navigate ways into a career and a life that you love. Your host of the podcast series is Allie Xu. Allie, herself a pharmacist, is now the founder of Global Pharmacy Entrepreneurs and a passionate advocate for pharmacists to grow, innovate, excel, and make a lasting impact in the world. It's now over to our host, Allie Xu.

[Allie Xu] Hi, Karen, how are you today?

[Karen Brown] I'm good. Thanks, Allie. How are you?

[Allie Xu] Good, thank you. Thank you so much for joining our show. You're so famous out in the pharmacy world in Australia. So tell us about your story. Where did you grow up? When and how did you decide to pursue a career in pharmacy?

[Karen Brown] Sure. Thank you for the intro. I'm not sure if I'd go that far, but I'm working on definitely creating a legacy. So I am a Queenslander through and through in all facets of life and sport, etc. I actually — I have a teenage story. Like I knew I wanted to be a pharmacist at 14, I wanted to help people, careers information days, and I knew I wanted to do health, and I thought pharmacies looked like a really pretty place to work, so, more so than the white walls of a GP practice or something like that. So, pharmacy was always for me. I took a bit of time to get there. I ended up doing science first then pharmacy. But at the same time, I was playing professional netball for the Queensland Firebird. So that was actually okay because I was juggling so much, but then knew it was always pharmacy. And always wanted to do community pharmacy, always wanted to own a pharmacy. I knew that from a pretty early age as well, so. And it's amazing, you know, 20-25 years down the track, it's all good.

[Allie Xu] Wow. So what are some of the opportunities you had throughout your pharmacy career and how did you get those opportunities?

[Karen Brown] Yeah, I think there's a few things and definitely something I've learned along the way is, opportunities present all times, and you've got to keep — and that's one of my biggest tips, actually, to students is to keep an open mind and to have really good peripheral vision, because you actually never know where a lead or a door might take you. And one of my favorite quotes or mottos is, “Build the plane while you're flying it.” And I'm very much about — just jump in, take it on board, and work it out as we go, wing it, etc. And say yes, and see what happens. So I was extremely fortunate. I was only six months out of pre-reg and I did my pre-reg at the rural Children’s, so kind of always wanted to do hospital pharmacy as an intern, because I thought that was quite a good foundation clinically, but always wanted to do community. My now-business-partner Rod Garozzo was a very good family friend and he offered me a job in one of his pharmacies when I was six months out of registering, and then pretty much probably eight months later was offered my first partnership there. So obviously being in the right place at the right time, but also, I suppose with my sporting background, some people would have said I was quite young to take on an ownership role, you know, 18 months out of pre-reg. But I was quite confident in myself and how I was going to run a business based on my sporting. And a lot of what I do in business is actually what I learned in sport. And ultimately, you are bringing together a group of individuals all for a common goal. And that's exactly what you do in sport as well, so I kind of had a really good foundation in my upbringing and my sport that I was extremely confident to run a business. And then my first partnership was TerryWhite Chemmart Keperra, and that was probably about a month later that we bought the Samford pharmacy. And 13 years later... It was my first baby. And I was very fortunate. I had two business partners that pretty much gave me the keys and said go for it and backed me every step of the way. But definitely, you know, I've always been very driven and had a lot of goals, and very forward thinking. But it is really important to have that peripheral vision as well and not get kind of too caught up on the one tangent and realize that there's actually a lot of opportunities out there. And sometimes you just got to have the guts to take them and work it out afterwards. But back yourself.

[Allie Xu] Wow. So did you have any role models or mentors in your life, and when you were 18 months out and starting ownership?

[Karen Brown] It definitely was my two business partners. And I was quite fortunate with Rod that I'd known him since I was a teenager, so you know, quite often people ask me about how you get into partnership or how you choose partners and things like that. And I've been extremely fortunate with my two business partners. But I had a background there that I knew him and I knew his values, and I trusted him and had a lot of respect for him. And ultimately, it's like a marriage. You know, you've got to have so much respect and trust for each other. And so I was very fortunate that I already had that history there that I knew him, ao I felt really comfortable going into that partnership. My parents are amazing mentors to me. And I suppose, who I look up to, I’ve definitely got quite a lot of peers in the industry. Definitely through my innovative pharmacy group. We do share a lot and that's a big part of our group program, is to kind of really lean on each other. And then I suppose it is in the sporting world. I look up to a lot of the leaders in the sporting world, you know, as, I suppose, guides for what really good leadership is. And so yeah, I kind of, definitely within the pharmacy industry, but also outside into the business world and the sporting world.

[Allie Xu] So what are the specific lessons you’ve learned, that you can share without pharmacy students, so they can start to build those skills while they're at uni?

[Karen Brown] Yeah, I think the biggest thing is communication. So definitely, for uni students, it's really being open with what your dreams are, and your inspiration and what you want to do. And not everyone knows what they want to do. But the more open you are with your owner, and your manager, etc, the more they can help you. But also finding the right fit for you, as well. Like it's, “What are your values? And what do you want to be as a pharmacist? And does that pharmacy model fit that for you?” Because there's a lot of different models out there. And so I'm very passionate about what we do. And so I'm not one of those people, like the clock-in clock-out people. Like I think you really love what you do, you’ve got to match up with the right team and the right people around you that are going to support you. But being really open. If you want to be an owner one day, being really open, and trying to match yourself into the right team. Also show innovation and show engagement. Like, show that you want to learn, constantly ask questions. And once again, if you're not in the right team, and they don't want to answer those questions or don't want to support you, then they're not the right fit for you. So it's really about matching up with the right business and the right pharmacy that actually matches what you want to do. I think it's about keeping the doors open and having a really good peripheral vision. You know, there's so many opportunities out there. And, you know, I think the future of pharmacy is extremely bright. So it's keep challenging, keep asking questions, keep being curious, and take chances. And you know, I say it's one of life's best roller coasters. And sometimes you’ve just got to hang on for the ride. Like, you know, take a chance, hang on for the ride. And it's amazing where it can take you.

[Allie Xu] Wow. So you mentioned about finding the right fit. So as a student, when we are not really sure what we want to do, our dream seems to be too big and we don't know which step is first, who should we ask, where should we go, and what should we do to find it?

[Karen Brown] Sure. I think that's where placements are so critical. So if you work in a pharmacy, don't just take the easy option and do your placement at work, actively try and seek out pharmacies that you want to know more about. And do your placement there. The more variety you can get in placements, the better. So go rural, go to a strip, do a shopping center, do a medical center pharmacy. Do ones that are very health-based ones. Do ones that are very, you know, big box based kind of things. Like there's so many models out there. It's about really kind of — and I think that shows a lot of initiative from pharmacy students when they actively kind of don't see placements as, “Oh, yeah, I’ve just gotta tick the box and do a placement.” But they actually — you know, I get emails or letters about, “I want to do my placement at your pharmacy because I want to see how you do this,” or “I love it how you do that and I want to see what that's all about.” And I love it when we get students that are just blown away by how different our pharmacy is to another pharmacy, for example. So I think it's the more exposure you can get to all the different varieties. And that's what uni placements are all about, so. You know, and that's then ultimately then, for your intern, once again, don't just take the easy option just to get your intern done. Actually try and work out, “where do I want to be? Do I want to get into hospital? Do I want to get into community pharmacy?” And once again, the ones that are really proactive — if I get an intern kind of applying for a position really late into the year, ready to start in a few weeks, I kind of know they’re not too driven. Where as some of them are really good in third or fourth year, they really try and make, you know, contact to kind of go, “This is actually where I really want to work.” So yeah — showing initiative, being proactive, and really keeping your doors open and really kind of seeing what's out there and trying them all to really work out what you like. And also, it's a bit — we're all different. Even all pharmacists are different. Like it's, you know, I go back to sport, you know, I had multiple coaches through my sporting career and you kind of just take a little bit from everyone and put it in your little bag of tricks and create your own. Like, as a pharmacist, you might like how one pharmacist does this and another pharmacists does that. And you mix it all together to create your unique profile as a pharmacist. So yeah, the more exposure you can get. And don't just take the easy option of, “I’ll just do that work because I've got to do that,” you know. You know, push yourself and step outside the box and, you know, it’ll be amazing where it can take you.

[Allie Xu] Wow, great advice there. So I just want to ask you — as students, how would you coach them, or in the sporting team, how would you encourage others to step out of that comfort zone of unknown? What’s your advice?

[Karen Brown] Sometimes you've either got it or you haven't.

[Allie Xu] Okay.

[Karen Brown] And that's okay as well. Like I was doing a leadership course, yesterday. Like, the best teams are actually a really mixture of people. You don't want 100% people that are all extremely driven, to be an owner, for example. You want kind of all different traits right across the — everyone brings something different to the team. And so for some people, it's gonna be really hard to step out of that box but that's, you know, that's actually all part of it. You think of pharmacy, and one of the things I love about pharmacy is you don't know what that next person is gonna walk in and ask you about. Like, it's so unpredictable, and that's why we love the variety so much. So you've got to be adaptable. And, God, this year more than ever, you know. I hate the word pivot, but, you know, we've had to fully adapt. And, you know, in pharmacy, it's got to be, you know, once one minute you have 30 people in your store, then you don't have anyone. Then you've got this and that, constantly putting out fires and things. So you've got to be able to be on your toes and push yourself. And so I think, doing that in your uni days, that's all just part and parcel of life to put yourself out there and, you know, take a chance. And what's the worst thing that can happen? That's so often what I often talk about. You know, that motto of, you know, “Build a plane while you're flying it,” that kind of does freak out some of my more conservative stuff. But I always fall back on, “What's the worst that can happen?” It doesn't work, we've wasted a bit of money on some marketing flyers. We tune it, we adapt it, and we relaunch again. Like, so what's the worst thing that can happen is someone rejects you and says, “No, you don't have a spot here,” or, “No, this isn't for you,” but you gave it a shot. And you'll learn far more out of it than not having a go at all. And, you know, even in netball, you know, we often used to say, “you miss 100% of the shots that you never shoot.” Like, you know. So you've got to give things a chance and not be afraid of what the repercussions might be. And don't take it personally. Like, you know, you gave it a shot, you move on, you try something else. But you'll never know if you don't try.

[Allie Xu] Mmm. Wow. So we hear different views about learning and continue developing, both personal and professionally. In general, is the on the job training better than external training? What's your advice?

[Karen Brown] A mixture. When it comes to students, on the job and reality is far better than textbooks. You know, you need to have that really good foundation, but reality is gold. And the more exposure you can get, particularly, you know, I think every pharmacy student should be working part time in a pharmacy. I think that's a no brainer. Because the more you can do reality, the better. When it comes to development, I actually invest really heavily in my team in personal development. As an owner, one of my kind of, I suppose, values is that a team member leaves a better person than when they started with me. So I know I probably won't have them for 20/30/40 years. So even if I only have them for two years while they're at uni, as long as they leave a better person than when they started, then I've done my job. And I think the more I invest in the person, it's almost an indirect benefit to my business. So, you know, we're doing a big six-series course at the moment with a coach that's going through personal development and helping us with communication and teamwork and culture and all the rest of it kind of stuff. And then you've got your clinical development, which is just a necessity. And if you really like what you do, you should be keen to learn and want to know more about new drugs and new things. And then obviously, we do a lot in business development as well, and that's something that I love. And I suppose a big part of innovative pharmacy growth is bringing the business world to the pharmacy world. Obviously, we're the only ones that can own a pharmacy and yet there's not too much training. But when it comes to business, I think reality is far better than textbook and piece of paper. Like you know, nothing can prepare you for actually what is day-to-day going to happen. And I think as well as putting all the right people around you, having a really good team around you of, whether it is mentors, you know, we look at accountants, lawyers. You know, whether it's business coaches, personal development coaches. Like putting all the right people in your little supporting team to get you to where you want to be. And you're not expected to know everything. And that's why there's so many other professionals out there that create your little team around you.

[Allie Xu] Wow, that's amazing. So just out of interest, what are you looking for if a student wanted to work for you?

[Karen Brown] Oh, extremely driven, extremely passionate, wants to give things a go is curious, wants to ask questions, and wants to push themselves. We are a very, you know, I suppose, very innovative pharmacy, and that's definitely what I look for in recruitment. I've spoken a lot about, I think, the future of pharmacy is specialized pharmacists and pharmacists that have a real niche. That's how I recruit at the moment. You know, I've got a pharmacist thatis also a nutritionist. I've got a pharmacist that’s also a diabetes educator. I’ve got a pharmacists that specialize in pain, that specialize in fertility. And I love that. I love that they want to be different and want to challenge the status quo. And, and yes, probably 80% of our job is innovation and there’s 20% that is housekeeping and people that are like, want to just get in there and do what needs to be done and are engaged. I think if you got people that genuinely want to be here, want to help people, want to make a difference in the community, and just get involved, that's what I'd love. You know, I'm not that person that likes clock in/clock out, “I'm here for a job, I do it because that's what I want to do,” but that actually really want to try new things. And we do a lot of brainstorming as a team. And I love it when they actually think of ideas, but then take it to the next level and how to implement that idea, how to execute it, “What do we need for that idea? What training do we need? What product, what consumables,” you know, “How much is it gonna cost us to advertise that?” And really take it. You know, that's more ownership where they want to get into ownership and really take it to that level. But they get involved and they get engaged, and they want to be a part of it, and they want to make a difference. And ultimately, that's — you know, I often ask students, “Why do you want to be a pharmacist? Like, you know. And that sometimes, just in that one sentence will tell you how driven they are or how far they're actually going to go.

[Allie Xu] Wow. So what would you do differently if you can change one thing from your career or restart your pharmacy career?

[Karen Brown] So I don't have any regrets, but the one thing I probably would do differently — definitely in the last two years, I've really kind of turned that entrepreneurial side. So I was the owner of TerryWhite Chemmart at Stamford and have been since 2008, but then two years ago, bought into TerryWhite Chemmart Arana Hills. So I've been running both stores for the last two years. Obviously started Innovative Pharmacy Group with Felicity Crimston and Zamil Solanki. And then also last year I started Batch Tested with my business partner, which is all about supplying certified batch tested sporting supplements and that to professional athletes and teams around Australia and the world, which is an amazing opportunity that was presented to me bringing together my sport, pharmacy, business. So I've done a lot in the last two years. And I probably wish I hadn't been so tunnel vision for the first 10 years and maybe have done that sooner. And I think that's where, as I said, I'm very big in goal-setting, and one of the traps of goal-setting is it can kind of tunnel your vision. Whereas the last few years, I've really been open to opportunities and take things. And some people go, “[I] juggle way too many hats in the year,” but I love it. And, in a way, there's a synergy between all of them, and that's ultimately helping people. Whether that be my pharmacy customers, my community, whether it's other pharmacy owners, whether it's athletes, you know, and I love it. And I love the variety. I love all the different facets that the four businesses all bring together.

[Allie Xu] Great. Thank you. So another question we touched a little bit, if you were a counseling student about to graduate from their course and not sure where to do that internship, what field to go into, what advice would you give to them?

[Karen Brown] They probably need to start thinking about it sooner. So I reckon third year is probably when you need to start really thinking about it. And, as I said, you need to be really active in approaching people early on and really kind of — I think LinkedIn is a huge platform now. And that's another thing, I think when I see students on LinkedIn, it tells me that they’re really engaged and want to get to know people in the industry. I also think, attending industry kind of functions. And even with Innovative Pharmacy Group, we're looking at tapping into the students and people in that pre-kind of ownership or pre-leader kind of area so that they get to meet fellow mentors. And so I think it's really putting yourself out there. And obviously the big ones are hospital community. And I think there's also a bit of a misconception that hospital is true Clinical Pharmacy, and I think there is so much scope in community pharm — I think the sky's the limit in community pharmacy for what we can do with health. And I think that's — definitely when you look at the specialized pharmacists that we have here and some of the services that we run, you know, where pharmacists are being paid for their consultations, privately paid, running group classes. So I think there's so much and that's why I'm like, “You've got to get out and see what's out there.” And don't don't just attribute community pharmacy to being a script factory. And that's what I often say to students, “You're actually a health professional, you're not a dispenser. And yes, you've got to do dispensing as part of the job, but if you see yourself as a dispenser, and that's all you want to do, you know, it's a shame.” So I think it's really knowing what you want to do where you want to take it, and then finding the right pharmacy that helps you do that, because there's such a variety out there.

[Allie Xu] Wow. So if you can give us a piece of advice for our pharmacy students, intern pharmacists, on how to build a successful pharmacy career as well as a successful personal life, what would it be?

[Karen Brown] Be curious, challenge the status quo, and just hang on for the ride, because it's worth it. The ride is amazing. And you know, I look at pharmacy and some of my closest friends I've met through the pharmacy world. It will take you a lot of places. You get a real kick out of the status that you have in the community, and it's extremely rewarding. So yeah, take a chance and be passionate about it and you'll go a long way.

[Allie Xu] Okay, thank you so much, Karen, for your time.

[Karen Brown] Thank you Allie. Thank you.

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Your Pharmacy Career Podcast, proudly brought to you by Raven’s Recruitment, Australia's leading specialist pharmacy recruitment agency. If you enjoyed this episode and know anyone else who you think would benefit from it, we would be grateful if you could share it with them. Together, we help even more pharmacists develop a career and life they love. If you have any questions or suggestions about future podcast episodes, please reach out to us via email,

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