As the face of her pharmacy and with responsibility for dozens of daily tasks, medicines counter assistant Julie Thomson is a vital member of her pharmacy team 

It was a stroke of pure luck that Julie Thomson ended up in a job that perfectly suits her people, retail and organisational skills. One morning, because the sun was shining, she decided to walk to work rather than take the bus, and as she was passing Avicenna Pharmacy (formerly known as AMG Pharmacy), she spotted a sign in the window advertising a job vacancy for a counter assistant.

At the time, Julie was looking to move on because the retail store where she was employed was threatened with closure. An application form and a brief chat with the pharmacist later, and the job was hers. It’s now been five years and one month since Julie accepted the job and in that time, her role has changed beyond all recognition.

The pharmacy has become busier, while more initiatives and services have been introduced. A few years ago, the pharmacy was acquired by independent pharmacy support group Avicenna, and underwent a major redesign to bring it into line with Avicenna’s fresh green branding. All of these changes have resulted in much more responsibility for Julie.

“When I first started, all I had to do was collect and hand out prescriptions and keep the shop clean and tidy,” she recalls. “Now, I am responsible for everything that goes on in the front-of-shop, including ordering and checking stock, managing planograms, advising on minor ailments, maintaining the prescription retrieval system, managing surgery orders, promoting and registering patients onto the EPS, handling the day-to-day finances and sorting out monthly counter promotions. It’s important to prioritise in this job and our main priority is the patients.”

Communication is key

Located on a busy main road, and with a GP surgery just around the corner, Avicenna Pharmacy sees dozens of patients and customers walking through its doors every day, with all manner of needs and queries. As the main medicines counter assistant, Julie is the first point of call for all the customers, so it is vital that she is always ready and willing to help. According to Julie, no two days are ever the same, but the key to staying on top of things is excellent communication within the team.

“I know what is going on in the dispensary so that I can confidently tell a patient if their medicine will be ready in five minutes or if there is an issue which means that it will take a little longer,” she explains. “At the same time, the pharmacist and the dispensary team are very good at supporting me if it gets busy out the front. It’s good to have that backup.”

Julie says that Avicenna Pharmacy has a very large and loyal local customer base. She believes that the pharmacy’s fast, efficient service, together with its friendly, personal touch and accessible pharmacist sets it apart from the competition.

“I am on first name terms with lots of our customers and have forged a really close bond with some of them,” says Julie. “We go the extra mile for our patients and are happy to ring around to find them the product they need. I think this makes them feel valued.”

Meeting community needs

Avicenna Pharmacy’s services are tailored to the needs of the community it serves, and include medicines use reviews (MURs), the new medicine service (NMS), free blood pressure checks, and emergency hormonal contraception (EHC), as well as antimalarial tablets and treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED), which are both provided under a patient group direction (PGD). In addition, the pharmacy is in the process of delivering its first flu vaccination service this winter.

Julie has an important role in identifying and signing up patients who might benefit from these pharmacy services. Patient enrolment might be triggered by a prescription, a conversation with a customer or by their behaviour in store. In the case of the more sensitive services such as EHC or ED, approaching customers requires a great deal of tact.

“If I notice someone reading the poster about the ED service, I will broach the subject subtly, and ask if they would like to speak with the pharmacist in private. You have to be intuitive sometimes and read people’s body language,” she explains. Julie regularly flags up patients who are due an MUR or have been prescribed a new medicine, and is also currently taking the opportunity to recruit suitable patients for an MUR or NMS consultation at the same time as a flu vaccination.

One of Avicenna Pharmacy’s most popular services is its prescription delivery service, which is provided by the pharmacy’s friendly, full-time driver and is available to all patients, not just those who are elderly, disabled or housebound. “We work around the customer, so they can pick and choose when they’d like to collect their medicines from the pharmacy and when they’d prefer to have them delivered to their door,” says Julie. “It’s a very valuable service to be able to offer.”

Julie loves the ever-changing world of community pharmacy

Always evolving

With so many important tasks to manage, Julie is a shining example of just how involved and responsible the role of the medicines counter assistant can be. Despite juggling so many tasks, she is excited to find out what’s around the corner in the ever-changing world of community pharmacy.

“The responsibility and variation keeps things interesting. One minute I could be advising a customer on continence aids and the next telephoning the surgery about a prescription. I’m very busy, but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” she says.

“I think pharmacy will keep on evolving. When I look back to where I was five years ago, I can’t believe how much things have changed, so who knows which way pharmacy will head next.”

It’s important to prioritise in this job and our main priority is the patients

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