Our fifth Spotlight feature has a special little extra: we talk to husband and wife Benjamin Teo and Alicia Goh, both ex-Lodgians who trained as pharmacists and are currently the proud proprietors of Pharmacy 777 in Carnarvon, a rural town some 900kms north of Perth in Western Australia. They tell us about how they became a couple, and what it is like to work in the Australian outback.
Ben and Alicia were actually in the same year group in Lodge, but they didn’t really know each other until they were placed in the same class in Form Four; for some of the group projects, students were grouped according to the alphabetical order of their names, which was how Ben and Alicia wound up working together. In Form Five, they grew even closer and became good friends after Cikgu Anita Martin (Ben & Alicia: Thank you very much Cikgu!) assigned them to the same SPM study group.
Their relationship developed naturally from that point. After completing Form Five in 2006, both Ben and Alicia went on to study their Foundation year before undertaking degrees in pharmacy at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, where they officially became a couple. After their graduation in 2011 and subsequent year-long internships in Dunedin, Ben moved to Perth in 2013 to be closer to family, and Alicia went with him. Ben proposed that same year, and the couple tied the knot in July 2014.
By the time they were married, the couple had been working in Perth for roughly a year, which turned out to be a fairly tough one:
We were working different shifts (Ben in the morning, Alicia at night) with long hours (8am to 9pm), and had to endure long commutes to and from work. We were frustrated with the poor quality of life and low job satisfaction we had in the city, and decided we needed a change. At this point we had only been married for a month, and felt that it was important that we intentionally invested in our relationship.
In their search for something different, a job ad on Facebook for a pharmacist in Carnarvon caught their eye. It would be a Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) arrangement, which meant flying into the rural town to work according to scheduled time swings. Ben applied for the position, and in his interview with the Pharmacy 777 business owner, was asked if he would be willing to actually live in Carnarvon instead. Ben explained that the FIFO arrangement suited him better, as Alicia was still working in Perth. But one thing led to another, and when it turned out that the Carnarvon pharmacy needed not one but two new pharmacists, Ben and Alicia promptly resigned from their old jobs. A bare week after that, they moved to Carnarvon, eager for a new outlook and fresh beginning.
The couple had never been to Carnarvon, and hadn’t known what to expect. They initially planned to stay for just a year – three years later they haven’t gone anywhere, having fallen in love with the place and the country life: “Carnarvon is a small, tightly knit community with great people, awesome fresh produce, and plenty of outdoor activities such as fishing, camping and 4wding, which we enjoy. It’s probably not the best place to live if you love your shopping and night life, but we are having the time of our lives.”
Carnarvon has also been fruitful ground for fulfilling their career ambitions. Ben and Alicia had had aspirations of owning a pharmacy when they started with Pharmacy 777 in September 2014; working towards that goal, they became proprietors of the business in 2016. This is the kind of career portfolio which Ben had always wanted to create for himself: “I’ve always been interested in business. Initially I did health sciences because I was unsure of what career path I should go down, and saw it as a safe option that allowed me flexibility in the future. I quickly came to see pharmacy as an opportunity to combine my desire for a professional degree with helping others and running a business.”
As pharmacists, Ben and Alicia are dedicated in their efforts to provide a professional, caring and personalised health service in their local community. Based as they are in rural Western Australia, they also strive to lessen the gap in healthcare quality between rural and metro areas. For their efforts, Pharmacy 777 Carnarvon received the Community Engagement Award at the 2016 Western Australian Regional Small Business Awards. The pharmacy also won both the Health & Community Award and Outstanding Achievement Award at the Western Australian Chamber of Commerce 2016 Gascoyne Regional Business Awards.
Needless to say, winning these awards and being recognised for their work in their community have been the highlights of Ben and Alicia’s career so far, especially since they are only a handful of years out of university: “We never dreamed that we would have the opportunity to build a network and become business owners within three years of moving to Australia.”
Indeed, networking and time management are skills which Ben find to be essential for running a business, while Alicia cites listening skills and a genuine care for people, balanced with a good dose of drive and ambition. The health industry can be a volatile one, and for the couple, the challenge is to avoid becoming complacent; instead, they have to constantly keep abreast of advances in the industry so that they can continue to come up with fresh ideas and improve the quality of their service towards meeting the ever changing needs of the community.
What Ben and Alicia enjoy most about their career is also tied to their community: “The satisfaction we get from empowering and enabling someone to take charge of their own health; the feeling we get when someone drops in to see us just to thank us for our recommendations which have improved their health; knowing that we can make a difference, that is such a high. No two days are ever the same!”
It is obvious that Ben and Alicia are very purpose-driven in their chosen profession, and that there is much to being a pharmacist that most of us might not have thought about:
Many people think of pharmacists as label makers and tablet counters, or even pill pushers and glorified salespeople, which is far from true! … As pharmacists, our role is to ensure responsible provision of medication as well as non-pharmacological, lifestyle advice that will complement prescribed therapy, for the purpose of achieving positive health outcomes and improving quality of life for our patients … Everything we do must improve health outcomes for our patients. We connects patients with the wider health care network, personalise recommendations and find solutions to meet individual health care needs, and provide positive health outcomes for patients and carers.
Thank you Ben and Alicia, for your thoughtful responses in this interview! We hope that current Lodgians might be inspired by your ambition and drive to achieve their own dreams.
Written by Jane Leong
Photos courtesy of Benjamin Teo, and sourced from www.pharmacy777.com.au