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Life Is a Journey

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We spoke to Louis Wong (right), founder of MK Pharmacy in Kundasang, Sabah who kindly shared his pharmacy’s story, its ups and downs and his hopes to inspire other pharmacists.

1Twenty80: Could you share with us about your pharmacy? 

Louis Wong: My wife and I founded MK Pharmacy in 2015 in Kundasang, Sabah. In retrospect, it was not an ideal time to establish our business at that point in time, as the market was undergoing correction with the implementation of Government Services Tax (GST) and global economies were plummeting. So, from stable salaried government employment, I pulled the trigger and went into the business world which is full of uncertainties, receiving zero salaries for the first nine months or so after initiating the business. It was not smooth sailing and in 2017, due to some issues, my business was threatened with closure but with perseverance, I managed to pull through.

 

1Twenty80: Why did you choose to start an independent community pharmacy?

Louis: To be frank, in the beginning, I naively thought that running an independent community pharmacy is financially rewarding, which might have been true in the 1990’s. I was never an enthusiastic person and was not gifted with business acumen. In hindsight, the pain of losing my mother due to years of chronic illnesses has always reminded me of the importance of health and particularly pharmacotherapy education to my clients. I could position myself to reach out to the needy in the community setting and empower them with knowledge to minimise their fear and doubt in undergoing chronic disease management.

 

1Twenty80: What advice would you give to young graduates who wish to establish their own independent pharmacy?

Louis: There are all sorts of reasons why a young pharmacist would like to run their own independent pharmacy. Putting their family influence and financial support aside, perhaps it will be good for them to personally understand the ESBI quadrants before they embark on their career journey after graduating from university and then only decide which quadrants they wish to be in for the rest of their life journey.

Quote: Dream big, take baby steps 

Personally, please do not establish your own independent pharmacy if: 

  • You are not willing to sacrifice your leisure time. 
  • You cannot tolerate delayed gratification. 
  • Your intention is purely on monetary rewards. 
  • You are not willing to learn new knowledge outside of anything pharmacy related. 
  • You have no passion in improving community healthcare. 

On the other hand, it is important to work on your mindset. I discovered that my subconscious mind has directed my speech in my early career, when I was fairly pessimistic about everything. Now, putting things into perspective, instead of saying “I can’t”, I train myself to ask myself, “How can I do it?”. When things go awry, I try to refrain from blaming others and instead force myself to think of a solution and ask myself “What can I learn from the circumstances?”. Besides, everyone is entitled to dream, so for me I might as well dream big, as in saving a billion lives through my practice, so big that it does not matter if I take my whole life to attain it.

“Dream big, take baby steps” is in my mental dictionary. I emphasise progress more than ultimate success and therefore I value processes and direction more than rewards. As a pharmacist, I believe we should be adventurous without compromising on client’s health. I have had various failed attempts in introducing new health services but they do not really bother me, as I believe that I stand to gain a lot more personal growth and wisdom learning from failures. Also, as a community pharmacist running my own independent pharmacy, I must learn to embrace pain alone. There is no leader above me to guide my next steps. Sometimes I just have to bite the bullet to discover what does not work.

Quote: Unlearn to relearn 

I wish I had discovered it earlier, formal education in university should only be treated as a ticket to practise. It is not a relief, but rather the beginning of another phase of life’s journey.

It is essential for pharmacists to keep learning from various resources. My favourite has always been printed books. Nowadays there are many digital versions, but I still go for physical printed books as I find them better for my brain to process the information by reading books. Reading, to me, is a form of leverage to develop my macro view and assimilate ideas from various experts. 

The second source I tend to learn from is quality online resources or sharing by experts. With regards to online resources, it is important to differentiate facts from opinions and make your own informed decisions. 

Thirdly, I attend classes and seminars which are relevant to my practice and personal growth. I cannot emphasise more on the importance of continuous learning as I personally have experienced the shift in my life perspective through continuous learning. Meanwhile, along the learning journey, I learn to improve my social circle as I believe I will be the average of the people I closely associate with. Whenever possible, I choose to establish mutually beneficial professional relationships in which both sides are able to provide tangible values to each other. 

Quote: I cannot emphasise more on the importance of continuous learning as i personally have experienced the shift in my life perspective through continuous learning.

 

1Twenty80: How do you manage your staff? 

Louis: In my early years of running my business, my staff turnover was at lightning speed. Currently, whenever I wish to recruit new personnel and for my existing staffs, I use DISC personality tests in order to find out the best way to communicate with them. From there, I get to know what motivates them and hence set their tasks accordingly. I treat them like my family members and guide them to seek their big ‘why’ in working and living. They stand to gain not only monetary rewards from their efforts but also financial wisdom. From time to time, I gift them books to improve their personal development and bring them for a short vacation. As a leader, I should always strive to attain personal growth because I believe my team will only grow if I am personally growing. Here’s a summary of how we should handle employees majoring in different personalities.

Dominant – Try not to oppose their ideas, let them do their work as long as it’s not jeopardising the working environment. 

Influencer – Position them to handle front end tasks such as engaging clients. 

 

Steadiness – Slow and steady, be emphatic to them. 

 

Compliance – Allow them to handle back end tedious tasks requiring detailing and attention. 

 

Quote: Slow and steady, be emphatic to them

 

1Twenty80: What improvement in public perception on community pharmacy would you like to see?

Louis: First of all, I wish for the public to be aware that a community pharmacist is no longer just a medicine seller. Our professions have evolved from the 90s and the perception of community pharmacy brought forward from your parents is no longer applicable in the current environment. This goes back to my emphasis on the importance to unlearn by ditching the outdated mindset. Frequently, I still have walk-in customers asking specific oral medicine or medicated cream for indications that are way out of sync with their current conditions. After speaking to them, I find that it’s their friends or family who are non-health professionals recommending this medication.

 

I would like the public to be more cautious when it comes to medicine including complementary medicines. Think beyond the brand or pricing. I understand that it is impossible to change herd mentality with my own effort and therefore I believe that change should be from all of us as community pharmacists by portraying our professionalism and implementing the right approaches in handling customers’ requests in our setting. Empowering the public with health knowledge for them to make an informed decision should be the way to go in elevating the public perception on our profession.

 

Quote: I would like the public to be more cautious when it comes to medicine including complementary medicines.

1Twenty80: What have you learnt so far from your business journey? 

Louis: Personally, I think the biggest gain I have received from my business is the building of my strength of character. The business has taught me to focus on providing more tangible value to my clients. For instance, my team and I will always endeavor to provide proper medicine and health education to our clients. Business is like a car and cash is similar to the fuel. In order to reach my destination, it requires fuel, but I do not buy a car in order to get fuel. Same thing applies to business.

In order to let my business bring me to greater heights in providing greater health values to the community, it requires cash, but I do not own a business in order to get cash. The pharmacy business, to me, is a vehicle for me to achieve more which would have been impossible if I had chosen to be an employee in the government setting. The important thing is to stay focused on my direction and tweak strategies along the way to suit the evolving healthcare environment in Malaysia and beyond. 

Quote: Business is like a car and cash is similar to the fuel

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