How this pharmacist experiences the best of both worlds

Phuong Nguyen MPS (Image: Frances Andrijich Photography)

An only child of Vietnamese boat people, WA’s Pharmacist of the Year Phuong Nguyen MPS combines pharmacy with big business.

What first attracted you to the pharmacy profession?

I chose pharmacy as I felt that healthcare and business came together in community pharmacy. This comes from my parents, both teachers before they escaped Saigon in 1980, who instilled in me the importance of curiosity, education and community. My family also has strong roots in the business and healthcare industries with many doctors, nurses, optometrists and dentists. As the only pharmacist  in the family, I love it because it allows me to connect and interact with patients to provide personalised advice and solutions by harnessing my listening and problem-solving skills.

Has the profession provided the impetus to get you where you are?

A background in pharmacy gave me the opportunity to work collaboratively in a multidisciplinary workforce and provided the foundation blocks for building professional working relationships – both in community pharmacy and then in a robust aged care pharmacy within a diverse team. It all provided valuable management and leadership skills, which are highly transferable in my consultancy work. A growth mindset has fuelled my quest for self-improvement and lifelong learning – hence my embarking on an MBA at the University of Western Australia. 

I spent my final year living on campus at Harvard University. I met the brightest people, both in business and socially. It dragged me out of my (shy) comfort zone of largely pharmacy friends (and my extended family) and made me more ‘worldly’ and socially interactive. It was quite the life-changing experience – and I also saw a taping in New York of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert! 

How did the job at PwC Australia come about?

While I was completing my MBA, the career option of consulting came up. Curious  about what the job entailed, I applied for a summer internship. My generous and supportive pharmacy employer at the time allowed me to work for PwC Australia, and the internship exposed me to projects within the healthcare system. It was an opportunity to use my healthcare knowledge and MBA to serve the community.

What do you do with the company that benefits the health system and uses your pharmaceutical as well as business qualifications?

PwC Australia has given me the opportunity to be exposed and involved in interesting projects in healthcare and beyond – like implementing a digital transformation program. I’m able to utilise my knowledge of the healthcare system to build bridges and interact with other clinicians. For example, I was involved in COVID-19 preparedness within the healthcare system in relation to supplies and procurement. It allowed me to combine my understanding of healthcare needs with supply chain management.

Where do you see yourself in 5–10 years?

I would love a stint working in an emerging economy for an aid agency such as Médecins Sans Frontières. But I also want to maintain a close connection with community pharmacy – the heart of the pharmacy industry – and, through my consultancy work, influence health policies and systems to improve public health initiatives. Learning for professional and personal self-improvement is also in there. Ideally, as my mother always says, ‘Give your life purpose by giving back to others,’ so I would also love to provide mentorship in appreciation of this amazing and rewarding career. 

What advice would you give to early career pharmacists?

Career mentors have helped me, so I encourage others to seek them. Mentors have imparted new perspectives and experiences and have helped guide, develop, encourage and empower my professional development, providing me with opportunities for self-reflection – and finally built my self-confidence. 

And never underestimate the management and leadership skills that are built in pharmacy (let alone the skill to ‘read a room’ from all those tall tales you’ve heard at the dispensary). Learn and refine these skills, as they are valued in every relationship in any industry. 

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