Chatting With: Lai Fong, Pharmacist, Co-founder Of Better Life Pharmacy

Tell us a little about yourself and the pharmacy that you’ve co-founded

Thanks for having us in your “Chatting With” column! It’s an honour and privilege to be a part of your platform. Well, I have always been intrigued with the medical side of things since I was a teen. I loved watching medical-based TV shows and documentaries. It always got me intrigued. My ambition at that time was to be a doctor, and even applied for medical school and got accepted.

But at an education seminar one day, I discovered the pharmacy profession. At that time, it was an under-rated profession. Many people only knew about what doctors do, but rarely did people know about the multiple roles of a pharmacist, including myself.

I always associated pharmacists with those at Guardian or Watsons behind the counter – and that is a very bad perception of pharmacists. The education seminar I went to really opened my eyes to the wide job scope and responsibilities that entail being a pharmacist. 

So, I decided to take up the pharmacy degree and I have been extremely proud to be one. The first year of my university degree opened my eyes to the importance of a pharmacists’ advice to patients in so many aspects, as doctors honestly do not have that much time to give medication and lifestyle counselling.

Our pharmacy, Better Life Pharmacy in Penang was founded with our patients’ welfare and wellbeing as our main priority. We aim to provide our patients/customers a good experience in our pharmacy with quality/genuine products and at a competitive price. And since being a mother myself, I have also put a lot of focus on addressing common issues mothers like myself face with their children.

What educational path did you take to become a pharmacist?

I studied pharmacy at the University of Sydney in Australia for 4 years. And when I started my pharmacy business, I also furthered my education by taking a Diploma in Human Nutrition with Deakins University in Melbourne, Australia.

How would you describe what you do; what does your work entail

I receive prescriptions from patients often when they come to purchase their medication. So I have to ensure that the prescriptions we receive from the patient and the medications dispensed are in order to what has been prescribed. Another pivotal role is to cross check the prescription details such as medication dosage and to ensure there are no potential drug interactions with other medications the patient is taking.

And now vitamin supplementations are trending amongst the public to help complement their diet and medications. It is my job to ensure we give the right recommendations based on their overall wellness and medication/vitamin supplement history.

I personally believe in looking at a person holistically as there are so many different therapies out there, so we need to get to know the patient before recommending any product to them. Pharmacists also play a major role in counselling patients to ensure they are compliant with their medications – it is not uncommon for patients to be tired of taking medications, or unwilling to take medications, so it is our job to stress on the importance of doing so.

How do you keep up to date on developments within your industry?

As a pharmacist, our profession requires us to keep up to date with the latest in the industry by attending professionals talks as often as we can. I also subscribe to different health portals and magazines to understand the trends of the health profession today.

What are current issues/trends in the field of pharmacy that people should be aware of?

Pharmacy is a very competitive industry now. You can probably see 5 retail pharmacy outlets within two or three blocks of the same road/street! Price war is one of our biggest issues in our trade and has even been highlighted by the Health Ministry and reported in newspapers last year. It is a continuous problem because there are also counterfeit medications / vitamin supplements in the market which spoil our trade. When counterfeit products are available, obviously it taints the profession and the pricing of the products. Consumers are at the same time unaware of which are genuine, and which are not.

Now in the health industry, there is also more awareness of how vitamin supplements can help complement their life and improving their general well-being. Vitamins are derived from natural/plant/herbal sources that can play a vital role in improving your health. So, it’s important to get professional advice from your pharmacist before taking any! And that’s where I hope I can help all of you readers here!

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Despite some issues we face in this profession, I am very happy I chose this path because I get to help and empower someone’s life every day! This is not an easy career path I would say, as the course of the study is quite challenging and intense. There are lots of chemical names to memorise, different chemical pathways to remember, but if you love chemistry and biology, and love speaking to people, this would be a good course to pursue.

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