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Embracing change in Tofino, B.C.

Tofino | L-R: Laura McDonald, Jenna Lazarenko, Julie Anderson, Mary Thomas, Lisa Thomas, Risa Hansen (owner of Dog Clover), Alle Bernardi, Saige Bell, Hannah Brown, Averil Morris - Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy

Embracing change in Tofino, B.C.

This article is reprinted from CFP’s Changing Face of Pharmacy magazine, published in November 2023. Click here to download magazine.

With its abundant wildlife, epic beaches and prime surfing conditions, Tofino, British Columbia, is a pretty sweet backdrop for a pharmacy. Laura McDonald, owner of Epic Pharmacy and an avid traveller right out of pharmacy school, would be the first to agree—and she’s created a work environment that ensures she and her staff can take the time off to explore and lead full lives outside the pharmacy.

Epic Pharmacy’s employees work mostly three and four-day weeks (full-time staff work 35 hours/week), leaving plenty of time for travel and other personal pursuits. They also get a paid day off for their birthday (after six months on the job) and don’t work on stat holidays. And none of this has come at the expense of patient care or financial success, as this busy pharmacy has become a hub of patient care services for this oceanside community.

“Laura has created something really special here,” says staff pharmacist Julie Anderson, a third-generation pharmacist who joined Epic in 2016. “She has employees who would go to the ends of the earth for her—we see she is genuine and that it’s critically important that there is a true separation between work and being out, enjoying life.”

Originally from New Brunswick, McDonald first came to Tofino on a surfing vacation. She enjoyed it so much she took on a pharmacy manager role at the only pharmacy in town—and stayed for six years. “It really gave me time to get to know the community, which includes a large First Nations population,” she says. “I started integrating more and more with our offshore communities too, flying in with physicians to provide medication reviews and offering education sessions for new moms and people with diabetes, among other topics.”

The work proved so rewarding, McDonald opened her own pharmacy under the Pharmasave banner, focusing on health and wellness services and products. She also decided to create a business model that enabled her to focus on her own health and well-being, and that of her staff.

Ten years later, Epic Pharmacy is thriving, with a roster of 15 full and part-time staff and no shortage of regular customers. “We’re a community where locally owned businesses are a way of life…and we all support each other so if there is an issue, there is a big network to call on,” she says. “It’s really a magical place to run a small business.”

True to her word, McDonald has also implemented a work model that puts a priority on keeping burnout at bay. First and foremost, shorter work weeks give staff adequate time for vacation and personal projects. “It’s a little costlier on the business to have more people on payroll but we find it really helps with our recruitment and retention,” she says.

Full-time staff work four days a week, are all on the management team and are still able to take six to eight weeks of vacation per year as employees are cross-trained to take over various roles as needed. (As an owner, even McDonald travels up to eight weeks outside of Tofino yearly.)

The work culture also supports the fact that most employees volunteer in the community. “We’re flexible with schedules so employees can pursue these things that help replenish them outside of work,” says McDonald.

She credits the holacratic working model—a system of self-management where employees are accountable and participate in decisions within their own domain, rather than the traditional topdown approach—for helping create an environment where everyone feels valued and heard. “This model allows us to see where people are feeling compressed and need support, or where we can dissipate issues before they become really disruptive.”

Technology to ‘unplug’ employees

Technology has proven to be hugely beneficial too. McDonald has invested in various systems to create a paperless environment; most tasks are automated, from pill counting to patient appointment bookings for vaccines and other services. All staff have a dedicated email address, plus they communicate via an internal communication system where they can chat about issues and keep on top of each other’s projects as needed.

“We do not have a texting culture during—or after—business hours and having this communication system means employees can keep their devices for personal use,” says McDonald, noting that there is no need to check emails or texts for business after hours either. Even the pharmacy’s HR system is automated to handle employee contracts, onboarding, pay increases etc.

“Laura has built a seamless communication model that’s transparent, respects everyone’s boundaries and ensures we aren’t getting calls outside of work hours unless there is an emergency,” says Anderson. In fact, in the seven years Anderson has worked at Epic, she’s worked off-schedule just twice.

When she logs into the pharmacy’s communication system, Anderson also appreciates that the daily record shows what’s happened during previous days so she can easily pick up where things were left off. “We’re also scheduling the team a month in advance so people can plan accordingly,” she adds.

Regular teambuilding events help keep staff motivated and interested in evolving the business. Each year McDonald takes some staff to a natural health conference in Vancouver and to tour businesses developing new health-related products. She also organizes local retreats where she will bring in speakers, such as Indigenous leaders from the community to speak about their principles and values. “I find this the most rewarding part of being a leader: to provide shared experiences for the team is the foundation of the company culture at Epic Pharmacy.”

For more articles like this, click here to download CFP’s Fall 2023 Changing Face of Pharmacy magazine.

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