Laughter may be the best medicine. But despite his good sense of humour, David Dawe knows if laughter could cure all that ails you, the Heart’s Content pharmacist and his colleagues might find themselves out of business.
And that would be no laughing matter.
After 30 years of operating an independent community pharmacy in Heart’s Content, Dawe still loves his job — mainly because of the rare opportunity it gives him to be on a first-name basis with his customers, or as he likes to call them, his patients.
What prompted Dawe, a Gander native, to end up practising pharmacy in Heart’s Content? His grandfather, George Sinyard, was a Heart’s Content native who moved to Harbour Grace in 1943. And Rex Sinyard, a well-known Harbour Grace pharmacist, is Dawe’s uncle.
Dawe always liked the sciences as a student.
“There were seven of us in our family and my father drove a taxi. So I guess there was an expectation there, especially on the first and second sons, to try and better your lot through post-secondary education and a profession,” he says.
For Dawe, the choice was easy. He studied pharmacy at the old College of Trades and Technology in St. John’s, graduating in 1977 as a member of the college’s third pharmacy class.
After spending his first two years working in Gander, Dawe found himself in Heart’s Content.
After operating his first pharmacy from a rented room in the town hall during his first two years in the town, Dawe purchased a building next to the Cable Station, formerly known as Martin’s Grocery and General Store. He renovated the building and opened his pharmacy and convenience store in April 1982.
The store shelves were once filled with everything from magazines to hair dyes and other confectionery items.
But a visit to the store earlier this month revealed those shelves are getting bare. In fact, Dawe says sometimes tourists visiting in the summertime ask if he is closing up shop.
He says large international retail giants like Wal-Mart have effectively wiped out the confectionary side of his business, the same as they have done to countless small businesses in rural communities around the province.
Now with everybody driving two cars and shopping malls within commuting distance, Dawe says, one of the only reasons they come into his store these days is to have their prescriptions filled, and avail of the Sears outlet operated under the same roof. Dawe keeps the operation going with the help of his two employees, Virginia Hiscock and Dawn Green.
“We used to open seven days and nights a week. Now we’re down to six days (Monday-Saturday) and no nights,” he says.
When he goes home at 5 p.m. his evenings and weekends are his own, except for the occasional call at home for his assistance.
“This was the first Christmas Day I can recall being able to eat my Christmas dinner without a single call,” he says.
Not that he would mind, because the pharmacist is no stranger to taking calls, and responding to them at all hours of the night.
One of the messages on Dawe’s electronic bulletin board over his dispensary reads: “Senior citizens are important to us.”
It’s a message by which Dawe lives. Using the plow on his Jeep, he has been known to clear snow from the driveways of seniors.
“I’ve plowed driveways for widows and people with heart conditions, or seniors who may not have younger family members to do it for them,” he says.
Pharmacy has changed a lot since Dawe started in the profession. For one thing, he says, the number of medications has more than doubled.
Penicellium G was once the cure-all wonder drug. Then amoxicillin, a new antibiotic, came on the market in the late 1970s, and it went on from there, he says.
Dawe used to type his prescriptions on a manual typewriter. Now, like everything else, it’s all done on computer.
While some pharmacists swore they would never get a computer, Dawe went high-tech early, becoming, he says, the first pharmacy on the Avalon to computerize in the early 1980s.
While he still enjoys many aspects of his profession, especially the friendly rapport with his patients, Dawe says, “pharmacy is not as much fun as it used to be.”
One of the aspects of the profession he doesn’t relish is the ever-increasing list of regulations.
“There is such a thing as professional judgment,” Dawe says, “but government regulations are taking more and more of that away from you.”
While he can see the need for such regulations in larger cities, where there is so much drug abuse, Dawe says in smaller places like Heart’s Content, “I’m just used to being a one-man show.”
One of the changes he likes is the Pharmacy Network, a government initiative that connects all pharmacies to a database.
Twenty-eight pharmacies around the province are now linked, and Dawe’s Pharmacy was No. 7. All 400 pharmacies will eventually sign on.
In essence, Dawe explains, if you had an accident or became ill while travelling in any other part of the province, the doctor attending to you could plug into the network’s database and find out immediately what medications you may be taking.
Asked about future plans, the 56-year-old says he will consider retirement “sometime within the next couple of years.” But he’s in no hurry, and would even consider doing relief work for a pharmacist who may want to take over his business.
He says he has no hesitation in recommending pharmacy as a profession for those with the right aptitude, which not only includes an interest in the sciences, but also an ability to communicate effectively with patients.
But it’s not an easy profession to enter, he said, adding there were about 370 applications for the 40 seats in MUN’s School of Pharmacy this year. About 100 candidates will be interviewed and about 26 from this province will be accepted, which he finds “amazing.”
Whenever he does retire, he plans to spend his twilight years in Heart’s Content.
“This is my home,” he says.
Charges against pharmacists
Since our interview with Dawe earlier this month, three St. John’s pharmacists have been charged with prescription drug-related offences. The well-publicized cases have left the profession with a black eye.
Dawe says he feels “totally discouraged that someone in our association would go to those extremes.”
Describing the alleged incident as “an unfortunate situation,” Dawe hopes people understand there are “bad apples” in every profession.
Pointing out a recent survey ranked pharmacists in the top three professions for trustworthiness, Dawe wonders where they would rank if that poll were repeated now.