Suong sitting at a pharmacy counter, with shelves of medicine behind her.

Suong learned how to counsel her customers on common health issues. Photo: PATH/Nguyen Chien Thang.

Training helps pharmacy owners like Suong build health care skills

Like many pharmacy owners in Vietnam, Suong dispenses medicine and advice to dozens of people each day. Some visit her pharmacy in central Danang Province for specific medicines. Others come with a cough or fever and need advice on how to get well. Suong’s job is clear: she sells them medicine.

At least that was her view before participating in PATH’s pharmacy project. Now, Suong recognizes that she does more than provide drugs. She plays an important role in ensuring the health of her community.

A network with reach

In Vietnam, as in many developing countries, pharmacies are often the first place people go for care of common health issues. They are often a preferred—and sometimes the only—source of health care information and services.

With more than 40,000 pharmacies across the country, pharmacy staff reach even the most remote villages. However, most of these businesses are privately owned and are not well incorporated into the national public health system. Despite a national program to implement international good pharmacy practice standards, the sheer size of the network and the lack of staff available for monitoring and enforcing regulations have made it difficult to improve pharmacy services in Vietnam.

Enhancing the role of pharmacies

In 2008, PATH began working with local health departments in five provinces to improve the skills of pharmacy staff delivering primary health care services. We trained more than 9,000 staff members in 11 primary health care topics. We also taught counseling skills, interpersonal communications, and good pharmacy practices.

“The project training has not only improved my knowledge of health care and my counseling skills,” Suong says, “but it also provided an opportunity to discuss and share experiences with other participants, something that we rarely have the opportunity to do because of the demands of running our own businesses.”

Responding to clients’ needs

Putting customers at the center of work is a key tenet of good pharmacy practice, Suong says. The knowledge and skills she gained from our project promote friendly communication and trust between pharmacy staff and customers.

Suong now believes that her customers have a right to high-quality, professional services, and it’s her duty to provide them. That is a hard concept for many business owners to grasp.

Change in philosophy

Before participating in the PATH project, Suong’s business philosophy was to “buy products cheaply and sell them with interest and commission.” Now she realizes that while a business must make a profit, it is important to provide good information and counseling to customers, particularly since many people know very little about medicine. Now she is more than a business owner. She is a primary health care provider.

In 2010, Suong’s pharmacy was one of the first in Danang Province to be certified in good pharmacy practice by the local health department. Now, more than 100 people visit Suong’s pharmacy each day, a 30 percent increase from 2009. After completing PATH’s training, she has the necessary knowledge and skills to provide them with high-quality information and counseling.