A COUNTRY Queensland pharmacy is rolling out the red carpet to prospective employees, offering free accommodation and return flights to Brisbane among other significant perks, but after six months the generous offer has failed to lure a pharmacist out west.

The search for someone willing to work in the Central Queensland town of Taroom is an increasing cause for concern for business owner Christie McLennan.

The position has been vacant since January and McLennan fears local healthcare outcomes could be compromised if she’s unable to find a second pharmacist, to keep the service open if she becomes ill or has to take leave.

“It’s very dire to be frank,” she said.

“If you can’t have pharmacists on the ground to provide those basic services then everybody’s health care is at risk.

“Whether it’s infants with paracetamol or end of life care – it could be chaos.” 

Pharmacist Christie McLennan providing a vaccine at her Taroom Pharmacy

She said GP shortages in rural communities were putting additional pressure on pharmacies, which are often the only primary health care provider in town.

McLennan’s recruitment strategy has included online advertising, social media, working with two pharmacy recruitment agencies and education providers.

Applicants are being offered above award wages, a four bedroom house, two return flights from Roma to Brisbane per year and registration to a professional conference worth between $800 – $1000.

“It is well above and beyond what I ever would have dreamed of being able to get when I graduated,” McLennan said.

“It used to be the case that a lot of pharmacists would come out west and get experience – it just doesn’t seem to happen anymore.” 

Christie McLennan at Taroom Pharmacy

McLennan has owned Taroom Pharmacy since 2013 and believes a range of factors have contributed to the current situation, including pharmacists not wanting to work full-time because they’re burnt out.

“A lot of pharmacists have decided to leave the industry after being overwhelmed through the pandemic,” McLennan said.

“We’ve never had more registered pharmacists in Australia but there’s a casualisation of the workforce. They want a lot more flexibility.  

“Our workforce is about 70% female dominated. With that comes a lot of women taking time off to do the parenting role, so they’re stepping back into more casual roles.”

Banana Shire Councillor for Taroom Terri Boyce said the situation was a worry and that “every industry” was currently having trouble finding staff.

“It’s disappointing that it’s happening but I don’t think we’re the only town being affected,” she said.

“Our local mechanic here, he offers houses to get mechanics too. I think that’s something small country towns are going to have to do to get staff because there’s no rentals here.”

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia was contacted for comment but didn’t respond by deadline.

As the search for a pharmacist continues, Christie McLennan said she was wary of the wider impacts Taroom would suffer if people had to travel out of town to source their medications.

“If you can’t get your medication in town you’ll get your groceries elsewhere too,” she said.

“We’re a close knit community and that means we’re all interdependent on each other.

“Any closure of a small business, especially an essential service, means there are knock-on effects for other businesses.

“This is our home too, and we like to provide the best that we can while we’re living in the bush.”

She’s urging anyone interested in the position to get in touch and give country life a go.

“People seem to not want to take a risk and get outside of their comfort zones,” she said.

“You just don’t know the opportunities that are out there until you try it.”

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