Canberra pharmacist Elise Apolloni is a woman with a message and a mission to improve the physical and mental health of her community, and beyond.
The 29-year-old co-owner of Capital Chemist Wanniassa was named the 2017 Telstra Young Business Woman of the Year at a gala dinner in Melbourne last week, accompanied by her husband Dean, who is also a pharmacist with Capital Chemist Southlands in Mawson.
Elise, who has been working in pharmacies since she was 14 years old, said the award was recognition of ‘a lot of hours of blood, sweat and tears’ and her determination to make health care better for people.
“I’m very excited about using this award to spread that message across the country,” she said.
Elise fell for pharmacy after a work experience placement, working through her school years at Caroline Chisholm High and Erindale College between Capital Chemist Calwell and Capital Chemist Wanniassa, before leaving Canberra to study at Charles Stuart University in Wagga Wagga.
She returned during breaks to keep working at Wanniassa, and when she qualified, the opportunity arose to manage the business for two years before becoming a partner in 2013.
Elise said pharmacies needed to make sure they were an integral part of their local health system wherever they are and be open to change and new ideas.
“We’re very lucky here in Canberra, we’re a small network, a small community and we have the ability to get to know everybody in our little town and it’s really important that we foster those relationships with our fellow health partners and professionals but also our patients, so they are aware that we are a place they can go to for health care,” she said.
“We are the most accessible of all health professionals and we are open longer than usual business hours to make sure that people can get that advice about their health when they need it.”
She said Capital Chemist Wanniassa had embraced social media and implemented a number of innovative services such as mental health support, diabetes education, baby clinics, and weight-watch programs.
Mental health, in particular, has become a passion for Elise, after a 16-year-old assistant at the pharmacy took her own life.
She became known as the singing pharmacist due to her musical mental health posts on Facebook, her volunteer work as a telephone crisis supporter at Lifeline Canberra and as a phone counsellor for the National Pharmacists’ Support Service, as well as becoming an instructor for ‘Mental Health First Aid’ training.
“It is paramount that we start having some very serious conversations about mental health and come to an agreement that it is no different from a physical illness,” she said. “People should not be treated differently because they have a mental illness. We need to recognise that by the time we pass we have a 50-50 chance of having a mental illness in our lifetime so we need to embrace that as part of the norm.”
She said people should create environments, workplaces and communities that help people when they are struggling but also prevent them from developing unnecessary stresses in their lives.
“I have made it my mission that it is something we talk about so we can make some good from a horrible situation,” she said. “It makes me really proud to see how our community has embraced our mental health messaging over the past couple of years.”
Elise said her community was like a family to her, and she and business partner Honor Penprase had built a team who loved looking after patients as much as they did.
She loves the amount of patient contact she has. “People don’t need an appointment to see me, they can just walk in and have a conversation that hopefully will make them feel better. I think that’s a really powerful role to play,” she said.