'Nothing's more challenging than dealing with tragedy - this job goes beyond dispensing drugs'

McGreals Pharmacy’s Kilian McGreal also talks about drawing the line under new business ideas.

By Conor McMahon Deputy editor, Fora

KILIAN MCGREAL IS a third-generation pharmacist, heading up his family’s eponymous healthcare chain for the last 15 years.

With a flagship shop and primary care facility in Blessington, McGreals Pharmacy has expanded to eight others locations in Wicklow, Dublin, Kildare and Laois.

According to its most recent set of accounts, the company was profitable in 2017 – the year that Kilian McGreal, who recently presented at a Bank of Ireland ‘Investing in your Business’ event, was voted people’s pharmacist of the year at the Irish Pharmacy Awards.

As part of our weekly question-and-answer series, he talks about dealing with tragedy, drawing the line on new business ideas and learning to walk on stilts.

Here’s what he had to say:

What was your earliest or childhood ambition?

Given that both my father and grandfather were pharmacists, I think there was always an ambition to at least become involved in healthcare.

There are very few professions where you can be so involved with the customer on an ongoing basis.

You can have such a positive influence on patient outcomes – as a pharmacist, you could be engaging with 200 or 300 people a day. That’s highly unlikely in any other profession.

There are lots of opportunities to express yourself and to try and do the best you can in an appropriate pharmacy environment.

What’s the worst job/task you’ve ever had to do?

Within the pharmacy and healthcare setting, there’s nothing more challenging than dealing with tragic circumstances, both with the patient directly or with their family members.

It’s something that comes with being at the interface between healthcare and the patient. When you’re dealing with things like palliative care or engaging with family members after they’ve gone through a tragedy, it’s obviously a very challenging situation, but I think it’s a key element of good healthcare.

Being a pharmacist, it probably goes beyond just dispensing medicines. There are times where you need to be in the patient’s house or where someone has been through a palliative care process and has passed away; you need to be there for the family in whatever way you possibly can be.

Kilian McGreal Kilian McGreal
Source: Aishling Conway/McGreals Pharmacy

What do you find most irritating in other people?

Just to re-frame the question, something that costs nothing is politeness. I think it’s a key element of our business that the patient comes first, and I would find it very difficult to accept someone being rude for no reason.

My view is that the absolute priority in healthcare is that you provide a good level of service and you treat someone the way you’d like to be treated yourself.

What has been your biggest mistake to date and what did you learn from it?

I’ve made lots of mistakes. I think most people in business have. I’ve opened up numerous businesses that haven’t quite worked out, whether that’s a veterinary business or a gift business.

I think the main thing to learn from it is, if you don’t try something, you’ll never know, but be aware of where you need to draw the line and move on to the next thing – and don’t be scared to do that.

What’s the one skill you wish you had?

There are loads of skills it would be great to have, but that’s what the team is there for. Where I have weaknesses, there are plenty of other people who are very strong in those areas.

I’ve been roped into being the grand marshal of the Blessington Paddy’s Day parade for the last number of years and I’m learning to stilt-walk for next year’s parade. So it would be great if I didn’t have to go through that learning process – we’ll see how that goes.

What bad work (or business habit) have you had to kick?

Learning to switch off. It’s inevitably going to be a challenge when you’re running a business.

But once people have people have been given responsibility, give them that full responsibility. It’s always difficult to move away from micromanaging.

Who is your business hero?

I very much doubt the business would be where it is today without our bank manager, Pat Barret from Bank of Ireland, especially in terms of developing the care centre.

A lot of people who you have a lot of respect for, they’re not necessarily famous.

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