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‘I never had an ounce of trouble’

Last update - Thursday, August 7, 2008, 00:00 By Metro Éireann

In the latest instalment of Metro Éireann’s MEET THE BOSS, SANDY HAZEL speaks to VM Rajkumar, pharmacist and owner of the Frederick Pharmacy in Dublin city.

Vellore Masilamani Rajkumar was a young pharmacy student in Madras when he met his Irish wife Eileen in 1978. The couple decided to settle in Ireland, and with a growing young family to support, Rajkumar needed to get his licence to practise in Ireland.

“I had my qualifications from India and did get work in pharmacies here,” he recalls, “but I wanted to fulfil my potential and use my training as a registered pharmacist, so I applied to the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland to register here.” So began a laborious process of accreditation. “You can get your post-graduation easily here,” says Rajkumar, “but in order to practice in Ireland it has to be approved by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, with special studies completed at Trinity College at my own financial cost. So I started the long process of getting accepted.”

Many records and papers were required from the university in Madras, merely to enable him to sit the exams.

The experience was a frustrating one for Rajkumar. “The adjudicating committee only decided places on two occasions during the year and there were delays with them deciding my submission, which in turn made my application late for CAO, it was terrible.

“They operated very conservatively. At one point I was asked by a clerk there if I could speak English – all my certificates and exams on the desk were in English.”

He feels that the Pharmaceutical Society at the time was “operating behind closed doors” and was an unwelcoming institution. But he persevered and eventually succeeded in gaining a place, completing a required year at Trinity College Dublin, followed by a year of pre-registration work experience under a tutor pharmacist before sitting the Pharmaceutical Society licence exam. On passing, he finally became a Member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (MPSI) in 1988.

Now fully accredited, Rajkumar began looking for suitable premises, and in 1989 came upon an old established pharmacy on North Frederick Street in Dublin 1. He remembers the area as being very run down and dangerous at the time. “It was pretty tough,” he says, “many people wouldn’t walk around here. Muggings were so regular that not a day went by without some poor lady sitting in my pharmacy, crying because her money was gone.”

But Rajkumar “just wanted to further my profession and provide for my family”. At that time Rajkumar and Eileen had four children under the age of six. He saw the potential of the dilapidated premises in a rough area; there were busy doctors’ surgeries on the street, there were good dentists in the area and a thriving clinic. “The people in the area were welcoming and encouraging, I never had an ounce of trouble.”

He recalls that the business at first “was a loss maker, with no computer and a till that could only calculate up to three pounds. There was a constant threat of robbery by drug addicts. I turned it around into a profitable business with a good reputation within a year.”

Rajkumar made the important decision to stop stocking controlled drugs, only ordering them in and dispensing when required. With no morphine on the premises, the Frederick Pharmacy immediately became less of a target. “I explained to the local doctors that my staff would be exposed to great risk and they understood,” says Rajkumar, who still receives much of his prescription business locally.

Initially the pharmacy was open every Sunday for years, and Rajkumar admits that it was hard on his family, and himself. “My children were small, we had no holidays. It was work all the time,” he says. Today it is easier, although the invasion of the market by multinational chains is a threat to what Rajkumar sees as “the valuable one-to-one consultations that a local pharmacist will give to you.”

Seeing their parents strive and work hard is good for children, according to Rajkumar. “What the parents do, the children will do,” he says. Of course, life hasn’t been all work and no play for Rajkumar, who found time to indulge in his passion for cricket.

“I played for one of the oldest clubs in Ireland, The Phoenix, in the Phoenix Park,” he says, “but time off is always tricky as legally I must have another pharmacist on the premises if I am not there.”

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