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College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

15 June 2020

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Health care with a difference

Transforming an everyday Cairns retail pharmacy into a health food and supplement emporium with stores across Australia may seem like an impossible dream, but not for JCU pharmacy graduate Vince Pappalardo.

Together with his brother, also a pharmacist, Vince has a vision for healthcare that expands beyond conventional medicines and vitamins, to include a vast range of health foods and supplements that enhance not only health but also general wellbeing. From the gluten-intolerant, vegan, and paleo to the superfood organic enthusiast, all are provided for in Vince’s store.

Vince Pappalardo

Owner of Wholelife Pharmacy stores

“Retail pharmacy tended to be quite traditional and so we went looking for a point of difference,” says Vince.

“We saw that health and wellbeing was becoming something that people really wanted to invest in, so we started exploring health food lines, super foods, natural beauty products and naturopath practitioner lines, as well as trying to source products that supported local businesses.”

“You can either do it half-heartedly or you can go full-on, and we went all in for a holistic lifestyle approach. There are freezers and fridges full of organic meat and dairy and foods with dietary requirements, we package our own brand of nuts and seeds, and we stock a full range of eco-lifestyle products. We source from over 200 companies; it’s a serious undertaking.”

And so in 2011 a health and wellbeing pharmacy superstore was born out of a Cairns inner-city suburb, with the brothers continually expanding their vision to what has now become ‘WholeLife Pharmacy and Healthfoods’.

Not surprisingly, their unique style of pharmacy started to get noticed by other pharmacy retailers, and Vince, with his brother Frank, joined forces with a pharmaceutical company in 2017 to expand their WholeLife brand and open franchise stores elsewhere in Australia.

“Since opening we have seen many of our customers adopt both a traditional and non-traditional approach to medicine and health, and we’ve seen how both approaches can complement each other really well,” says Vince.

“I think everyone should be empowered to choose whether to go with a pharmaceutical line and also with a complimentary line such as a health food or supplement to help treat a specific condition.  We also have an in-store naturopath and wet dispensary, so instead of just getting worming tablets you can also get a tonic to treat worms and parasites.”

a range of healthy foods
Aisles in a health food store

The WholeLife vision expanding fast

Vince’s inspiration to expand retail pharmacy into the realm of health foods and wellbeing products is also greatly inspired by his own personal interest.

“Having a healthy lifestyle is a strong passion of mine and being able to share this gives me a great sense of fulfilment and is something I take pride in.”

Although there are already twelve WholeLife stores across Australia, three of which are in the Cairns and Tablelands area, the brand is catching on quickly with another nine stores set to open this year.

“Our brand is expanding as we speak. Each store will still have its own personality, as it’s important to offer what’s suited to the range of customers.”

Another important factor that has been integral to the success of the business, according to Vince, is the diverse range of both pharmaceutical and health-testing services that are offered to customers.

This includes compounding medicines in a dedicated laboratory for customers requiring specific medications that are not made commercially, such as veterinary and paediatric formulations. Diabetes screening and risk assessment, flu vaccinations and opioid substitution programs are some of the other services offered, as well as absence from work certificates that can be issued by the pharmacist, saving on a trip to the doctor.

“Pharmacists are on the front line and we service the community in many ways. People are able to get some of their health care needs met at their local pharmacy and help to reduce the burden on the health care system, which is especially important when we have extra pressures such as the Covid-19 outbreak. Retail pharmacy is an evolving industry; there are always more services getting added to what we can provide to people.”

Vince credits his training at JCU to giving him not only the pharmacy skills but also the people skills needed to operate his family company.

The pharmacy degree at JCU really emphasised people skills, how to be mindful of people, show empathy and understand that we are all different. I love being able to build a rapport with my customers so that they feel comfortable in discussing their health with me. I credit a lot of my values as a pharmacist to my education at JCU, which offered such a nurturing environment in which to learn.
JCU pharmacy graduate Vince Pappalardo

For Vince, choosing to study pharmacy at JCU hit the target in many ways.

“Pharmacy just felt like the best fit for me. My father was a well-known community pharmacist in Cairns, so to be able to study pharmacy close to home was a fantastic opportunity. The reality of staying local has served me well in developing my skills and laying the foundation for my professional career journey.”

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