12 Jul Pharmacist Gillian’s Prescription before Retirement: A ‘Gap Year’
After spending her entire working life as pharmacist in the UK, Gillian Timm from Wales, decided that she would end her career with a one-off challenge of a lifetime.
At the age of 61, the mum-of-two felt she was being called to volunteer on a hospital ship bound for Africa. After hardly travelling in her life, it is her last hurrah as a pharmacist before retiring.
Gillian from Cwmbran said: “I call it my gap year. I never did the gap year thing when I was younger, but I’ve got to do it now – at the end of my career.”
From pharmacist at Sheffield Children’s Hospital to Pharmacy Team Leader Education and Training at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, she had spent her career both being a pharmacist and organising training for clinical pharmacy students.
Years before, Gillian had heard about Mercy Ships while at Christian festival Spring Harvest, but she realised she had too many responsibilities and family ties at the time.
But as the years went by and she sadly lost both her parents in 2019 and 2020, she felt a strong pull to volunteer and had even mentioned it to her dad, who was thrilled at the idea. She headed off for three months onboard floating hospital, the Africa Mercy.
Gillian said, “I felt God give me a little nudge to go. I was apprehensive about travelling on my own but you’re not really on your own when you do this. There’s a community.
“I felt like it was the right time, and I was giving something back at the end of my career. I was not worried about money as I would have been when I was younger and did not have to do fundraising as I had my pension. I had to be patient, but I got to experience this, and I’m so pleased I did.”
Operating as a pharmacist on the Africa Mercy in Senegal, West Africa, has some marked differences from a hospital in Wales.
Having the right medicines remains one of the hardest challenges and relies on close interaction with other teams.
Gillian said: “The main difference is stock control – it has to be very tightly controlled and managed. In the UK you could contact the wholesaler and have what you need by the next day but here it can take up to four months. We have to work out exactly what we will need for each speciality in advance.”
One of the most startling things for Gillian is the resilience and speedy recovery of patience onboard compared to UK patients.
“It amazed me how the patients are up and moving very quickly after surgery, going out each afternoon to enjoy the fresh air on deck 7, often with lots of dancing and laughter!”
Their positivity and joy was contagious, and she even noticed a difference in what they needed to be prescribed.
Gillian said, “The patients we are treating don’t need as many painkillers as we do at home. I don’t know if it’s because they have less expectations of pain management or are more resilient, but we offer pain relief, and they just simply want less than at home.
“The patients here are just so glad to get the surgery – I’m not sure if that somehow has an effect – their joy and relief at getting surgery!”
With many patients waiting decades to have tumours removed and travelling days to reach the ship – Gillian is astounded at the level of gratitude she has experienced.
One memorable moment was when she saw the Mercy Ships Dress Ceremony – a celebration of women’s health patients who have completed their treatment, often for conditions they have been shunned from their community for decades.
“I got to see lots of these women – all dancing. They were so grateful because they got their lives back. Because I get to work in the hospital, I get to see the patients and the transformations – I’m very lucky.”
On ward rounds, she advises the crew on medications and gets to see first-hand the patients as they have their treatments.
She said, “I’m very lucky I get to work in the hospital and experience this.”
When Gillian returns home this summer, she plans to retire, but is so happy she ended her career in such a way, despite missing her husband very much.
She added, “It’s a good time to do it. I’ve got the freedom and the experience to make a difference. I’ve had the chance to give something back and I’ve loved being here.
“As pharmacists, there’s quite a shortage in the UK so it’s hard to take time out so coming at the end of your career, like me, is a great solution.”
Thank you, Gillian, for all you have done.