By Neil RiddellDecember 9th 2022

Shetland is as good a place as any to pursue a career in pharmacy, according to native islander Lisa Robertson, who has spent a decade working at Brae Pharmacy having completed her studies, and is relishing the wider lifestyle benefits she and her young family enjoy - encompassing everything from crofting and beach excursions to cinema and live music.

“I’M SO glad I came back to Shetland to live. It’s really nice to be able to provide the lifestyle that I enjoyed growing up for my bairns now. Working in a pharmacy here means you’re part of a wider healthcare team and get a real sense of the difference you’re making to folk’s health.”

Lisa Robertson, a superintendent pharmacist based in Brae, decided to move back to the islands over a decade ago after meeting her now husband Erik. They settled on the same croft in Ollaberry that has been in his family for five generations, and are now a happily settled family of four with son Hansen (7) and daughter Emilie (4).

The 33 year old returned to Shetland having completed a pharmacy degree at Strathclyde University, working her pre-registration year at a Lerwick pharmacy before joining the independent Brae Pharmacy when it opened in 2012.

She is employed by private firm Deltingpharm Ltd., the operator of what is the most northerly pharmacy of its kind in the UK - located in the same buildings that house the Brae Health Centre.

Pharmacy is a highly regulated profession meaning there are more similarities than differences for anyone used to plying their trade on the mainland. But operating in a small community does offer great scope for collaborating with other medical professionals to ensure the wheels of the Shetland healthcare system are well oiled.

The role of pharmacists and technicians has expanded considerably in recent years, with many treatments now available through the NHS Pharmacy First+ service, which Lisa points out is “expanding all the time, so it is great to be able to be a first port of call for patients”.

Alongside a growing volume of face-to-face consultations with patients, Lisa’s average day involves processing prescriptions received from several health centres in Shetland along with those brought in by patients.

“This involves checking the prescription is clinically appropriate, managing the ordering process for items, checking the accuracy of dispensed items and counselling the patient on their medication when required,” she explains.

Lisa is currently undertaking training to become a pharmacist independent prescriber, which will “allow me to expand my scope of practice even further”.

This has seen her spend time working with health professionals in various occupations to gain the required experience and complete her portfolio. She is full of praise for the unstinting support she has received both from colleagues and the local health board.

“NHS Shetland have been very supportive of this training and spending time with other healthcare professionals has been a pleasure,” Lisa says. “Everyone is so accommodating in helping me gain the experience I need.”

She points out there are also opportunities in pharmacy that don’t require prior experience or qualifications: “You can do training on the job that would get you from a medicine counter assistant right up to a registered pharmacy technician, so that’s all achievable just within your work.”

Taking part in the Shetland-wide area pharmaceutical committee, bringing together pharmacists and pharmacy technicians across the sector to discuss and develop services, offers the opportunity to “really get involved with local issues and work collaboratively”.

Lisa was initially employed full-time but now juggles a part-time role with childcare duties, while the couple also tend to over 200 sheep and a 440-acre croft, while Erik also has a day job as a civil engineer with CASE Shetland – a combined workload ensuring the family are always kept busy.

Hansen is taught locally at Ollaberry, one of 22 primary schools in Shetland, while Emilie attends nursery at Urafirth Early Years, just a few miles to the west of their home. Her daily commute, like Lisa’s, is a relatively short one along quiet, but impeccably well-tended backroads.

Situated just under 25 miles north of Shetland’s main town Lerwick, the settlement of Brae expanded significantly in the 1970s after Sullom Voe Oil Terminal was built, followed more recently by the Shetland Gas Plant. The major industrial presence means that, despite its fairly remote location, there are plenty of amenities to serve the local population.

“Brae has always been busy with the oil terminal and the gas plant, so it is well catered for with shops and hairdressers, schools, places to eat [including multiple award-winning Frankie’s Fish & Chip Shop] – it’s really good, lots going on,” says Lisa.

And there is no shortage of stunning scenery to be found on their doorstep: “The north of Shetland is a great place to stay. There’s lots of dramatic scenery, including up at Eshaness with the cliffs and the lighthouse. It’s very rugged, with Ronas Hill [at 450 metres, the highest summit in Shetland] and also lots of lesser-known spots that are really beautiful too.”

NHS Shetland have been very supportive and spending time with other healthcare professionals has been a pleasure. Everyone is so accommodating in helping me gain the experience I need.

With an instantly likeable, laid-back personality and a friendly demeanour, it’s hard to imagine someone better suited to the role of community pharmacist than Lisa.

She says the wide open spaces in and around the croft give Hansen and Emilie “the opportunity to have that bit more freedom – they can be on their bikes cycling in and out of the road without worrying about cars, and we’ve got the beach just down the road from the house which is a great place to just go and play.”

Hansen also likes getting involved with the crofting side of life: “He does a bit of working with the sheep, some fixing fences, and he’s very keen to get a quad!”

The family often make the 35-mile journey to take in the bright lights of Lerwick, particularly enjoying taking advantage of arts centre Mareel’s state-of-the-art cinema or taking in regular music festivals and concerts that occur both in town and at village halls all around Shetland.

“We’re based quite rurally, so going into Lerwick is a big adventure for my bairns, and we make use of all the cafes, entertainments and shops in town,” Lisa says.

“Shetland has a lot more going on than you might imagine if you don’t know the place.

“I would encourage people to come here to work because they can progress in their career just as well as they would anywhere else, but you have so many additional benefits. It’s a beautiful place to life, it’s got so much to offer. And the lifestyle is as busy as you want to make it, but also very easy-going.”