Jarron Yee isn’t sure what all the fuss is about. Sure, the media is asking questions about his new business, but he wonders whether a First Nations man becoming an entrepreneur is out of the ordinary. Just a few weeks ago, the pharmacist opened his pharmacy in Regina’s north end, with the hope that he can coax customers away from the big name drug stores with his attention to customer service. He also wants to target First Nations customers, acknowledging that extra care is often required due to the high rates of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes among First Nations people.
As any marketing-savvy entrepreneur will tell you, any publicity is good publicity. So when the media wants to help spread the word about your business, you don’t exactly turn them away. “My goal is to just get the word out that we’re here,” said Yee in his pharmacy, where half empty shelves display his brand new inventory.
“It shouldn’t be a big deal. I don’t see the need to be singled out. I just want to let the Aboriginal people know about the importance of post-secondary education. It opens so many doors and that’s the important thing,” said the 32-year-old member of the Wood Mountain First Nation in south-central Saskatchewan. “I know things will be slow at first. But I think there’s a market here.”
Yee was always interested in the pharmacy world, attending pharmacy school at the University of Saskatchewan’s pharmacy program where he was the lone First Nations student. Upon graduating in 2006, he took a job at a pharmacy inside a big box store where he learned the ropes before getting promoted to manager. After about five years on the job, he was frustrated by his lack of creative control, so he struck out on his own and opened the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy at 2310 9th N.
He wants to open a second store soon. With a special corner of his shop decorated with leather couches and a big-screen television, he wants patients — Aboriginal or otherwise — to seek him out for one-on-one consultations and condition-specific advice rather than mere medication purchases. “The difference is that we offer better service. And that’s what I will compete on,” he said.
Another of Yee’s goals is to help First Nations people become educated on health issues, and communicate to them in a way they might not have been able to in the past. He said patients sometimes shares stories of being treated differently by health-care professionals because of the colour of their skin.
“Unfortunately, the way the health-care system has taken shape, a lot of people fall through the cracks. And pharmacists are in a unique role because we are often the person in the first point of contact,” he said. “We can help the common ailments, too, the common cold and that.”
Yee hopes that his understanding of the First Nations culture will go a long way in finding new customers.
“One of the barriers in the health care system is getting rid of some of the stereotypes that people have — but we’re here to service everyone,” Yee added.
After news of his shop spreads, he wants to offer clinics designed to educate patients with conditions prevalent among First Nations populations.
“We know that diabetes is huge with the Aboriginal population. So my goal is to help educate them... to have in-store clinics on things like diabetes,” said Yee. He also has plans to provide in-store bone-density and cholesterol screenings, as well as hypertension clinics.
Another of his plans is to someday visit schools and community centres where he can serve as a role model for First Nations kids. Telling them about issues like nutrition, exercise and steering clear of nefarious substances can’t hurt either.
Yee knows that not enough Aboriginal youth attend university and hopes that his role in the community will help young people understand the benefits of education.
As part of his medical expertise, he also wants to mix medications and produce his own drug blends for requests for things like hormone replacement and even veterinary drugs. He learned the specialized trade at special courses at the University of Florida. And his plans also include hiring some help. Since he first opened his doors, he’s been his only employee, ringing up sales of vitamins while also serving as the only pharmacist.
In the coming weeks, he will expect to hire young people who aspire to a career as a pharmacist or in some other health-care field.
“I hope to mentor young staff when it comes to being an entrepreneur and being a pharmacy technician,” he said.
However, he knows that he wouldn’t be where he is without the support of his family encouraging him at an young age to set goals and refuse to let obstacles prevent him from attaining them. He’s especially thankful to his mother who raised him in a single-parent home. “It was always instilled in me to shoot for your goals and never give up on what you want…and to never let anything get in my way,” he said.