Pia Baurek-Karlic on the Pharmacy’s Role in Austrian Society

Pharmacy manager

In the back offices of the Urania-Pharmacy in the 1st district, Pia Baurek-Karlic was standing by the copy machine, the only one among the almost exclusively female staff not dressed in a white lab coat. Young and fresh-faced at 28, she would have otherwise been difficult to spot. As the fourth generation of a family business, Baurek-Karlic co-manages the pharmacy with her parents.

Being a pharmacist has long been a popular career choice for women, as it adapts itself to flex-time and part-time work. That is, unless you’re running the company. Baurek-Karlic navigates through myriad responsibilities, including the online shop, which she launched in 2013, the first of its kind in Austria. It’s one way they hope to hold their own with chains like Bipa and DM.

Austria’s strict, and some say antiquated, regulations for the pharmacy business are a help, though, when it comes to competition. Every pharmacy is still protected by a Gebietsschutz, which designates exclusivity within a 500–meter radius. And the sale of all drugs, both over-the-counter and prescription, are the exclusive terrain of the apothecaries.

But online prescriptions are not (yet) allowed, as they are in Germany and Switzerland. Prescriptions still have to be brought in and filled in person. Approximately 80 percent of a pharmacy’s income comes from the social insurance institution for the self-employed SVA, which covers a large portion of the costs of prescription drugs for the general public. The rest of a pharmacy’s revenue must be made up through the sale of other products like cosmetic items and nutritional supplements.

Pharmacists also advise on the proper use of drugs, skincare, baby products, and the like. But consumers’ needs are changing, increasingly accessing information online before seeking advice in person. What was once a “teacher–pupil” relationship has now given way to a “discussion.”

Baurek-Karlic shrugs, and smiles. “We used to be the first point of contact for customers with a health issue… Now it’s Google.”

We are a mix between a business and a social service. Of course, it would be great if we could be more of a social service, but then we’d be broke!

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Janima Nam
Janima Nam is a freelance journalist, translator, and editor living in Vienna. She has a BFA in film from New York University and a Masters degree (MA) from the London Consortium in Interdisciplinary Studies.

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