How Failing Changed My Life with Choi Chung | An Inside Look
Dimitri: [00:00:00] Today we have the privilege to sit down with Choi Chung, who is the founder of Orbis, a manager of an inner city pharmacy, as well as a recently published author. Choi graduated from the Class of 2017 and he has worked as a student, as a pharmacist and now as a manager and he has grown to really love the field of pharmacy and I believe that he really has a great story to tell us today. Can you give our listeners a little more information about your background and where you come from?
Choi: [00:00:32] Thanks Dimitri. So, I’m born and raised in Edmonton and like you said I’m a recent graduate from the University of Alberta and I wear a few few different hats to say the least. So what we’ll sort of start off with my childhood. Growing up, our family didn’t didn’t have much. You know we we come from very humble beginnings. My Mom was always working all the time.
Choi: [00:01:05] So because of that I was really truly raised by my grandmother and my aunt primarily and through that experience I spent a lot of time with my grandmother who unfortunately had a very complex medical history to say the least. She had suffered from mental health conditions and your typical chronic conditions that you would get as you as you get older such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol and, she actually eventually lost her vision as well when she developed blindness near the end of her life. So, with that, it was actually my grandmother that really pushed me into wanting to go after something to do with healthcare. I’ll share a story with you – I remember when I was when I was growing up my my memories of my grandmother were surrounding her fear of going to the doctor’s office. You know there were many times where even though her health was deteriorating, she just refused to go because her anxiety was out of control. She was she was fearful of going to the doctors because she didn’t know English. So anytime she would go in, it would be my aunt translating what the doctor was saying and that experience was just so so frightening for her. I can’t even imagine what that would truly feel like, but I remember as she got older and older, her pain started getting worse and she again continued to not see the doctor. It actually got to a point where she would refuse to go and she would actually send my aunt to go to the doctor’s office to beg him for refills of prescription. And it was just so unfortunate seeing that and at that time when I was younger I didn’t really truly understand what was going on. But thinking back I’ve come to realize that a lot of people actually struggle with this. A lot of people actually struggle with going, with booking that appointment, and with making it to an appointment. And so, later on in her life she actually started to develop macular degeneration so she started losing her visio and that fear of going to the doctor was still there as she refused to go. She actually tried to self treat herself with over-the-counter eye drops at the time and it just didn’t work and she started to lose her vision slowly and slowly and slowly until she almost lost it entirely.
Choi: [00:04:13] Thinking back on that experience made me realize that I want to help people like that. I want to help people that struggle to access healthcare because of certain barriers, whether it’s transportation, whether it’s a fear of the unknown or whether it’s some other form of barrier that they just can’t overcome.
Choi: [00:04:39] And so that’s actually why I started Orbis Health. Orbis health is a health and wellness company that was founded last year and it aims to bridge the gap in patient care for those that are not able to overcome those barriers. And over the past year we’ve been we’ve been growing this company and we’ve been trying to publish a lot of valuable content that people would find useful. These are articles, and they’re social media posts. Right now we’re actually branching out into a different section of the of the company to include health services. We aim to offer home and office visits for those people that can’t access healthcare. We also aim to be able to follow up with people over telehealth or through home and office visits, if they prefer. This way, they don’t miss out on important diagnoses, and they don’t miss out on not having their medications or not being able to get the healthcare services they need when and where they need it.
Dimitri: [00:05:54] Thank you so much for sharing that. I appreciate it a lot. It sounds like your family has been going through a lot of struggles and at the same time it sounds like they’ve also been a great role model for you, as well motivating you to help you get where you are today. You mentioned that your business also went through a bit of a change as well since it first initiated and since you first started with the idea. How did you first come up with the idea?
Choi: [00:06:20] Yeah. So I actually founded Orbis when I was studying for my pharmacy boarding exams and at that time you know I was about to graduate. So I pretty much had learned everything that I possibly could in school in terms of the curriculum and what have you. At that time, I realized that pharmacists actually can play such a huge role in our healthcare system being primary care providers for patients who don’t have a regular family doctor or for patients that struggle to make it into their doctor’s office because of wait times or for overbooked appointments. So I actually did a small survey/study where we interviewed about 20 or 30 different people. we tried to understand what their perspective of the healthcare system was and what their experience was like. Through this I started to realize the average wait time to actually go in to see your family doctor is about five days. And so as a health care provider, you also know you know a lot can change over the five days where your condition can get so much worse in that time frame. And so I felt like there needs to be some sort of solution to this. And so I started Orbis to fill in that gap that we were experiencing in the health care system because I couldn’t find anything else that is right now, and these patients are still continuing to struggle.
Dimitri: [00:08:06] Absolutely. I think that I can definitely relate as a health care practitioner myself that the wait is something that quite frankly injures and kills some people as well. It causes a lot of struggles for families and it causes a lot of a lot of issues for the individual, as well as a lot of frustration for a lot of people. So that’s a phenomenal idea that I think you have and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here. For the potential students or the entrepreneurs out there, do you have any advice in terms of how to get started and how to think of these ideas and how we get to where you are.
Choi: [00:08:49] Yeah I think I think the big thing is just starting. You know I think that so many people have so many different ideas. From our experiences we’re able to identify different problems, different gaps and we think of a solution, but the problem is we don’t act on it. And if you don’t act on it, then nothing will change. Either you wait for someone else to solve it or you go after it and you try to solve it yourself. So that’s really what I did with with all this, and that is, I saw a problem, I saw a gap and I just went for it. I think what holds a lot of people back is that they care so much about what other people think or they have this inner voice telling them: “what if I fail? what if it doesn’t go the way I envisioned?”.
Choi: [00:09:44] And I just think that’s not a good enough excuse to be able to help you know the thousands millions or hundreds of thousands of lives that you could be helping. I think it’s better to just do it and assess to see what happens. If you fail then you learn something you’re going to be able to take something very valuable from that and be able to apply it on to your future endeavors.
Dimitri: [00:10:16] The unknown is scary. It definitely is. So essentially what I’m gathered here is just take that leap of faith and trust your ideas.
Choi: [00:10:25] Yeah trust your vision and trust your ideas. Think it through, but don’t think it to the point where you start to question yourself because that’s when you won’t get anything done and that’s what wil hold you back the most. It’s either that inner voice or it’s that voice of someone else or the perception of someone else telling you that you can’t do it, you can’t make it, you can’t or you can’t succeed in this. I think you just need to put that voice aside and focus on what is most important. With Orbis, the primary focus is is our patients: the people that can’t access healthcare and the people that need healthcare the most. And altogether, I think that’s what you just need to do.
Dimitri: [00:11:18] Switching gears a little bit, I’m curious to find out a little more about your practice. Could you tell us more about that?
Choi: [00:11:24] So like you mentioned before, outside of Orbis, I also manage an inner city pharmacy here in Edmonton. It’s our Mint Health + Drugs: Community Members Pharmacy (CMP) location. Here, we service Edmonton’s marginalized population. Patients that are suffering from homelessness, patients that are suffering from positive HIV status, and patients that are suffering from opioid dependency. We see these patients on a daily basis or an otherwise quite frequent basis, and so we follow up with them quite regularly. In this practice, we not only act as pharmacists just simply checking prescriptions or what a lot of people might perceive to be the case. Rather, we truly go above and beyond for for our patients, and one example is just helping our patients find housing. We work with many different great organizations including our internally founded organization Mint Communities which aims to house patients that are suffering from homelessness and have complex medical needs need that consistent follow up and health supports. So, we’re very fortunate to be able to provide housing for some of these clients and provide them medical follow up that they often require. This practice just has completely changed the way that I think about healthcare and the way that I think about pharmacy. It made me realize that even in a scenario where we’re able to solve all of a patient’s medical problems and medical concerns it doesn’t mean anything if they don’t have a roof over their head. It doesn’t mean anything because they have other concerns and other priorities.
Choi: [00:13:35] And in school we were taught this principle of ‘patient centered care’. What is patient centered care? In school, we’re taught a lot about how part of this means focusing on the patient’s goals of therapy and the patient’s needs. But what does that actually mean in context?
Choi: [00:14:04] And in my practice environment, what I’ve learned is that it’s about deploying empathy and it’s about deploying patience. And so one good example of where this was the case was a patient with a positive HIV status. They didn’t want to start medication therapy even though they knew that this could potentially save their life or potentially prolong their life. They just refused. And as a healthcare provider you’re like, ‘what the heck, don’t you want to live longer?’. And sometimes that answer is not always what we think it is. I mean, what does that mean if they’re struggling every day with financial barriers, with homelessness. What does living longer actually truly mean in that context? It takes a lot of time to understand the patient’s perspective, the patient’s opinions, their beliefs, and if you try to just continue to push, you will get a lot of pushback. It won’t lead you anywhere. And so it’s about listening. It’s about taking the time to listen to their to their thoughts and helping them through their struggles that they’re dealing with and helping them through their priorities. Until you’re able to get to a point where the patient actually trusts you and that trust can take years to establish. And so fortunately for this patient, that trust was eventually established and now they’re on antiretroviral therapy to treat their HIV.
Dimitri: [00:15:55] That’s that’s an amazing story. Thank you again for sharing the work you do with this sort population. I understand it must have a lot of struggles and must be quite difficult. I can imagine that there’s lot of work that you take home, as well in terms of thinking about things that you need to do and as well as just facing all the challenges you see everyday. When you were a young aspiring professional at school, was this the sort of practice that you envisioned yourself working in?
Choi: [00:16:25] I can’t say I did envision this at that time. I didn’t know like I like a lot of other students. I went into pharmacy I got my first job at a corporate community pharmacy and I saw what that practice looks like and I thought, ‘wow this must be what community pharmacy is like’. And then once I got into this practice as a student, I started to see the true value we can bring to the table as pharmacists and I just I keep seeing that every single day now. But you know what, you’re right. It’s not as great as it sounds sometimes. Being able to help our patients every single day it can be very challenging as well because you hear about these stories that are so disheartening. That is, about how people are treated or about what life events they had to go through, the struggles that come along with it, and that is so hard to let go of at the end of the day. I think that to this day, if I had to be honest, I still take a lot of that home with me, and I haven’t I haven’t been able to find a way to really break away from that, just because of the sheer amount of things that we see on a daily basis.
Dimitri: [00:18:07] Mhm. Swiching gears a bit, I think that as humans, we make mistakes. Something that I’ve been kind of wanting to ask you as you look like you’ve had so much success in terms of having your company, running a pharmacy, and as well as publishing your own book.
Dimitri: [00:18:32] Taking a look at the other side of things, have you ever felt or experienced failure in your career and anything that you would say would be a big failure in your life and your career that forced you to have to take a step back?
Choi: [00:18:44] I think that I just like anyone else, I experience tons of failure. I’m not afraid to talk about them whatsoever. I know there’s one story that I’ll share with you that I think a lot of people might be relate to. I think a lot of people just don’t know this about me as well. So in my first year of university I almost got kicked out of university. I almost failed. At that time, I went from high school to university having that mindset where I did so well in high school, I can ace this university. I didn’t study, I didn’t care, and I didn’t go to class, and after I got a lot of my marks back, I realized what life is really about. If you don’t put in effort, you don’t get anything in return. It’s just that simple. And after that experience, it completely shook me because at that time I was at that same time I also know my I lost my grandmother around that time. Thinking back I think that might be one of the reasons why I just didn’t care in the first year university because I was just so disheartened by it. After completing my first year, I fortunately didn’t get kicked out of university, and so I took that as a learning opportunity to push myself harder next year. I started to reflect, and you see, when my grandmother passed away, on her deathbed, I promised I would provide for my mom and that I would take care of my mom. And I realized that I needed to do whatever it took to to go ahead and do that. I needed to do whatever it took to make sure that I was able to provide for her. So, second year came by, and I studied so hard that I completely put everything into school and even then, I didn’t do that great. I had what I consider an average GPA, and again I was so disheartened by that because I was like wow, I put literally put everything that I could into this and this is what I got from it. And so, I was actually at a point where I almost thought about not even applying for pharmacy. Actually I remember this one incident where I was sitting in my biochemistry class and I texted my sister and I was like “I don’t know if I should go into pharmacy. I don’t know if I should apply. My my friend is going into this the nursing program maybe I should apply with him”. And I remember at that time she almost responded right away. And she said “no, you’re gonna you’re gonna keep trying – take another year”. I think that moment was such a life changing moment for me, because basically if she told me yes, I would probably not be here right now and I would’ve just went into the nursing program. She told me no, and that meant that okay, I need to really need to just give it everything I can. So I remember in my third year of university, literally, all I did was study. I was sleeping 1- 2 hours every night and I remember I would actually I would I would sleep at 12:00am and then my mom would get up for work at 2:00 in the morning and so I would ask her to wake me up at 2 o’clock and I started studying from 2 to 7:00 am. I went to school, and while I was on the LRT, I was studying during my during my train ride there. I went to all my classes, and in between if I had any breaks I would study. That’s all I did. I gave up everything else. I put friendships on hold and I actually got to a point where I put my own health on hold and I just invested everything into it. And believe it or not that summer I remember there was this forum where people could check when they got into the pharmacy. A lot of people were getting in already. And it was it was like end of June or end of July when I called the faculty and I was like “Hey, I applied for pharmacy, can you tell me where I am on the waitlist list?”. And I remember speaking to a representative of that time, Rae Beaumont and she told me you’re number 25 right now. This was end of July and she said there are no more offers on the table. So I thought to myself, I may not get in this year. And so, that summer I kept checking every single day asking myself if I’ll I get in and I kept calling her. She probably got super annoyed at me at some point, but I remember came second week of August, I called, one last phone call, and I was like “where am I on the list?” and she told me “you’re number one on the list right now, and you need one person to drop out in order for you to get in”. I was like oh my God, and so I waited and waited. And I think it was August 25th. I got a text message from my sister. To give you some background, that summer I actually applied for a job at the company that my sister works for, Canadian Western Bank. And at that time it was between me and one other university student for this one position – I didn’t get the position that summer. The other student got it. Well my sister texted me on again I believe August 25th and she said “Hey guess what? That student that ended up getting your position, she got into med school, so she’s dropping out of pharmacy”.
Choi: [00:25:19] And it was so incredible, I asked myself, is this is really happening? So for the next five or six days, I was like when is this going to happen, and started to wonder, what if she changes her mind? I remember September 1st at 9:00am., I got up and I got an email from Rae. This is the day before pharmacy school was supposed to start. She was like “Congratulations, we want to welcome you to the program”, and I was shocked. I thought I was dreaming. I literally ran down hugged my mom just completely speechless and she thought something was wrong, and literally we just both cried together. It was so incredible. And that experience made me realize that even though I had failed, if I put my mind to anything, I will make sure that I can carry it out to completion. And I will invest everything – I’ll put everything on the line just to make sure I get to that point. And it taught me that if you don’t go after what you want, it can be taken away at any point in time.
Choi: [00:26:41] If I didn’t change my mindset, if I didn’t start putting in a lot of work, I would have this opportunity taken away from me completely. So it gave me perspective what it offered to me.
Dimitri: [00:26:55] That’s a beautiful and inspiring story. Thank you. It really sounds like you had to go through quite a few hurdles to get here. But based on what I’m gathering you’re just headstrong. Once you set that target you’re all in. You focus on doing only what you want and from what I understand, initially it was to provide for the family, and it still is always in the background of your goals. Then, it’s sounding like you realize that there’s a need in the healthcare system. You’re starting to try to bridge that and I know that there are other things as well that you started to address some of the other gaps in the healthcare system.
Dimitri: [00:27:40] For example, sort of switching gears a little bit in terms of your book. How did you, despite all these things going on here, your busy work load, your family life and then everything else that’s going on, how did you fit in writing the book?
Choi: [00:27:57] I didn’t have much of a life when I was when I was a student. Again, I was so focused on my goal to provide for my mom, to provide for my family and all of my loved ones that have been able to support me. And so I knew that I needed to do everything that I could to reach this target and reach this vision. And at that time what I did was I gave up on going out the weekends and I gave up on a lot of different things that didn’t lead to the pathway that led me up to this objective. It was in my third year and fourth year of pharmacy school when I started writing this book alongside with some other authors. With this project, the objective behind this was that we saw that healthcare professionals were so good at treating conditions such as high blood pressure. I mean you, if you have it, then this pill will solve your problem. But then we’re like, wow we need to take a step back and think how do we prevent that person from getting diabetes or hypertension to begin with. And a lot of it is through nutrition. But what we saw was that OK well you know there’s so much information out there and so little time, and the thing about nutrition is that all of the information is scattered through multiple sources. So we really wanted to focus on filling in this void, so together collectively, we published a book called The Healthcare Practitioner’s Guide to Nutrition and with this book we have consolidated all of that information, all of that evidence based medicine into one resource. So that’s how this project came to light.
Dimitri: [00:29:51] Thanks for sharing that. I would really love to explore that resource as well. It sounds like it was a lot of work went into it. Just to wrap things up, would you do anything different if you could go back?
Choi: Truth be told, I don’t think so, I think that all of the failures, successes and challenges have all taught me a different life lesson. Like I shared with you today, f I didn’t almost get kicked out of school, I don’t think I would have gained that perspective, and I don’t think I would be in the position I am in now. The thing that everything has taught me is don’t take anything for granted. Cherish every moment, work hard in every moment. You’re going to encounter a lot of failures in your life, and you can’t let that dishearten you. You have to keep focusing on what is most important to you, and put everything into that and just disregard the rest.
Dimitri: Thank you for taking the time today Choi. I hope that this inspires our readers as much as it’s inspired myself. Thank you for sharing these stories with us. It’s going to show a lot of people that they can do it, they may struggle, they may face a lot of things, but they can make it, and they can do everything they want to much like you have as well.
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►The AIL Team
Co-host – Dimitri Kachenyuk
Co-host – Sandy Xu
Videographer and Producer – Aaron Chy
Producer and Videographer – Lawrence Woo