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From a pharmacy in the old days to a modern version

Pharmacist Ljudmila Poljanskaja

Ljudmila Poljanskaja worked in the Soviet Union as a fully qualified dispensing chemist for 10 years, but had to find another job because of an allergy she picked up at work. She worked in the travel industry for 17 years, and, after moving to Finland, retrained for her former profession. Poljanskaja has now worked for seven years as a pharmacist -  with no allergic symptoms.

During the Soviet period most drugs and medicines were made in pharmacies. Ljudmila Poljanskaja, 56, studied to be a dispensing chemist in Leningrad, now St Petersburg. She had to work in a badly air-conditioned room, was exposed to chemicals and developed an allergy.

Thanks to her language skills he became a tour guide and interpreter. When marriage took her to Finland, Poljanskaja realised that employment in travel and tourism was not easy here. In her job as an interpreter she happened to meet the staff of a pharmacy in Hakaniemi, in Helsinki.

“It occurred to me to enquire about a training position with the pharmacy. I wanted to see how the industry had developed and what it was like to work in a Finnish pharmacy. I started training and was asked to start studies for a proper qualification.”

“Immigrants should try and get a job where there are other immigrants. Different cultures have much to offer one another.”

The Russian qualification she had was not enough and it took additional studies to become an assistant pharmacist. Poljanskaja began her course in 1998. She could have continued to be come a fully registered pharmacist, but the additional studies she had already done were enough for her.

Poljanskaja still did some temporary work in travel, and a colleague also helped her to get some interpreting work in St Petersburg. Two years after graduating Poljanskaja began work as a pharmacist in a small pharmacy shop.

“But I wanted to work in a large pharmacy, because someone with a background as an immigrant adapts more easily in a large group. There is more of an international working atmosphere in a large pharmacy.”

The job in the pharmacy at the University of Helsinki was utterly unlike anything Poljanskaja had been used to in the Soviet Union and Russia.

The world had changed, and that included pharmacy work. Chemicals are hardly any longer handled in pharmacies and most of the medicines were finished products. Poljanskaja was therefore able to work there despite her allergy. And her experience of the travel industry proved useful.

“The work of a pharmacist is serving customers, and you need a knowledge of languages. There is a huge number of foreigners coming into the shop, which is right in the heart of Helsinki. I can deal with them in Finnish, Russian, English and Swedish.”

Poljanskaja serves her customers prescription and over-the-counter medicines. She thinks that badly behaved customers are annoying, but she very much enjoys working with the rest of the staff.

“We’ve even been on an excursion to St Petersburg together, and quite a lot of them lost their prejudices. It’s not all just mafia and crime in Russia.”

Poljanskaja once dreamt about working in the theatre or linguistics, but her parents suggested she should study pharmacy. Having lived through the Stalin era, they wanted their daughter to find a profession which would be a secure job whatever the social situation was.

Today Poljanskaja is realising her dreams, as she has taken up oriental dancing and has started learning a new language - French.


Text and photograph: Anu Likonen, Jukka Vuolle and Nanni Akkola
The Ministry of Employment and the Economy

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