A pharmacy business manager who raced around Canada as part of a reality TV competition has told how the experience gave her ‘a chance to breathe’ amid the challenges of her job, and helped her to re-evaluate her work-life balance.

In an interview with The Pharmacist, Cathie Rowe said following her time on the BBC’s Race Across the World, she and her husband, who is also a community pharmacist, have made several changes to the way they run their two pharmacies in Bridgend in Wales, including reducing her working days and employing an additional pharmacist.

Trying to achieve a work-life balance in pharmacy is ‘notoriously difficult’ she said, but the show had given her ‘a different perspective’ and made her realise ‘what is really important’.

In this year’s series of Race Across the World, which was filmed last summer and is being aired over the coming weeks, five teams of two are racing across Canada. Having set off from Vancouver, the aim of the game is to become the first to reach the finish line in Newfoundland, by spending only the cost of a flight and without smartphones or internet access.

Only two of the nine episodes have been aired so far, with the third to come tomorrow on BBC One at 9pm. Ms Rowe has carried out the competition with her best friend, Tricia, who is a bank clerk and lives in Devon.

In last week’s episode, Ms Rowe reflected on her work in the sector during the pandemic.

‘The past couple of years have been emotionally draining – the responsibility to make sure that staff were safe, that patients and customers were safe weighed very heavily on us,’ she said on the programme.

And speaking to The Pharmacist earlier today, she echoed that same sentiment and described ‘how frightening it was’ during Covid-19.

Without any choice but to stay open during the pandemic, ‘we were expecting our staff to come into a potentially infectious environment’, added Ms Rowe.

Being away from that environment and travelling around Canada was more like ‘a break’ than ‘a race’, she said.

‘It was a chance to breathe really [and] have a break from that constant sense of responsibility and accountability and all the things that we’d had to do,’ she told The Pharmacist.

She had initially applied to the programme to support Tricia, as she is sight impaired and the pair typically ‘do lots of challenges together’, but as time went on, she realised just how exciting and enticing the opportunity was.

She described Canada as an ‘incredible country’, with ‘stunning’ vast landscapes and ‘very kind and generous people’.

The organisation and planning skilled required in her job running and owning pharmacies with her husband helped her during the competition, noted Ms Rowe.

‘[The] elements of crisis management, where you’ve just got to deal with something that comes up – that helped when situations changed or something unexpected happened,’ she said.

However, she added: ‘There was absolutely no comparison whatsoever with doing the race and my day job – just those transferable skills came in quite handy.

‘But no comparison at all. I'm literally sitting here in a windowless office with a large computer screen in front of me, looking at figures.

‘So being outside, travelling, seeing different landscapes – there is just no comparison whatsoever.’

When returning from her trip, she made the decision to stop working a full-time, 40-hour week, and reduced her working days.

Her husband Gareth also now works from home two days a week, and the pair have employed another pharmacist which enables him to do so.

The experience ‘does give you a different perspective’, Ms Rowe told The Pharmacist.

‘It really makes you realise what's really important,’ she said. ‘Trying to get that work-life balance in pharmacy is notoriously difficult. So, it's something that Gareth and I are really working on.’

Ms Rowe acknowledged the planning and temporary changes needed as she potentially stepped away from the pharmacies for two months for the show, and thanked both her husband and staff who supported her to do so.