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Q & A’s

Q & A’s

The world’s northernmost pharmacist!

Meet Borghild Ørsted Yttredal

How did you end up in Svalbard, and why did you want to run a pharmacy?

The reason I went to Longyearbyen the first time was to visit a friend. During my stay I met a handsome Danish dog sledding guide with kind eyes, who with great enthusiasm sold both Svalbard and himself. A little over a year after I was lucky enough to get a job at the newly opened pharmacy in Longyearbyen. I decided to take the leap and moved to Svalbard!

I feel good when the people around me feel good. That’s my motivation for running a pharmacy. I’m happy to put my knowledge and my fondness for people into my job.

What’s the weirdest questions you’ve gotten from a customer?

There are no embarrassing or weird questions in a pharmacy. I may cause some funny situations with my comments every now and then, such as me saying “Have a nice weekend!” with a bit too much enthusiasm after someone just bought condoms. But they say that laughter is the best medicine. The best thing about running a pharmacy up here is seeing how appreciative the customers are of the pharmacy’s existence.

How can people who visit Svalbard in the Northern Lights Winter prepare for the polar night?

The magic of the polar night needs to be experienced. It’s not so easy to prepare for it, though. The snow, moon, and Aurora Borealis light up the darkness, creating a beautiful universe. Put on enough clothes, get out there and see it for yourself. Afterwards you can cosy up inside and socialise. It’s important to have a nice time indoors with family and friends, during the dark season. It brightens up the days. As a pharmacist I think the locals handle the dark season well. It seems like the transitions between light and darkness can be hard for some. There can be some issues getting enough sleep during these periods.

Anja Nordvålen

From a pharmacist’s point of view, how are the locals holding up through 4 months of darkness?

It has become apparent that the locals are a bit low on vitamin D, so everyone who lives up here could probably benefit from some vitamin supplements.

What medicines do you sell the most of in Svalbard?

The medicines that are sold here are pretty much identical to those you’ll find in the rest of Norway. We follow most of the seasonal variations as on the mainland when it comes to colds and flus.

What’s your best tips for keeping warm on a winter trip in Svalbard? And what should guests going out into the Svalbardian cold make sure to get at the pharmacy?

When you’re heading to Svalbard in the cold winter there’s wool, wool, and wool. The name of the game! Preferably several layers. As your layer it is nice to have something that’s both thick and windproof. Make sure that you cover all exposed skin with something warm and windproof, that way you’ll stay nice and warm without getting frostbites. If you want to protect your face with an extra layer, you can use cold cream, but this does not replace a physical layer and should therefore only be considered as a supplement. If you are unlucky and get frostbites, there are skin reparation creams available. Apart from this, we’ve also got good high visibility vests so that you’ll be easy to spot in the wintery darkness.

What’s the challenge of running a pharmacy in Svalbard compared to on the mainland?

The challenge of running a pharmacy in Svalbard is the logistics. Medicines cannot be in transit for more than 24 – 36 hours. Some wares should not be stored below +8C*, while some must be kept cold (2 – 8C*). That’s why we’ve had a special cargo box made so that the merchandise does not freeze up en route. Sometimes the weather may prevent the postal plane from landing, and therefore we have to plan well and change what we keep in stock according to what our customers need. To keep the pharmacy open we need to have at least one pharmacist at work, but up here it’s not a matter of simply getting someone from the neighbouring pharmacy to cover an emergency shift, so we’ve got to stay healthy throughout the year. Though that’s usually not a problem. Although there aren’t enough locals to fully justify having a pharmacy in town, the tourists coming to Svalbard in addition to the locals who use our services enable us to get by without issues.

Anja Nordvålen

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