Let’s change the public perception of pharmacists

In this member voice article, pre-registration hospital pharmacist Holli Brown, discusses the current perception of pharmacists and the need for greater public awareness of the profession. Also, find out what advice Holli has for future pre-regs.

Thu 3rd December 2020 The PDA

I worked in a community pharmacy from the age of about fifteen. It started as work experience for school, then became a Saturday job. I was always interested in science but wasn’t sure where I’d end up. Pharmacy felt right for me. My love of pharmacy developed while I worked in that pharmacy, and now I am in my pre-reg year.

I studied at the University of Nottingham, and really enjoyed it. I was drawn to Nottingham’s campus and their amazing pharmacy course. It has got the right balance of everything and I loved how the modules were laid out. We had modules based on clinical conditions, like a dyspepsia module, a bacterial and fungal infections module and so on. All of the topics that we had to cover as per the GPHC requirements, such as chemistry, pharmacology and pharmacokinetics were all tied into each module, and because they were clinical modules, you could see where the links were and you could apply the learning more easily.

I decided to take the hospital pharmacy route because sometimes pharmacists in a community setting are limited by how much they can help a patient. Through a few placements at university, I experienced first-hand how a hospital pharmacist really works as part of an MDT (multi-disciplinary team) and can make more of a difference with a patient often working with a doctor on a ward, or we are just a bleep away. I understand that some community pharmacists want to do more in their clinical positions, but they are restricted. I really wanted to make that difference in healthcare, and for patients, so I could see myself working within a hospital setting once I graduated.

“We’ve been faced with a difficult year with COVID-19, so I know my training programme hasn’t been exactly as it would have been, however, being flexible is what being a pharmacist is all about.”

Being able to change and adapt to unforeseen circumstance is something that I’ll have to do for the rest of my career. So far though, this placement has been a really good experience. I am currently on different rotations. This week I have been on AMU, and I’ve previously been on cardiology and renal wards. I’m really enjoying it as I am seeing that what we learnt at university is all making sense from a clinical perspective.

My fellow pre-regs and I are feeling a bit apprehensive about this second wave of COVID-19. We have discussed it a few times, and I think it is just a fear of the unknown. We have PPE and procedures put in place to support us but we don’t know how this will affect our pre-reg year. It may be compromised in the sense that we don’t get as much supported learning, but then that gives us the opportunity to take some initiative, do independent learning and turn the pandemic into a learning opportunity.

ADVICE FOR FUTURE PRE-REGS

When it comes to being a pharmacist, getting good grades certainly helps get you into university to study pharmacy, but brains alone aren’t going to make you a good pharmacist. Being able to memorise things is important but so are personal attributes. You need to be compassionate, enthusiastic, professional, and as I said before, flexible. All these traits are as important as being able to retain that knowledge.

The advice I think would have benefited me as I began this year would be to plan. Plan what you want to get from each rotation or each week, and just continue to build your knowledge and skills. Work out when you want to take annual leave because it’s important to take a break too.

Then, conversely, when you’re at work you’ve got to expect the unexpected. Being flexible in my learning is key because moments of learning can come at any time, and not always from where you expect it. I could be set a timetable at the beginning of my week and by the end not have done half of that, but that’s fine because you’ve got to take the learning opportunities when they come and be ready for them.

“It’s also important to stay positive and not be too hard on yourself, especially at the beginning of your placement.”

The first few months are about settling in and getting used to working life. We’ve just come from university and adjusting to working 40 hours a week is tricky. Once you have done that, you can start thinking about what you want from the year.

PHARMACY AND ITS REPUTATION

There is so much stigma around what pharmacists do. I remember in my first few weeks at university when we were discussing what we came to study, I said pharmacy, and lots of people didn’t realise you needed a degree to practice. I think that pharmacists are perceived as people who serve paracetamol or hand out a prescription. This year, on a morning breakfast TV show, a journalist told viewers that pharmacists only “collect the box of pills behind them”, and that society doesn’t have much respect for pharmacists, which received some challenge from the profession.

When people think of healthcare professionals they think of doctors and nurses, and I doubt many people really understand what pharmacists do. People don’t seem to know that we do five years of training, we have a Masters degree in medicine, and our role is important. The public doesn’t necessarily see that pharmacists are clinically screening and checking, looking at interactions and ensuring that patients know everything they need to about the medicine they are taking.

It is the same in hospital pharmacy. I have been told to introduce myself as part of the pharmacy team rather than my specific title because patients just don’t seem to know who we are and what we’re qualified to do. I don’t think many people even know that pharmacists work in hospitals. It became really evident during the pandemic when doctors and nurses were being thanked for their work, but pharmacists were sometimes left out.

I hope that our profession gets the acknowledgement that it deserves. Most importantly, we can do our jobs better if the public understands what we do because trust is so crucial within healthcare. I believe we could make more of an impact on a patients’ health if we have the trust that the healthcare profession should afford us.

I’ve recently seen adverts on the TV reminding people that they can go to their pharmacist rather than booking a GP appointment, showing that pharmacists do have that knowledge. I think education needs to start from the top. We need the Government to understand and acknowledge what we can do, because we are valuable to the healthcare sector, particularly at the moment. We also need to speak up for ourselves and the PDA gives members that opportunity.

THE PDA

I’ve been a member of the PDA since I was a student. I think particularly for this year, the PDA communicating with the GPHC on our behalf has been so important. With the exam changes that are happening, my colleagues and I have been talking about how to prepare for the exam when we don’t know what to expect. Being kept in the loop about changes and having someone working on our behalf has been crucial.

I also think the PDA can be a platform where professionals network, either at events or through the website and online meetings. Before starting as a pre-reg, having an example of what the year would be like was helpful. I know our lecturers tell us, but it’s different coming from pharmacists and those who are experiencing it first-hand. Articles like this one are hopefully helpful to others too.

By Holli Brown, pre-reg pharmacist

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