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Striving for excellence in the pharmacy sector

The 20th Northern Ireland Healthcare Awards took place earlier this year at the Europa Hotel in Belfast. This year, the annual event coincided with the 2019 Northern Ireland Pharmacy Conference, which took place that afternoon in partnership with the PDA.

Fri 28th June 2019 The PDA

We recently caught up with Eimear Cassidy, winner of the 2019 Northern Ireland Pharmacy Student Leadership Award, to find out more about her many accomplishments and what useful advice she could pass on to pharmacy students just beginning their journey.

Eimear, why did you choose to study pharmacy?

I enjoyed studying biology and chemistry during my A-Level course and partaking in the pharmacy degree at Queen’s University Belfast ensured I was taught an equal mix of both subjects. ‘The Scientist on the High Street’ is a common phrase used to describe the pharmacy profession as they have exemplary knowledge of both the biological and chemical processes associated with medicines and medical conditions. Furthermore, I wanted a healthcare-related career and after completing several days of work experience and subsequently accepting a job to work in my local community pharmacy, I knew I wanted to pursue a career as a pharmacist.

What is the main thing about pharmacy that interests you?

The advances in the pharmacy profession. Many people associate pharmacists as working only in their local community pharmacy; however, the profession has evolved over many years with increasing opportunities in hospitals, GP surgeries and in industry. I am most interested in the growing area of independent prescribing pharmacists as it is a role I wish to embark on in the future.

How have you found your course so far?

After recently completing a four-year degree in pharmacy, I have gained appropriate knowledge and competence relating to pharmacology, disease management, clinical therapeutics and over the counter prescribing. Although challenging, I enjoyed learning about clinically relevant diseases and the suitability of treatments. Practical classes involving dispensing of prescriptions and responding to symptoms with over the counter medicines were beneficial learning platforms. These will be useful as I embark on my pre-registration year and my career as a pharmacist.

If you could start your course again, what if anything, would you do differently?

I would tell myself not to stress as much in the first year of my course. Coming from a competitive grammar school into the first year of university, I found it hard to accept grades that weren’t equivalent to A/A*. University is very different to school in terms of content taught and marking of work, so if I could start again, I would be less stressed and not so hard on myself for my coursework marks.

What made you decide to take part in non-compulsory training about dementia?

The opportunity to take part in the dementia training course arose through the community pharmacy where I work. I wanted to complete the course as one of my relatives had dementia and this was the perfect way to enhance my knowledge about the condition. I was taught about dementia and how it affects people’s lives. From the training, I learnt how to raise awareness of dementia, proper websites to signpost customers to, and how to make a helpful difference to the lives of people suffering from dementia.

The NICE Evidence Search Student Champion Scheme is a national programme set up by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). The scheme aims to improve the routine use of evidence-based information by future health and social care staff.

What motivated you to become a NICE Student Champion?

I wanted to enhance my understanding of evidence-based healthcare, to learn how to navigate through the NICE website, to effectively use NICE Evidence Search and to understand the importance of NICE Guidance. I am pleased to have become a NICE Student Champion as the evidence search by NICE will be crucial when I become a pharmacist, ensuring the advice and medicines I prescribe/sell to the public is up-to-date, relevant and safe.

What steps did you take to become a NICE Student Champion?

I submitted a typed application expressing my interest in becoming a NICE Student Champion and from this application I was chosen to attend a workshop, led by representatives from NICE. Following the workshop, I engaged with fellow students in a teaching session, talking them through the importance of NICE, evidence-based healthcare and how they could effectively navigate through the NICE Evidence Search during their pharmacy profession. A trip to NICE headquarters in Manchester followed, where I gained further knowledge about NICE, their role in healthcare and the many ways in which pharmacists are employed in their company (highlighting again the ever-growing role of the pharmacy profession). I answered questions in a report about the whole experience and I still have regular contact with NICE and other Student Champions.

How did you balance your time between studying and your extracurricular activity?

I developed time management skills through use of lists and timetables. During my university degree I made daily lists of important things to be completed that day. From these lists, I planned my day around university classes, work and my extracurricular activities. Also, setting reminders on my phone was a good way to keep on track of deadlines.

Have your experiences at university changed you as a person? If so, how?

University has definitely made me a more independent and organised person. You are in control of how much work you do, keeping up to date with deadlines and fitting in time to socialise. The pharmacy degree has also widened my understanding of society, health and wellbeing. I have become more grateful and appreciative for the fantastic opportunities that have already, and will hopefully, come my way in the future.

What three tips would you give to students beginning their pharmacy course? 

  1. Apply for a part-time job in a community pharmacy. This helped me greatly, especially in the final two years of my degree course, during practical classes involving patients. Also, it helped improve my pronunciation of difficult drug names!
  2. Talk to as many different pharmacists as you can to enhance your knowledge of their varied roles. They will give great advice about their job and their pharmacy journey.
  3. Enjoy the whole university experience and embark on as many extra-curricular activities as you can, both inside and outside of your pharmacy course. University work and deadlines can be stressful at times, but everyone is in the same boat so make the most of your university experience and seize every opportunity.


Pharmacy Student Leadership Award winner Eimear Cassidy, Queen’s University Belfast pictured above at the NI awards with PDA Chairman Mark Koziol and PDA Union Rep Leon O’Hagan


The PDA sponsor the Student Leadership Award category in the Northern Irish, Welsh and Scottish Pharmacy Awards.

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is a company limited by guarantee. Registered in England; Company No 4746656.

The Pharmacists' Defence Association is an appointed representative in respect of insurance mediation activities only of
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and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (Register No 307063)

The PDA Union is recognised by the Certification Officer as an independent trade union.

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