Working as a newly qualified community pharmacist in the pandemic

In our latest Member Voice Article, newly qualified pharmacist Samuel Opoku, shares his experience of resitting his trainee pharmacist (called pre-reg until end of summer 2021) year to becoming a Community Pharmacist during the pandemic. Samuel also gives advice to the next cohort who are getting ready for the assessment.

Fri 9th July 2021 The PDA

To finally be qualified and join the register as a pharmacist feels really great!

Knowing I no longer have to revise for the exams every time I wake up is a relief. Unlike a prov-reg pharmacist, it feels different to finally be a Responsible Pharmacist and have the whole new set of responsibilities it comes with.

Life as a community pharmacist

I have chosen to work as a Community Pharmacist in a local independent Pharmacy. I worked with them as a locum dispenser before being offered the job as a pharmacist. The owner and manager of the pharmacy was happy with the way I worked and decided to give me tasks under her supervision that would equip me well to be a qualified pharmacist. The experience has really helped me gain confidence as a newly qualified pharmacist.

Initially, I wanted to work as a hospital pharmacist, but when I did a placement in Community at university, I loved the interaction I had with the patients. I also found all the different services they offered were very patient based which was beneficial for patients. When it came to choosing a trainee pharmacist place, I knew I would be more comfortable working in community pharmacy.

Working in pharmacy during a pandemic is something we did not expect to happen, but we have to deal with it the best that we can. It is very stressful, challenging, and emotional, but being able to help patients during this time is satisfying. Most patients are kind and appreciative of what we do and are grateful we are there to help them, but we do have some who struggle to understand. It is extremely sad when a patient passes due to Covid-19. The whole experience has been life changing. I have gained a lot of experience through working during the pandemic, above all, I have learnt to be more resilient.

Resitting exams during the pandemic

Not being able to join the provisional register was difficult. I had to continue working as a locum dispenser despite all the knowledge and skills I had acquired. The positive experience was learning more about the different companies, individual stores, and the different skills and practices from the different responsible pharmacists. Despite the stress and chaos the pandemic brought to the pharmacy teams, I did take a lot of positives from it, we all learnt so much. The handling of the chaos was a very good experience which I will carry with me for a long time and expand on it if I must.

My trainee pharmacist year was very difficult financially, and then due to the pandemic, we couldn’t work until we were able to sit and pass the assessment. As a resitter, I was not allowed to be provisionally registered. Working as a locum dispenser was very challenging because I had to adjust my mindset to “you are not a pharmacist yet just a dispenser”. It was the same story for most of the resitters, with some struggling financially. On top of that, you have the nagging feeling of a pending assessment at the back of your mind.

It was very difficult to go home not only to revise but to home school my children when my wife was at work. Also, most pharmacies were very short-staffed as many staff were isolating. There were more prescriptions sent by the surgery, and sometimes they were not ready which added stress to patients, especially those who came in fearing of catching the virus. On many occasions, I came home very tired and just couldn’t revise. Fortunately, I had the flexibility of working when I could, this helped when I had to set time aside to revise for the exams.

I went to work on results day. I was very confident I would pass this time round and I didn’t want to let the team down as they were short-staffed. Luckily, the results came in around 5 am. I crept out of bed to the computer and there was a big sigh of relief when I realised, I passed. I went to work knowing I would be a pharmacist in a few days. That was a nice feeling.

I telephoned my wife and kids to tell them that I had passed. I could hear them screaming with joy. I can now have quality time with my family and friends. I spent the last 2 years not knowing if I will ever qualify as a pharmacist. The mind will dwell on the negatives and that was very difficult. I am very glad it’s all over now and my career is moving forward.

Joining the PDA and advice for students and trainee pharmacists

Students, do as many placements as you can. It really helps and you learn a lot through practice. Find a good placement, interact with patients and don’t be afraid to apply your knowledge with support or supervision.

Join the PDA as a student. The pharmacy sector needs an organisation that will fight and supports us like the PDA. Joining in the early years will give you opportunities to know and understand what the PDA has to offer and who to contact when you need help. It is free for all students and trainee pharmacists.

The PDA has been very supportive to all the cohorts throughout the pandemic. They were the main link between trainee pharmacists, prov-regs, and the GPhC. The PDA met with the GPhC on numerous accounts to give us the best possible solution for what we were faced with. The PDA Educational Hub was brilliant too and free to members. It had a lot of resources and exams tips which were very helpful and there was always professional advice if needed. The Hub also had assessment-style questions which was very helpful. I will personally thank the PDA staff for the support they offered to this cohort during the very difficult times we found ourselves in.

Working as a PDA Rep and career goals

I was recently a guest on a webinar organised by PDA Education Hub sharing my experience of sitting the online assessment with trainee pharmacists who will be taking the exams in July and November. I am also involved in the PDA #Getvaccinated campaign, encouraging patients including those from ethnic minorities to get the Covid-19 jab. I have been involved in rep Twitter campaigns highlighting the importance of joining the PDA and the importance of membership for pharmacy students and trainee pharmacists.

I would like to be an independent prescriber who will help give a wide range of treatments to patients. I welcome the integrated foundation training that will give the newly qualified the opportunity to be independent prescribers. The focus of community pharmacies must have a direct link between community, GP surgery and secondary care. We have proven we have an important role to play in patient care within health services. It is very encouraging to see many more pharmacies providing patient-centred services, and the introduction of CPCS is also a step in the right direction.

I am looking forward to developing as a pharmacist, progressing my career including becoming an IP, and being involved with the PDA and supporting those who are coming through into the profession.

By Samuel Opoku, PDA Rep and Community Pharmacist

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