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A little less inspiration, a little more action please

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Ross Ferguson

EARLIER this month I was one of three people answering questions about pharmacy careers posed by pharmacy students at the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA) northern area conference.

On reflection, shortly after leaving the event I considered that perhaps I should have been much more upbeat. I’m forever seeing people on Twitter wowing audiences and felt that maybe I had failed in my obligation to create a sense of great wonder and expectation in the young faces that looked down at me from their padded seats in lecture theatre AB101.

I didn’t hear any whoops of delight, the audience didn’t rise to their feet, stand on top of their desks, and one by one shout “Oh Captain my Captain” when I answered a question about pharmacy careers.

Heartbreak hotel
But, I think it’s important to be realistic. Pretending everything is rosy and the future is bright (regardless of the reality) won’t do anyone any favours when they get into the harsh reality of working life. Yes, the future may be bright, but not for everyone.

There are some great opportunities for pharmacists that never really existed before. But, at the same time, the profession is in turmoil, it’s a time of huge change as the Government in England seems to be pulling the rug from under community pharmacy, and the attraction of GP practice pharmacy is syphoning pharmacists away from the backbone of the profession – community.

We’ve still got an oversupply of pharmacists. Yes, I know the narrative: there isn’t an oversupply of pharmacists, but an under-utilisation. Both are in fact true, but until that under-utilisation is resolved then the oversupply remains a fact.

All shook up
Recently we’ve seen locum rates plummet to new lows – £14 an hour is the lowest rate I’ve heard so far. And quite rightly locums are a bit miffed about this. However, I’m not sure that attempts by locums to improve this rate (through various means) will be successful. The rate simply reflects the market conditions and will be dictated by supply and demand, and of course the ability of pharmacy owners to pay.

Jailhouse rock
We all face pressure at work, and as professionals we need to ensure that what we do is in the best interests of our patients. However, we have probably all heard stories of pharmacists who have received awful treatment at the hands of their bosses. I know experienced pharmacists that have had horrific experiences. Nothing has happened, that I am aware of, to improve this situation.

As a minimum we need strong leadership from pharmacy bodies to help support employee pharmacists to enable them flourish professionally to combat this insidious problem.

It’s now or never
Another mantra these days is that the future is digital and clinical. Independent prescribing and more importantly the skills that go with it, will help provide exciting, challenging careers and contribute to improving the health of the nation. Access to patient records, electronic prescribing and multivarious social media possibilities mean availability of information, advice and expertise is pretty much immediate.

Moreover, we are now not confined to the 3 main sectors, pharmacists are working across boundaries as part of portfolio careers, perhaps more than ever before, and that can only be a good thing for them and for patients. There are many other career paths to consider too (there always have been), and they are not all patient facing ones.

To name but a few, there are opportunities in: academia, pharmacy journalism, medical writing, pharmacy organisations, NHS organisations, charities, regulatory affairs, marketing, and healthcare companies.

You need to check out the Alternative Pharmacy Careers Conference to get a feel for this.

If I can dream 
While it’s always been a prerequisite that you work hard to succeed, the current climate makes this more important than ever. So, grasping any opportunities that arise, attending pharmacy events to meet and get support from colleagues, and doing a job that you enjoy (and resigning from one you don’t) are my top tips.

I think that a sprinkling of inspiration combined with dedication and hard work are the cornerstones of a happy and successful career. In fact the people who inspire me don’t even know they’re doing it and they manage that without microphones and barnstorming speeches, but instead by example. But, maybe I’m just an analogue drone in a digital world.

It is a wonderful time to register as a pharmacist, but what we really need is a little less inspiration and a little more action please.


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