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5 minutes with…Pharmacist of the future: Charlotte Rigden

Charlotte Rigden


Congratulations on your Pharmacist of the Future award. How did it feel to be recognised in this way?
I’m really honoured to have won the Pharmacist of the Future award and I think all of the finalists’ achievements speak for themselves. I’ve always felt that whatever I do I want to do the best I can, and to win this award is the perfect way to celebrate my four years at Robert Gordon University (RGU).

I’ve had really positive reception by the pharmacy profession, and it’s been amazing to build links with people who I have respected professionally since first year.

Can you explain a bit about what contributed to your win?
One of my impacts has been through my work as part of the committee for Robert Gordon University’s IHI patient safety society. The society is a student-led organisation which encourage students to learn from each other, and to continue their own development through teaching.

My passion has always been patient safety and I’m really proud of what I have managed to achieve at RGU and with the IHI Patient Safety Chapter. For me it’s really important that all health professionals take an interest in their own development, and I think that starts at university – I’ve been on the committee for the IHI society since my first year and I’m really delighted at how well all the students at RGU have engaged with us.

It’s been a pleasure to lead the society as president this year because the whole committee are absolutely amazing individuals, and I know when I leave this year they will continue to keep the passion alive in future students.

What other extra-curricular activities have you been involved in during your time at RGU?
I’m really lucky to have experienced a variety of activities during my time at RGU! I’ve delivered interactive medicines training with school children, participated in inter-professional education simulations, and given a talk to third year pharmacy students with my tips and advice on managing the university work while completing the pre-registration application process.

I’ve also had the opportunity to contribute to curriculum development by participating in university pilots and feedback sessions, and I’m a Pharmacists’ Defence Association representative.

Outside of university I’ve completed two patient safety projects with NHS Grampian, which really showed me all the hard work that is going on to improve the patient experience in hospital. Last year I also got to work with NHS Education for Scotland in Glasgow to help evaluate feedback from tutors and trainees who had participated in Foundation Training: Hospital Practice, as well as collating information on hospital audits and Significant Event Analysis reports which I really enjoyed.

Why did you choose to study pharmacy at RGU?
I used to work in a bank, which paid well but it really wasn’t for me. One day I just thought, I’m really unhappy doing this, why am I afraid to go for something I actually want to do? I’ve always been really interested in healthcare so I got a job in a pharmacy and I loved it!

I worked with an amazing pharmacist who was really supportive, and encouraged me to reach my potential. She went to RGU, so of course I had heard all the good stories, and after doing my own research I knew it was where I wanted to be. So I sent in an application form and crossed my fingers. I don’t know if I really believed I would be accepted because I had very low self-esteem, but somehow I was given the chance and I’ve never looked back.

Have you enjoyed the course at RGU so far?
The four years I have been studying pharmacy have been the best of my life and every day I am grateful that I made the decision to come to Aberdeen and pursue my dream. Not only have I learned so much about being a pharmacist, but I have been helped to develop as a leader, a team member and an advocate for every single patient.

RGU should be proud of their continuing commitment to helping students develop into professionals who can make pharmacy the best it can be.

What are your hobbies outside pharmacy?
I’m actually a huge Harry Potter fan, so in first year a couple of friends and I founded Dumbledore’s Army, which is a Harry Potter Society! It’s a really fun society to lead, and it’s definitely helped me develop communication and organisational skills.

Last year I had the opportunity to help run a Harry Potter day at a local school to encourage reading and writing, which was absolutely amazing, and following on from this we did three school visits this year as the news about our events spread.

What advice would you give to the new intake of pharmacy students?
It sounds clichéd but find out what makes you passionate and do it – don’t feel pressured into choosing a sector or job based on income, because when you really love something that’s when you can truly make a difference. You can’t put a price on doing something you love; I’ve never regretted taking a pay cut to get into pharmacy, because I was really miserable in my job and now I get to do something that makes me happy.

I would also say take every opportunity you can, there are so many interesting things you can do and experience while studying. There will be competitive opportunities that you don’t think you are good enough for, but even if there is only one place available someone has to be that one person, always give it 100% and you will be surprised at what you can achieve.

Are you worried about the pre-reg exam?
I wouldn’t say worried, I know I still have a lot to learn but I’m confident that it is achievable as long as I continue to apply myself during my pre-registration year. I know a lot of the people I will be working with, so I already have a network of people I know I can ask when I get stuck.

I see pre-reg as an opportunity to consolidate everything I have learned at university, and practise, practise, practise until I am confident. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m excited for it.

When you qualify as a pharmacist what sector of pharmacy would you like to work in and why?
I’m completing my pre-registration in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary which I am really looking forward to. I’ve been really impressed with all the pharmacists who work in the hospital, and of how much they know!

I have worked in community pharmacy for nearly five years, so I can see the positives on both sides, but I feel for my practice it is what I need to do. Community is an area I am more familiar with, so I want to push myself to do something outside my comfort zone. I also feel there is a huge opportunity for hospital pharmacists to improve patient safety for patients who are the most vulnerable.

Do you have concerns about the number of pharmacy graduates and the number of pre-reg places?
It’s an interesting issue for sure. I think the thing that hit me hardest was when we all got our results from the NES assessment centre, and realising so many people I knew didn’t get matched; until that moment you really don’t register just how many people it is, even when you know the numbers.

But I think that it’s important for a variety people to have the opportunity to study pharmacy, so I am not convinced that capping student numbers is the best way to approach the issue. I’m not sure if I would have been accepted to study pharmacy if the course was capped; it had been years since I studied last, and while my school grades were above average, the bar is set very high.

The best students don’t necessarily make the best pharmacists, once you step out of high school it’s a whole new ballgame, and the importance of soft skills and problem solving are critical.

On the positive side, nearly everyone I know has got a pre-registration place arranged now, and most people I have spoken to have been able to find employment after pre-registration. With the increasing roles for pharmacists out with the traditional hospital/community/industry sectors, I think that the higher number of graduates might actually become beneficial.

Are you a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS)?
I am a student member of the RPS, and I personally have found their online resources very useful. As a student you do not have to pay to be a member however, so I don’t know if that will change or not. I like that they provide a foundation framework to help early career pharmacists, I think that the move from pre-registration pharmacist to pharmacist is probably one of the biggest career jumps, so it’s good to know where to get support from.

Do you have a career plan in mind?
I would really love to work in hospital for at least a few years to develop myself personally and professionally, as a pharmacist every day is different and you don’t know what’s going to happen next so I think it’s really important to be able to cope with that.

In the future I would love to use my passion for patient safety and take it to the next level, and work in either pharmacy education or research. It would be difficult for me to take the step back from the patient facing role, but I think I have a lot to contribute and could potentially have a greater impact.

What one thing would you change about pharmacy if you could?
In an ideal world, I would love to see pharmacists considered a core NHS staff alongside doctors, nurses and the majority of other health professionals. Particularly in community pharmacy, there can be some conflict between the desire to make evidence based recommendations and the need to meet financial targets.

Pharmacies are a business, and that’s not something that is likely to change, but I don’t think it’s easy to get the best out of a pharmacist by putting them under pressure to hit sales targets. We have so much knowledge and skills that can really be used to help patients, and I think that by having pharmacists work directly for the NHS, it would give them the freedom to be truly patient centred.


Are you positive about the future of community pharmacy?
Definitely! There is so much going on in Scottish pharmacy, it’s an amazing time to be joining the profession. There are more opportunities for pharmacists than ever before, and it can really be whatever you make of it. Community pharmacists are almost unique in their accessibility, and this allows a really strong relationship with patients.

Prescription for excellence really highlights the skills of pharmacists for everyone to see, and as the medicine experts it seems natural that we should have the opportunity to be involved in prescribing and patient care plans. I’m also really excited that the Scottish Patient Safety Program has expanded into primary care, highlighting that safer medicines are a critical part of improving patient safety. This is something we can all play a part in, and show the value of pharmacists as part of a multi disciplinary team.


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