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Career Spotlight – Tess Fenn President of APTUK

Why did you become a pharmacy technician?


It’s pleasing to be asked this question as I have just answered a survey that asked whether this was my first career choice. The poll was already indicating that over 80% of respondents had answered ‘no’ so far. It was the same for me. I had wanted to become a teacher but then discovered my love of science. I had a thought that I would like to work in a hospital assisting with peoples’ health and well-being, possibly in the laboratories. We were fortunate that we had a ‘career’s corner’ at school and I stumbled across a leaflet describing the role of a pharmacy technician. From there I organised a work experience placement in a community pharmacy and loved it. I was fortunate to then gain a student pharmacy technician place in a local hospital and I started there on the 24th August 1970, 48 years ago and the rest is history. I have never looked back and delight in the fact that I made the right choice as my passion for pharmacy and supporting medicines optimisation and patients has never waned.


What is your proudest moment in pharmacy?


My pharmacy technician journey eventually brought me back to my original desire to teach and in the year 2000 I specialised in an education and training role by taking up a post in a prestigious London teaching hospital. I was responsible for the training and development of pharmacy technicians and pharmacy assistants. It gives me the greatest of pleasure and pride to see the many pre-registration pharmacy technicians whose career started there flourish, develop and go onto become our future leaders and role models.


Who was the greatest role model in your career and why?


This is a hard question as over the course of my career I have aspired to many role models, both pharmacists and pharmacy technician alike. However, my choice of one has to be my very first Chief Pharmacist back in 1970. He read my introductory letter asking if there was a student place in his department, took it to the Trust Board and lobbied for the very first ‘Student Pharmacy Technician’ post there. I was inspired by his tenacity, his foresight and vision and have taken these attributes with me along my journey; everything is possible.


You have been president of APTUK for several years. Have you enjoyed this role?


I’ve been the APTUK President since 2014 and the Vice President, Education Officer, Branch Secretary before this. I have been immensely gratified and delighted to have held all of these roles. I am humbled to have been endorsed as the APTUK President and have thoroughly enjoyed the role. It has been an honour to represent pharmacy technicians especially at the table of many high-level national boards and meetings, often with me being the only Pharmacy Technician present. It has been a pleasure to have worked with so many dedicated pharmacy professionals and others, both internally and externally to APTUK.


What are you most proud of achieving in this role?


When I took up my Presidency in 2014, APTUK had just become a Limited by Guarantee Company ‘Not for Profit’ and a number of challenges were to modernise and implement quality management systems into the running of the organisation; to raise APTUKs profile with members, non-members and our stakeholders; increase the number of members; reach pharmacy technicians working in the community and support the evolution of pharmacy technicians from an occupation status to that of a profession. All of these challenges are to a certain extent still ongoing, however, I feel that APTUK has grown its professional leadership status and is on an upward journey steadily attracting and increasing membership of pharmacy technicians from all sectors. Through the dedication and tireless work of the voluntary Board of Directors and the Professional Committee of National Officers, pharmacy technicians are recognising the value of belonging to their leadership body; they are displaying professionalism and more are becoming advocates for their own profession. I hope that this is testament to my Presidency and that I have made a difference.


Do you feel APTUK is representative of the registered pharmacy technician population in the UK?


Each year the membership of APTUK is growing, this last year by 16% which is a significant increase. We are still on a journey to reach out to all pharmacy technicians and to those who are still yet to know of our existence. At conference this year I set a challenge for all APTUK members and asked them to pledge to recruit another member during 2018-2019. We have turned this into our PlusOne campaign. So I’ll take this opportunity to repeat the challenge and ask all of our pharmacy colleagues to spread the word and help us realise this.


Technicians are not regulated in Northern Ireland, does this need to change?


Pharmacy Technicians in Northern Ireland undertake a variety of roles akin to those practised in Great Britain. Thus patients and pharmacy users could expect to have the same confidence that those who provide their pharmacy service are qualified and practice to a standard that is required by a pharmacy regulator. The Northern Ireland Department of Health is currently undertaking a review of the pharmacy workforce, to inform the government of the workforce development needs for the next ten years. The review incorporates pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy support staff and APTUK is a member of the Pharmacy Workforce Review Project Board. This is an exciting project and I am delighted to represent Pharmacy Technicians and our members from Northern Ireland and look forward to its outcomes.


I am looking forward to spending more time with my family and enjoying more leisure time, initially for re-fuelling my energy. I will always be an advocate for pharmacy technicians but I also have a passion for advocating integrated care and working towards a more patient-centred holistic approach in healthcare. I may channel this through local healthcare networks but it’s ‘wait and see’ at the moment. One never knows what might come along and I will continue to seize opportunities that interest me. I have, however, agreed to continue in my role as Secretary of the European Association of Pharmacy Technicians and I am continuing my consultant role with City and Guilds as an External Quality Assurer and the Technical lead for Pharmacy. Although I have retired from the NHS, I am still a pharmacy technician registrant and plan to retain my registration to reach my 50-year pharmacy technician career anniversary. Having been co-opted back into the President’s position for an interim period I will be leading and supporting APTUK for the next few months and will work with the Board of Directors to look at succession planning.


As I have voiced before, I hope to see APTUK continue to grow and evolve into the professional leadership body it aspires to be. I would like to see support from the whole pharmacy profession and policy makers in helping APTUK to achieve this and to ensure it remains a viable and sustainable organisation. I would like to see the delivery of our vision ‘Leading pharmacy technicians to deliver professional excellence for patient centred care’ and our soon to be launched 2018-2021 strategy ‘Leadership with a purpose – our next 3 years’.


My passion remains constant, for APTUK and pharmacy technicians to be equally valued and utilised as pharmacy professionals delivering an effective and safe pharmaceutical care for better patient outcomes. It has been my absolute honour to be the President of APTUK and I am humbled at the huge amount of messages I have received since the announcement of my intention to step down at the end of the year and I am truly appreciative of everyone’s kind words of gratitude. It means the world to me and to know that I have tried my best and hopefully have made a difference.

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