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Career spotlight: Elaine Agnew

Where do you work?


Lindsay & Gilmour Pharmacy in Selkirk.


What has your career journey been so far?


I started working in a community pharmacy at the age of 16 as a Saturday girl. After a brief period at university, I started working full time in a local pharmacy and completed my NVQ Level 3 in Pharmacy Services. I registered with the GPhC as a pharmacy technician. I took up a position working within a local hospice and after that came to an end, I decided to complete my ACT course. I felt that the next natural step was to progress back to university. I applied and got in. After having so much community experience, I chose to do my pre-registration year in the hospital sector. From there I worked at the Borders General Hospital for nearly three years before taking up my position with Lindsay & Gilmour in July.


How long have you been a pharmacist?


I have been qualified for three years.


You used to be a pharmacy technician. Why did you take the leap to become a pharmacist?


I felt that I had achieved all I could as a pharmacy technician and I didn’t feel ready to move into management. I worked with a lecturer for Strathclyde University who did the odd locum in my pharmacy.  He planted the seed of becoming a Pharmacist and encouraged me to apply. I’m glad he did now.


Was there anything from your work as a pharmacy technician that helps now that you are a pharmacist?


Lots. I had a basic understanding of drug tariff, MEP, endorsing, prescription submission but ultimately developed a great attention to detail and accuracy. I was confident in speaking to patients and enjoyed building rapport with them, especially the elderly.


What roles have you undertaken as a pharmacist?


I have worked as a rotational pharmacist within a busy community hospital. Although mainly based in acute medicine I was given the opportunity to cover various wards which allowed me to experience everything from elderly medicine to ITU/HDU. An advantage of working within a small community hospital is that you get to experience a little bit of everything. I also sat on the clinical governance committee and had a specialised role in clinical trials which was extremely interesting.


Which role did you find most challenging and why?


I think my current role is the most challenging. As my first management role, I am adapting from lone working and prioritisation of my own workload to delegation and meeting the varying needs of all our customers.


What knowledge, skills or approaches have you brought from your hospital pharmacy experience to your current role in community pharmacy?


It’s only been a few months. So far though I feel I have utilised my knowledge gained from working on elderly wards in reviewing the patients within the local care home. From advising on formulation changes, polypharmacy reviews, requesting blood tests to educate the care staff on administration and application of medicines. I feel this is where I have made the most difference so far.


Are you supported to develop and progress?


Yes definitely. Since day one I have felt supported by my peers and advice has been plentiful. I am currently focussing on developing myself as a manager but am keen to develop myself in all aspects of community pharmacy. Lindsay & Gilmour is a very forward-thinking company so I am sure I’ll have the opportunity to do a variety of things.  This is the main reason I chose to work for them!


What do you love about your job?


The opportunity to build relationships with my customers is definitely a big factor. I have always loved working within a community and Selkirk is a wonderful community with a great customer base full of characters. A simple thank you means the world to me and reminds me of why I made the change back to community pharmacy. I have the advantage of continuity and love it when I hear how patients got on at their appointment or updating me on how the eye drop I recommended is working. I get high levels of satisfaction from little moments like that.


Any aspects you dislike?


Being stuck to a checking bench. I understand it’s a vital necessity, but I do prefer my customer facing time.


What is your view on the state of community pharmacy in Scotland?


I think as a community pharmacist my role is very limited due to the lack of information I have access too. As a hospital pharmacist, I could review many things about a patient from their social work care plan to their vitamin D level. A pharmacist can contribute so much if given the information which of course could only benefit the patient.


I felt that as a ward pharmacist I was part of the multi-disciplinary team. Advice and interventions were made to medical staff routinely. I don’t feel that is the case in community pharmacy.  I miss the freedom of “paging” the prescriber or catching them on a ward round. GP’s ultimately aren’t as accessible and I am struggling with that fact.


I am starting to develop relationships with my local GP practice and, hopefully, I am demonstrating exactly what a pharmacist can do for them and of course their patients.


How does community pharmacy need to change to survive in Scotland?


Rules and legislation currently make me feel pigeonholed in what I can and can’t do. I feel community pharmacists are a highly qualified, expensive resource which is not being utilised effectively. As “experts in medicine” the fact we don’t have access to vital information which governs whether or not the medicine is safe for an individual bewilders me. For example, access to emergency care summaries would improve our ability to highlight any interactions. Access to renal function would help clarify if a dose is suitable. Access to patient’s secondary/tertiary care records would help implement recommended changes in medicines quickly and effectively. Hopefully, steps are being made to allow access routinely to such information.


Would you ever consider completing the independent prescribing qualification?


Yes, if I had the platform to use it as I’ve seen the benefits of it within primary care. It is, ultimately, a long-term personal goal of mine.


What was the toughest lesson you had to learn as a pharmacist?


Losing my grandparent after they spent a short spell in hospital was difficult. This was the first death I had experienced a close relative and I found it very hard to work on a ward where patients were in similar situations to my grandfather. It was hard to see relatives emotional and sometimes I just wanted to cry alongside them. It took time but I learned to separate personal emotions in such situations and as a result, learned to empathise rather than emotionally respond to these types of situations.


What is your advice to the next generation of pharmacists?


Pharmacy is an extremely dynamic career and I feel you need to take every opportunity to learn.


Are you optimistic about the future of pharmacy?


Yes, I hope for more power being given to pharmacists. “Pharmacy First” is a brilliant scheme however we are still so limited in what we can help with. I am especially looking forward to the “new” CMS service that’s being rolled out. I fully support more autonomy being afforded to pharmacists to assist with the GP’s workload. A lecturer at university shared a vision she had for the future of pharmacy which has stuck with me. GP’s make diagnosis and pharmacists prescribe the medicines. Hopefully, that’s the direction the profession is taking and will achieve.


Who are the top five mentors in your career?


Gina Taylor – my pharmacist manager when I worked for Boots. She encouraged me to be the best I could be professional, guided me through my accuracy checking course, supported me whilst at university and still remains a good friend today. She exemplified what it is to be a good manager and I hope I am putting her teachings into practice now.


Alex Mullen – the professor who planted the “become a pharmacist” seed. He made me believe it was possible for me to become a pharmacist and I am eternally grateful he did.


Gillian Fulton – my pre-registration tutor. She pushed me from day one and ensured I got the most out of my pre-reg year. She ensured I had many opportunities not just shadowing pharmacists. I attended surgeries, clinics, shadowed different allied health care professionals, attended ward rounds/board meetings and teachings. This let me see first-hand what the varying professions roles were which helped me integrate successfully into the multi-disciplinary team when I qualified.


Liz Leitch – formulary pharmacist at the Borders General. She was a fountain of information, knowledge and a great support for me as a newly qualified pharmacist.


There have been a few individuals throughout my career that have shown me what kind of person I didn’t want to be both personally and professionally. They possessed attributes which I did not want to transfer into my role as a pharmacist and as a manager. These teachings I feel have shaped who I am now and therefore have been just as important as those whom I admire.


What’s next for you?


I am really enjoying my new role and the challenges it presents. I am getting to know the patients in my community and starting discussions about their health and their medicines.


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