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The pharmacy technician who chose another path

Emma Fielding


What is the secret to getting a first-class honours pharmacy degree?


Dedication and commitment! Prioritising, planning and having fun ALL at the same time! Good luck with that because it is a hard slog.


Could you tell us a bit about your pre-registration year to date?


I am completing the GP/hospital split placement. I have spent the first 5 months at a large teaching hospital with 15 other pre-reg students. We are completing a very well organised rotational timetable which has included blocks throughout the hospital sites such as paediatrics, psychiatry, oncology, aseptics, MI and clinical ward time. For the next 16 weeks, I will be based in two GP practices working closely with the pharmacist, shadowing their clinics before (hopefully) leading my own appointments. I will then return to the hospital for the final few months running my own ward, under supervision, which will conclude the 52 weeks.


What is the toughest lesson you have learned in your pre-registration year so far?


Two lessons in particular:


  • The hospital is training us to become band 6 pharmacists – not to pass a GPhC assessment. Therefore additional reading coupled with practising calculations at home is essential.
  • The switch from pharmacy technician to a pharmacist is more than just a title and I am making concerted efforts to think clinically and not technically, which is trickier than it sounds.


Why did you chuck being a pharmacy technician to study pharmacy?


I had worked as a PT in various roles, which back then, the roles were not as expansive as they are now. I, therefore, felt I had reached the limit to the role but I was still thirsty to learn more.


You are clearly capable of studying medicine so why did you choose pharmacy?


I never intended to work in pharmacy and definitely had zero intentions of studying at university. Both ideas would have seemed ludicrous to me, however, when I was trying to leave a job I truly hated I applied to anywhere, my first interview was successful which was a student pharmacy technician. I was fortunate to fall into a career that I loved and the rest, as they say, is history.


How long had you been qualified as a pharmacy technician before you decided to study pharmacy?


I had worked in pharmacy for about 5 years before starting the degree. During that time I had worked in private healthcare, hospital and community.


What did your educational route entail to become a pharmacy technician?


I became aware of a foundation year which was offered to prospective students who had not quite made the entry criteria for the MPharm, however, with my A-Level results I was unable to apply under those grounds. I could, however, apply under the widening participation scheme, using my GCSE results and NVQ3. I was cautious about applying and I, therefore, self-funded a distance learning A Level in Sociology to help gain confidence in studying again. When I completed the A-Level I then applied for the MPharm with foundation year. The first year was tricky because, at the time, all modules and tests had to be passed at 75%. Fortunately, I passed with flying colours and carried on to the MPharm.


In your view what is the difference between a pharmacist and a pharmacy technician?


Aside from stating the obvious, which would be the differences in training and qualifications. I feel the main differences are the thought processes whilst completing the same tasks. Both roles would consider the safety of the patient as the pinnacle consideration, however as a technician, I would be thinking about the item prescribed, is it stocked, where can I supply it from, if not from my main supplier then who…etc. As a pharmacist I consider the dose, is it correct, is the item licensed, do I need to check blood test results or kidney function etc. All members of the pharmacy, are integral in running a service.


You have worked as a pharmacy technician in prison. What was that role like?


During the degree I locumed in various prisons, working part-time during the week and full time during the holidays. I worked in a variety of prisons and the role differed per site. In some prisons I was dispensary based, dispensing items for offenders to either collect daily, weekly or monthly, depending upon their risk status. For the majority of my prison role I was a ward-based technician, I would oversee the medication administration for offenders who were asked to attend the pharmacy department to have their drugs administered ‘in-sight’. I found the work highly enjoyable and I have a passion for wanting to improve the availability of mental health pharmaceutical support.


What did you learn when working in a private hospital?


That private healthcare faces the same difficulties as the NHS, you cannot differentiate between the provision of healthcare from cost alone, the advantages are often due to reduced waiting times.


How do you see the role of the pharmacy technician, in general, developing in the coming years?


I feel the role will expand further and PTs will be upskilled further still, particularly within hospital sites.


Do you feel pharmacy technicians should be allowed to extend their role to become independent prescribers?


I do not feel there is a requirement for PTs to prescribe, if you are asking me about whether IP should be included within the MPharm undergraduate degree then that is a whole different ball game.


When you become a pharmacist do you think it will be important to work towards becoming an independent prescriber?


I do not think it will be long before the IP is either included in the undergraduate degree or it becomes an essential skill for all qualified pharmacists. With the NHS PCN/5 year plan, there is a requirement for pharmacists to prescribe.


You have had a number of pharmacy technician roles over the years. Which was your favourite and why?


I have found all roles enjoyable but by far my favourite roles have been working within the prisons, I have enjoyed the challenges and direct patient care.


What is your advice to pharmacy technicians thinking of becoming a pharmacist?


It is a huge personal commitment but if you have a thirst to learn more and the ambition to return to your studies then go for it !!


Are you a member of any professional organisations and why?


I am a member of the RPS since starting my pre-registration year, initially, this was because I really wanted a hard copy of the MEP, BNF and BNFc. However, the website provides lots of great resources relevant to all pharmacy roles and the monthly PJ has been very interesting.


There are lots of self-declared leaders in our profession. Which pharmacists or pharmacy technicians have inspired you in your career?


Whilst I have worked with many, many, many great people, a locum pharmacist called Kim, who I worked with in a small independent community pharmacy in North Norfolk gave me the confidence to apply to university. Kim was also the kind lady who visited me at home during my first year to explain the basics of chemistry to me, raiding my fruit bowl to model apples and satsumas as atoms and nucleus’. My dear friend Julie, working as a PT in the prisons, inspires me by her constant unwavering support to me and also, her own commitment to her job, often going above and beyond to ensure patients receive their medication on time. Lastly, Debbie, a pharmacy assistant also working in the prisons, has shown me what an integral role pharmacy assistants have, her kindness to staff and patients speaks volumes.


What’s next for you?


Hopefully, I pass the GPhC assessment and will be successful in securing a B6 role, the difficulty lies in knowing which sector this will be in.


You can find Emma Fielding on Twitter by clicking here. 



2 thoughts on “The pharmacy technician who chose another path”

  1. I disagree that a pharmacy technician would only be thinking of the stock aspects of supplying medicines.

    Pharmacy technicians are in clinical roles, and often able to flag up doses which seem incorrect or incorrect frequency etc.

    Much more than just… “ however as a technician, I would be thinking about the item prescribed, is it stocked, where can I supply it from, if not from my main supplier then who…etc. As a pharmacist I consider the dose, is it correct, is the item licensed, do I need to check blood test results or kidney function etc”

    1. I don’t think the interview read that it was to only ‘just’
      be thinking of the stock aspects of supplying medicines

      I’m a technician myself and with different parts of learning from my NVQ4 I’ve become more clinical too. It’s really interesting !

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