As pharmacists, there are many roles to choose from after qualifying. From the more traditional positions in community pharmacies and hospitals to work in GP surgeries and medical centres, or even going into research.
There are plenty of options. And with each passing year, it seems like those horizons expand further.
Though 2020 has come with plenty of challenges, it has also provided some new avenues – or widened avenues that already existed. One of those comes with the increase in demand for telemedicine services.
GP appointments are increasingly moving online, and telephone consultations have become the new normal. The transformation was already underway before 2020 but it has accelerated exponentially as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. This change will inevitably affect how some pharmacist’s work.
To find out more about the subject, and how pharmacists interested in moving into digital healthcare might go about it, I spoke to friend and colleague Mahira Hanid-Awan.
Mahira and I talk regularly to motivate each other. In our most recent conversation, we focused on her career journey, to try to shed some light on the new opportunities available to people in our profession.
Mahira studied pharmacy at Liverpool John Moore’s University before completing her pre-registration year in community pharmacy with Boots. She has since worked in community pharmacy and in a GP surgery, where she completed her Independent Prescriber qualification.
Most recently, though, she has joined telemedicine provider Doctor Care Anywhere (‘DCA’) as Clinical Operations Manager for Medicines Management. For those who do not know, Doctor Care Anywhere is a digital healthcare service that allows patients to speak with a doctor over the phone or video anytime they like, anywhere in the world.
Before moving into her current role, Mahira told me, she “managed two stores with Boots and one with Rowlands Pharmacy”, where she “enjoyed the daily interaction with customers and ensuring their medication was being taken in the most optimum way”.
Following that, Mahira spent three and a half years working in a GP practice, commuting 85 miles a day to and from work. It was, she said, a key period in her professional development: “In GP surgery I challenged myself to study further and completed the independent prescribing course and became one of the first Senior Clinical Pharmacists in my local area.
“By completing my Independent Prescribing (‘IP’) course I was able to develop myself further and have a deeper knowledge of my patients. I was able to follow their patient journey to ensure that they were receiving the best patient care whilst managing long-term conditions. Studying for the IP qualification gave me the confidence to go on to achieve more and opened more doors. I feel that as a result, I am able to consult with my patients better and more holistically.”
Mahira specialised in type 2 diabetes for her IP and, she said, “I felt a sense of achievement when I could see the HbA1C levels of my patients improving.” But that was far from all she accomplished. “I was consulting with patients for medication reviews which involved interpretation of blood tests. I was also consulting for long-term disease management clinics and in minor illness clinics.
“As a clinical pharmacist, I would conduct annual reviews for patients with long-term diseases, which included conducting mental health reviews, asthma reviews and in-depth diabetes reviews.
“Education of patients was another aspect of my work in the primary care sector I enjoyed. I was able to work on my consultation skills and try to find motivating factors to enable and arm my patients.
“I was also given the opportunity to study and obtain a certificate to enable me to conduct substance misuse clinics on my own – this was my biggest achievement as these were remote clinics off-site from the GP surgery. I had very supportive mentors who were at the end of a phone call and felt supported throughout all of my learning. To my teachers at Farnham Road Practice, I will always be grateful for the opportunities they gave me.”
In early 2020, Mahira decided to give up the commute and start doing locum work more locally. But with the arrival of the coronavirus in the UK in March causing many GP surgeries to close their doors, she was forced into a rethink. Mahira applied for a job with a digital healthcare company that was serving NHS patients and was successful.
Yet after three months, the company decided to withdraw from the UK. “We were in lockdown and locuming was not an option,” she told me. “As a result, I came across Doctor Care Anywhere and applied for the role. In September of 2020, I was onboarded as Clinical Operations Manager for Medicines Management.”
The new role, she said, is a challenge. But it is one she is enjoying; “We are a fast-paced, quickly growing business and no two days are the same.
“My day starts early at 8 am with a check of emails and the calendar to see what meetings are on the agenda for the day. I start by looking at escalated prescribing data from the day before and reviewing any cases where prescribing may require feedback to the GP. At DCA, patient safety is paramount.
“At 10 a.m. we have a clinical team meeting with clinicians responsible for different parts of the business to update on different projects being run simultaneously. Part of my responsibility is to ensure that we can safely prescribe for patients utilising DCA, which can mean international consultations and prescribing.
“Later during the day, I meet with external pharmacy partners to discuss the previous month’s prescriptions and discuss any learnings that arise from the process. This can relate to either technical issues which need resolving or problems encountered by patients.
Mahira told me that her previous experience as an Independent Prescriber has stood her in good stead to thrive in her new role. “As head of medicines management part of my role is to audit prescribing data and the development of policies and protocols whilst prescribing on the platform. It is, therefore, important to be able to understand the nuances applicable to consulting with patients on a digital platform.”
Mahira also praised her colleagues for their openness, despite not yet having met them face-to-face. “Everyone has been very welcoming. I have been allowed to make this role my own. I have to ensure that medicine management is considered as part of the patient management on the platform. It is exciting to work for a company which is growing.”
“I am keen to show how the profession can offer diversity and challenges. It is important that pharmacists remain at the forefront of future developments in the digital healthcare space, ensuring that as subject matter experts we can continue helping to deliver excellent medical care.”
Mahira told me that, in the NHS, she foresees “pharmacists taking over the management of long-term disease conditions” and believes that in the private and public sectors “digital healthcare is the way of the future”. She said: “by prescribing and including pharmacists in consultations with the patient where we have their attention for 12 to 15 minutes, we can add a lot of value. We can help educate and empower the patient to be able to improve their condition where possible. We can inform the patient on possible side-effects, and in some cases de-prescribe medications to improve outcomes for them.”
So, what advice would she give to someone in our profession looking to move into the world of digital health? “I would advise you to apply,” she said. “Your skills as a pharmacist are transferrable and all that you have knowledge of can be utilised in digital healthcare. Digital healthcare is developing rapidly, and the opportunities are limitless. Pharmacists should embrace that we are an allied healthcare professional and we can provide another vital dimension to patient care. Digital healthcare is growing rapidly and its geographical boundaries are blurring. We can see patients located in different cities and even different countries. We can use this opportunity to display our diligence and ensure that we are always seen by the patient as the face for medication-related issues even virtually. If you are looking for support do look me up via LinkedIn; I would be happy to speak with any pharmacist wanting to enter the digital space.”
Reece Samani is a pharmacist. He is also the founder of Signature Pharmacy and The Locum App.
Have your say. Do you think pharmacists working from home as independent prescribers is the future?