"As pharmacists, we have eyes and ears everywhere, we’ve got to make sure of the safe running of the pharmacy…We have caught so many errors…and some of these are lifesaving. Mistakes happen, and we are there to catch it."
Profile: Amina’s in her 30s and lives in England.
I've been a Pharmacist for eight years now. I went into the School of Pharmacy from college, after A-levels. I had other likes as well – I loved art, so I wanted to pursue that. But then I thought, in terms of job stability, that this would be better because there is always a need for pharmacists. I always felt like I wanted to be out there, helping people, that was my goal, and pharmacy kind of fulfilled that. So, that’s what my anchor was.
I worked in a pharmacy as a Counter Assistant to gain experience and a bit of a flavour of what it’s like to work in pharmacy while I was studying. I found that I really enjoyed it. I did my pre-reg training1 with another company. Then I started off as a Locum Pharmacist, so just getting a feel for all the different companies that are out there - different working practices, different computer systems. I've been in my current job for a while now, and I love it. It’s a great team that we’ve got.
My working day
I’m a Community Pharmacist and I work in a supermarket setting. I love that because you're face-to-face with the public. To put it in a nutshell, we give advice on medical queries, and liaise with other medical professionals, to help with patient therapy. I also do the clinical and accuracy checking of prescriptions. I work four days a week, including a weekend. So I cover some times when a lot of the surgeries are closed, and we have to help our patients out when they don’t have access to surgeries.
My workload is manageable because we’re in a fairly smallish pharmacy in a supermarket, so we don't have as many prescriptions or have any care homes that we deal with. It’s much more manageable than some other branches. We can have that time to talk to our customers, build that rapport, do services and things like that. So, we are pretty lucky in that respect. Even so, I wouldn’t say all the time, but sometimes, it can be a bit overwhelming. Because when you're checking prescriptions, you’ve got flu bookings and then somebody wants to talk to you on the counter or have a medical query. You know when it all happens at once? That can get overwhelming. So, we have learnt to multitask and prioritise.
I think I have a good balance because whatever happens at work, when you sign off, you sign off. That is how it should be, and I think generally it works out. Obviously, when you get home, there are extra things you can do, read up on stuff. There are a lot of extra learning and development things that we are kind of having to do in our own time, because we don’t get time in the pharmacy to do it. So, that’s a challenge. But yes, generally my work-life balance is good, I’d say. If I had more hours, that would be nice, but I do like the store I’m in. So, considering everything, I’d say I’m really happy. I wouldn’t change it now.
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Most of my time is spent checking prescriptions, but our profession is kind of moving away from that to become a bit more clinical towards medicine consultations, blood pressure testing, diabetes testing and cholesterol testing - those kinds of services. Eventually the prescription checks that we do will be more at the technician end. These are the skills that we were taught to do, and it would be great to use our skills and knowledge, to be able to do that. At the moment we’ve got flu season coming up, so we’re doing flu vaccinations.
Our title when we sign in, in the pharmacy is ‘Responsible Pharmacist’. So, we do have to be responsible for everything that goes on in our shift at the time, from signing in to signing out. That responsibility extends to everything that happens on the counter, including the advice our counter assistant dispensers give to customers. Also medicine labelling - if there are any errors or anything, we would hold accountability for that. So, we have to be always on the watch-out. As pharmacists, we have eyes and ears everywhere, we’ve got to make sure of the safe running of the pharmacy in the time that we’re there.
I’d say, for me, it’s interesting because you see something new every day. But the thing is, some people may not find it so, because it’s the same activities, day in, day out, essentially. You're checking prescriptions, you're dispensing stuff. I think there’s always something different every day. It depends how you look at it. I wouldn’t say I’m making a massive difference every day, as in it’s always every little thing that helps to our patients, but if we make just a small amount of difference, I think it’s worth it. We have caught so many errors as well and some of these are lifesaving. Mistakes happen, and we are there to catch it.
We have eyes and ears everywhere – we’ve got to make sure the safe running of the pharmacy in the time that we’re there.’
Pay and benefits
The pay isn't that great, I’ll be honest. It’s in the lower end of the range for this profession. This is something that the union reps are working on, to make sure that it’s a competitive salary, so it reflects inflation and everything, and is correct in the marketplace. I’d say that my motivation for staying where I am is not the money - it’s my team, it’s my customers, it’s where I am. It’s all the other factors that keep me there.
Health and wellbeing
I think working in a pharmacy is really enriching for you as a person. Because I don’t feel burnt out in my setting, which is great, so I don’t have that high intense workload, that can lead to burnout. So, I’m lucky in that respect. And it’s good for mental health as well. I know other branches, where they are running low on resources and staffing, and the work pressures are high. It can easily lead to burnout, and that’s not good for mental health.
We’ve got opportunities to develop as a Prescribing Pharmacist. There are other courses and things available as well, as part of the company, to develop yourself further. One of the courses I’ve just recently done is being a mental health first-aider. It was just a one-day course, but it gives you that support that you need, to be able to have those conversations with people who might need that support. So, that was a really enlightening course, I enjoyed that.
You always want to build yourself up to be the best you can be, to help others, so broadening your skill set, it’s a good thing. I’m happy with where I am at the moment, I’m trying to build our team, but there are a lot of development opportunities in the role that I’m in. You're not kind of boxed in, and that’s it. There’s always room for movement, to improve and to take your skills further, or in a different direction.
Relationships at work
In authority, I’m the second Pharmacist. There’s a Pharmacy Manager as well, who is in the bulk of the days. So, that is my first line management. Also, there’s an Area Manager, a Regional Manager as well, that looks after our region, so that is our next point of call after the line manager. But the Pharmacy Manager – he’s brilliant. He looks after us, so we are really happy. He’s there for the team - he backs us all up and is one of us. So, our team, it really does feel like a family at work. We’ve got that kind of trust - we know we are looking after each other, and our manager is the same. He’s always there to make sure everything is running smoothly, that we’re okay. He really looks after us, I’d say.
We are lucky in our branch with our staffing - a lot of other branches are running thin with regard to staff. And obviously they feel the workload mount, and pressures, because they are having to do effectively two people’s jobs. So, it can be really challenging. On a weekend, it’s literally just two members of staff at any one time. So, if it does get really busy there are just two of us but it’s a really good mix of people, and we all get along. I think it’s the team that keeps me there. You want to have fun at work, you want to enjoy being there.
Voice and representation
My company has trade union recognition with the pharmacist's union, which feels like it gives the pharmacists a voice in the company. We’ve a good group of reps and I think having them is really helpful to help protect the pharmacists, and to help us deal with challenges and any issues in the workplace, such as heath and safety. The reps also negotiate pay when that comes along.
You feel you have another area of support to go to, with having the union, if you have any issues. The reps have quarterly meetings with the company, to bring issues to light, and to kind of nail down action points for the company to help resolve these issues. After these meetings, both the union and the company issue a joint statement of what was discussed and the action points. So, as a member I know what is going on, and I feel like I’m being listened to. The company are very open and transparent and the union and company have both been willing to work with each other.
A good job as a Pharmacist is set apart by the management, what resources you have at hand, and what staffing you have. Because that makes the difference between enjoying your job and just being burnt out. If you don’t have the resources, you don’t have the staff, you're just running around, trying to do everything. Having that support makes the difference.
There are loads of new learning and development opportunities. So I’d say it’s a moving role - you're not always stuck in the same place, you're evolving with the times.
To be a good Pharmacist, you’ve got to have empathy for your patients and customers and have a genuine want to help them. Even in your personal life, sometimes the Pharmacist hat does come on, so it’s a part of who you are, I’d say. It brings out everything you enjoy. I love talking to people, I love hearing their stories as well, and being there to help them, and it’s great when they feel the same way - that they have a great pharmacy to go to, and if they ever need help and advice, that we are here for them. I love my job and it fulfils me.
1 After completing their degree, before fully qualifying, pharmacists must complete a 52-week foundation training placement and a registration assessment