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Receiving the news that I had finally qualified, after a year as a hospital pre-registration pharmacist, brought a sense of elation like no other. All those years of study, the gruelling revision periods every summer and the pre-registration exam all suddenly seemed worth the stress to become a pharmacist.
When I saw my name on the register for the first time, the sense of duty and nervousness settled on my shoulders like a pleasant weight to behold. I felt ready to make a difference in healthcare and make use of the skills and knowledge gained from study; I set out into the pharmacy world to begin what I hoped would be a lifetime of providing healthcare and support to communities.
As someone who had grown up visiting pharmacies, whether it was for my own health or that of my family, I reflected on my experiences as a patient and hoped to use those to guide my attitude towards my patients. Within my first weeks as pharmacist however, the dawning realisation that the patient interaction and clinical impact of the work was overshadowed by other demands, was disheartening. Although my university course felt to be jam-packed with learning, this was never something that we were consciously taught.
After more than three years, I began to feel like the business side to community pharmacy was pulling me away from my direct work with patients. I needed something new with room to grow and develop, and so I accepted a role as a Primary Care Network (PCN) clinical pharmacist and transitioned into general practices in December 2019.
Becoming a PCN pharmacist was both exciting and terrifying in one tumultuous mix of emotion. I was fearful that my clinical skills were subpar, my understanding of general practice lacking and my lack of confidence, a set-up for failure. The first weeks were challenging and my mind-set and perspective was completely altered from a patient-care perspective. The patient information available at my fingertips was overwhelming compared to what I worked with in community pharmacy. And with a broader spectrum of information, came a greater responsibility with decision-making.
I found myself no longer flying solo as the only healthcare professional in the building, but surrounded by a multidisciplinary team with which mutual support mechanisms could be established. I was enrolled in the Primary Care Pharmacy Education Pathway, which is an 18-month course led by the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education; through the initial stages of the course, I was able to network and make some fantastic friends who were also new to the PCN role. I began learning swiftly and found myself, although nervous, with space to spread my wings a little more and begin focusing more on patient-centred care.
And when COVID-19 swamped the world, the skills of pharmacy teams were in demand more than ever and my role in general practice was suddenly, forcibly changed and my colleagues and I were thrust into uncertain times. Finding ourselves leading the way in remotely monitoring patients, dealing with the impact of the pandemic on the medicines supply chain, and being the lifeline for patients and other professionals with medicines queries was eye-opening.
The pandemic brought with it not only a surge in workload for my colleagues and I, but also accelerated my learning and pushed me to new limits of capability. Remote consultations, shielding patients, high risk medicines and the impact of social distancing were all novel factors I learned to work with. Becoming part of a multidisciplinary team to review patients in care homes was an exciting and important aspect of the PCN role, and I believe it has played a big part in providing support to this particular sector of care. Having a team comprised of multiple healthcare professionals ensures patients receive quality care and better outcomes in decision-making, as well as providing support and mentoring to team members.
I found myself reviewing patients’ mental health in more detail, due to the impact of lockdown, and working more closely with other members of the wider healthcare teams, including community pharmacy colleagues. COVID-19 is a turning point in the future of primary care and although it has been incredibly challenging, I know I have certainly benefited from the fast-paced learning and connections I have made as part of the journey.
As a PCN pharmacist, the role is diverse and opportunities to make a difference are plenty. From getting involved with care home multi-disciplinary teams, to running polypharmacy clinics and undertaking risk stratification to minimise adverse events with high-risk medicines; the work is hands on with patients and the responsibility is great but the enjoyment greater.
Talking to patients has always been my favourite part of being a pharmacist and running polypharmacy clinics gives me the opportunity to engage, educate and support patients in achieving the best out of their healthcare. In just a few months as a PCN pharmacist, I have learned more than I thought possible and grown in confidence. I’m thrilled to finally have found a role where I feel supported in my own personal development, encouraged to progress and positive about my future career as a pharmacist.