Why become a pharmacist? Given that my father and both my grandfathers were also pharmacists, I suppose I am in a good position to answer this question.
I can remember, when I was a child talking to school friends in the playground, that they knew my father and grandfathers were respected locally and were there to help others.
My maternal grandfather continued dispensing into his 80s, for the love of the job, even though he didn’t need to work. After I qualified in 1998, there was more than one Christmas Day when all four of us worked together. In addition, my brother is a hospital pharmacist and was the country’s youngest chief pharmacist.
Now my eldest child, aged 17, is asking me about community pharmacy as a career, even though I have never pushed him into considering it.
Some people may ask, why have a career in community pharmacy (the ‘local chemist’) rather than, for example, in a hospital? I’m sure that hospitals are very interesting places to work, but what I love about my role as a pharmacist is being part of a community, seeing people on the journey through their lives.
I have been qualified as a pharmacist for 23 years and I started stacking shelves when I was 12. The connection you have to the place where you work is unique to community pharmacy.
In a community pharmacy you really do get to know patients because they are coming to you regularly, sometimes over many years. You also know that they are really putting their trust in you as a healthcare professional.
Patients might see a different professional every time they visit other healthcare settings. That won’t be the case with their local independent pharmacy. You build a relationship with your patients, which might not be the case in a hospital. As a result, patients value the relationship they have with their community pharmacist and they will be more open with you about their concerns because they trust you more.
Community pharmacy is also a great place to use all your skills, both science-based and communication-based – but it is also the opportunity to be at the heart of something special. Community pharmacy combines a love of people and communities.
Another reason why I love working in community pharmacy is it is so unpredictable. You just don’t know what issues will be presented by the next person to walk through your doors.
I recall when a woman came into my pharmacy and asked for help with an infected toe. However, after a long conversation it was discovered that the real issue she had was post-natal depression. She just needed an excuse to talk to someone.
What I love about community pharmacy is the variety from day to day. We are not ruled by an appointment book.
This is a career that is evolving and changing, and I think it’s going to be exciting in the future.
So much has changed over the last 20 years. At the start of my career it would have been unthinkable that I’d have a consultation room where I could speak to patients in confidence. In addition I am now able to prescribe as well as dispense medication and I also vaccinate people, which wasn’t the case at the start of my career.
The scope of work that pharmacists now do has changed considerably and my grandfathers certainly would not recognise the job I do today. No doubt it will be different again for the next generation, but I hope community pharmacy will always retain some key characteristics such as accessible, face-to-face care.
Whatever developments take place in healthcare in the future, we can be sure that the one thing that won’t change is the need for a human touch. The way in which we do things may change, but however much technology moves on, the desire for human interaction will still be absolutely crucial.
I believe a good pharmacist has to be a good person. You have to be interested in people and want to do your best for them. You have to be a good listener as well as resilient – the hours can be long and you are on your feet all day! Being a good communicator is vital as you will talk to people who might not have English as their first language or others may have learning disabilities.
But if you’ve got a good, close-knit team around you, working in a pharmacy can be a lot of fun. We spend too much time at work for it not to be fun!
Despite all the current financial pressures I feel as an owner, I certainly don’t regret my decision to work in community pharmacy. My message to any young people thinking of choosing it as a career is go for it!