PHARMACY is a very diverse profession with pharmacists having many roles and duties. The majority of pharmacists in the UK work in the community sector (around 70%), followed by hospital (26%) with the remainder in other sectors such as academia, research, editorial work and regulations.
Community pharmacists are usually the first port of call for patients in primary care. They manage minor ailments, provide a range of special services such as flu vaccinations, clinics and lifestyle consultations, to name but a few. In addition to this, they are responsible for the core dispensing and checking of prescriptions. Community pharmacists are also involved with many government lead initiatives which adds an additional clinical focus to the sector, for example: Medicines Use Reviews, New Medicines Service and a number of patient group directions.
Hospital pharmacists are mostly ward-based within their specialist field. Apart from being responsible for the safe and effective prescribing and dispensing of medicines, hospital pharmacists are involved in the writing of policies, formularies and treatment guidelines. Hospital Pharmacists run a variety of consultant-led and pharmacist-led clinics such as anticoagulant and rheumatology clinics.
Pharmacy is moving into very exciting times with the role of the pharmacist further expanding into areas such as general practice and aesthetics.
In addition to the most common sectors in pharmacy, pharmacists also have a role in research, where they find cures for untreated conditions and finding the potential risk: benefit ratio with new advances in treatment. This tends to ignite an interest in the academic world, and so the pharmacy academic is born.
Academic pharmacists enjoy a stimulating career as it is quite a varied sector. One can teach and train future pharmacists, conduct research, practise in a clinical environment having direct patient contact or have a mix of all three in their career as an academic. Research may include a clinical aspect as mentioned before, or laboratory studies to evaluate findings with other scientific data. There are four main disciplines in pharmacy education: pharmacology, chemistry, pharmaceutics or pharmacy practice. Pharmacists can choose their area of interest and specialise and conduct research in that field as well as teach pharmacy undergraduates in their expert subject.
The world of academia has many advantages. Academics have a very flexible schedule, which is one of the most desired aspects of this sector. There is a high degree of student interaction, as pharmacy academics are responsible for the education of the future of the profession. Depending on which institution or university you work for, there is a high level of commitment to continuing professional development from the management, which helps your progress within your career. Academic pharmacists have been known to complete their postgraduate diplomas and PhD whilst working for some institutions.
With the anxieties of the MPharm faced by today’s pharmacy undergraduate and the pressures by the regulator, students are in a state of uncertainty as to which sector they wish to join. Once graduated, the experience of finding a pre-registration placement and then a first job as a pharmacist can be a painful process.
Some feel they should have a 5 to 10 year career plan by the final year of their degree programme, but others wait until the pre-registration year is over to map out their pathway. Thankfully, having a variety of sectors to choose from within the profession allows students choice and peace of mind.
Students need to appreciate that one can end up in a completely different journey from where they originally started and hoped to be. I, myself am guilty of trying to plan my voyage as a pharmacist, which I thought would be in hospital pharmacy but am glad that my career has turned out the way it has so far. The key is not to say no to opportunity and to try as many sectors as you can before you make a final career choice, which even then is not really set in stone.
To give students more of an insight into the world of academia, I interviewed some academics on their perspectives of the profession. But first, it might be best to explain about my expedition, into the thrilling world of pharmacy academia.
I started my professional career as a community pharmacist: a pharmacy manager at Westbury Chemist in London. I then moved on to work for Bart’s and the London NHS Trust, London as a clinical pharmacist in surgery. It was at this time I began to have an interest in teaching, as part of my role involved the responsibility of being a teacher practitioner for the School of Pharmacy, University of London.
Two and a half years later, I commenced working for the School of Pharmacy, University of London as the pre-registration co-ordinator and the academic facilitator. This position involved teaching therapeutics to Master of Pharmacy students and assisting the director of undergraduate studies. Whilst teaching undergraduate students, I completed my Post Graduate Diploma in Pharmacy Practice and my Post Graduate Diploma in Teaching in Higher Education and am now a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
I then took on the role of the Master of Pharmacy Programme Manager, which involved the management of the undergraduate degree as well as being the pre-registration coordinator for the university. Since the merger with UCL, I have now taken on the role as a Senior Teaching Fellow in pharmacy practice which involved me leading on the final year practice module. I have also recently taken on the exciting role of head of alumni relations for the school. In addition to that I also have many responsibilities for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. I am the chairwoman of the Pre-Registration conferences, a member of the advisory panel for the Medicines, Ethics and Practice guide and a member of the RPS PreReg Advisory Group.
I have an avid interest in pharmacy research. My area of research is Pharmacy & Leadership and I am now in the 4th year of my PhD. I have also had the opportunity to author seven titles with the Pharmaceutical Press, and I am the Founder of the Registrations Assessment Questions series and the Pharmacy Registration Assessment Questions series at the Pharmaceutical Press.
I am also a mentor to emerging young leaders and take an active interest in their development and building their skills.
In 2015, all of this culminated in me being awarded the status of Fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society for my excellence and contributions towards the profession. I am the youngest female and youngest Asian to be awarded this accolade, something of which I am extremely proud.
Nadia Bukhari is Senior Teaching Fellow & Pre-registration coordinator, UCL School of Pharmacy