I started my pre-registration training at an independent pharmacy in 2009. My first choice was hospital training. I was interested in the clinical aspect of the hospital role, but I lost the position to someone else. I accepted one at the community pharmacy, believing that training at an independent pharmacy was the second best option.
As an international student, the pharmacy owner refused to help with the visa and I had to apply for a post-degree work permit to work there, independently. The visa took a long time to get processed and I was having problems at the pharmacy. My only options were to stay and continue or go abroad and apply again. They were aware of this at work which made matters worse because they knew I was stuck.
It was an extremely busy pharmacy. I was not given any training and told to start dispensing straightaway. I was shouted at, talked down to and rushed several times.”You should be running” the pharmacy owner would say when waiting scripts landed in the dispensary. He would often stumble in a few minutes late, sometimes still smelling of alcohol from the night before and sit on his chair all day telling everyone what to do whilst we bringing items for him to check. He compared staff dispensing speeds and accuracy, including mine of course.
His wife was my ‘tutor’ but she was hardly ever there, waltzing in a few hours a week, only to take boxes off the shelves saying they looked untidy and leave them in a mess on the counter. She would then leave shouting and gossiping along the way and the dispensary would look like a hurricane went through it.
I wasn’t allowed any studying time which I know we aren’t entitled to. I was not given any training or preparation time for the exam. The one time I was placed on the counter and had a chance to sneak a look at my BNF I was told off and shouted at. They would say if there is nothing to do I should run back and dispense. I was more or less being used as a free dispenser.
I was also constantly bullied by two members of staff who had worked there a long time. I just tried to ignore them. The owners were aware and their only advice was when you are newly qualified and working somewhere new you should be prepared because your staff will try to do that to you. A well-known fact in pharmacy apparently.
Often the owner’s wife would say I’m not ready for my competencies on my training to be signed off (which I needed to sit the GPHC exam). This continued for most of the year. I found a former preregistration student who explained how horrible his experience with them was. His advice to me was to keep my head down and stick through it if I can’t leave.
Months later there still was no visa, I was still not signed off on my checklist. I complained to the GPHC who sympathised and said I should have a conversation with my tutor. My tutor said I wasn’t ready.
Eventually, at the end of the year, she reluctantly signed me off and I failed my test at 66% then resat again two months later at 65%. In hindsight, I had not tried any past papers under strict exam timing which was my downfall.
They asked me to come back in to work there and I refused. By then I had my visa and the GPHC informed me I would need to do another placement elsewhere.
Three months later I found another placement. In my desperation, I accepted payment of £6 an hour. The pharmacy was in an area with terrible public transport and I didn’t own a car. I didn’t need either because I was there to concentrate on being ready to qualify. This affected me adversely a couple of months down the line. The team was better, my tutor was knowledgeable and took time to teach me clinical, legal and operational procedures. But he was unhappy with the owner of the family chain, they could not reach an agreement and he resigned two months later.
The GPHC informed me that I had to obtain a new placement by the following Monday in order to sit the exam that year. I was unable to commute anywhere and I was stuck.
The pharmacy owner assured me I could stay at the same branch, would be signed off by him and that I could sit the exam. Without much choice, I believed him. Six months later after sending off my application to sit the exam, the GPHC informed me I would not be able to because I was signed off by a different person than the one who signed me on.
I had a month left to find another placement and ended up returning home to look for a placement while abroad. Luckily I found one, after sending about 100 emails. It was a great placement. A healthy working environment, amazing staff and a helpful, committed and knowledgeable tutor. He even allowed me to attend a pre-registration exam training course for two days in London. Eight months later I sat my final chance at the exam and qualified.
I am still grateful to him until this day.
I worked as a locum for two months whilst looking for a sponsored position so I could stay in the UK. I found a pharmacy branch which was struggling to find cover for over a year. I applied, was accepted and offered the new working visa. Once I moved to the area and began working there I understood why it was struggling to find cover.
The staff would get by doing the basics and expect the pharmacist to do the rest, they were extremely rude and unhelpful not to mention condescending and constantly making sarcastic remarks. A member of staff walked out one morning because I refused to accept their behaviour. This was when the area manager finally got involved. When they realised I wasn’t going anywhere, their behaviour slowly improved. Eventually, the part-time member of staff retired and the other colleague had no partner to gang up with, so I had a great few years with a great replacement. When she left and a new member of staff started, I was also preparing to leave.
I am a locum now, it’s much healthier. The paycheck, however, is not. Locums are severely underpaid taking into consideration inflation, short staffing levels but there are some benefits to my mental health and peace of mind.
Unfortunately, many people say that bullying is normal in all workplaces, in any career, why is this acceptable? The GPhC is there for the benefit of the public, not pharmacists. Surely an unhealthy work environment affects the public adversely?
They say that if it is an unsafe work environment, not up to standard, it is the pharmacist’s responsibility to refuse to work there. But what happens when all the pharmacies are run by similar people in a similar manner, and when working in these pharmacies is your career. I hear from many pharmacists that they are leaving community pharmacy to work in other fields.
Healthy working environments for pharmacists and staff should be a necessity and a reflection of the healthcare parcel offered to the public but sadly I very rarely see them.
The author of this blog wished to remain anonymous.