I get knocked down but I get up again (Chumbawamba)
Part of the reasoning for not being granted an interview was because it was a role that required the incumbent to have a degree or equivalent experience. Those of you who, like me, have navigated Agenda for Change for many years will know that proving that you have equivalent experience to a degree is near on impossible. So, despite going through a very rough patch in my personal life I signed up for a Foundation Degree in Medicines Management and Pharmacy Services at the University of Huddersfield. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made and I graduated with a distinction.
It turned out that no-one knew what a Foundation Degree was and when I explained the response was: ‘Why don’t you give up your job and go and do a pharmacy degree?’ So three years of intense study whilst working full time and managing a challenging home life didn’t cut the mustard. The pharmacy world still only saw the qualifications that I needed to register as a pharmacy technician. It wasn’t interested in the competencies I’d gained along the way never mind my shiny new qualification that was designed to demonstrate that I was an advanced practitioner. To be frank not much has changed in the intervening nine years and there is still no advanced practitioner framework.
I never intended for my career to be anything other than clinically orientated however to do that I’d have had to stand still as there were no clinically orientated courses for technicians. I wasn’t prepared to do that and so
It was time to diversify
Moving into pharmacy contract management was a big move for me, not least because the role didn’t require me to be a pharmacy professional and so I risked leaving my hard fought for roots behind. However, I soon learned that being a pharmacy professional gave me so much more credence when talking to contractors about the services they provided because I was better able to understand their point of view and I could speak in a language that they understood.
On the education front, the universities that I approached to undertake ‘top-up’ modules to gain that elusive bachelor’s degree weren’t very forthcoming. In the search, I stumbled on a new course – Postgraduate Certificate in Leadership and Management in Health and Social Care. The course blurb said that a pre-requisite for the course was a 2:1 in a relevant subject. I prepared myself for another stomp of the foot but found that I didn’t need to: for the first time ever my (then) twenty years’ experience actually counted for something and I was accepted onto the course. I knew it was a massive jump from foundation level to masters level and I promised myself that if I failed a module I would admit defeat and leave the course because I had neither the time nor the inclination for repeating assignments. I learned a significant amount about self-belief during this time, because that self-expected failure never came and in 2012 I got to wear a cap and gown for the second time, not with a postgraduate certificate but with a full Masters in Leadership and Management in Health and Social Care.
Finally, I was able to meet the actual educational requirements that job descriptions that I was interested in were stating.
Do I finally feel accepted?
In a word – No!
Despite the qualifications and the competencies I’ve gained along my 30-year journey, I’m still battling with job descriptions that ask for a General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) registrant but what they really mean is ‘we want a pharmacist’. Why? Mainly because the social norms of the pharmacy world still dictate that senior roles are performed by pharmacists. I took a risk taking on roles that relate to pharmacy but don’t require a pharmacy professional to be in post. It was meant to be a short-term diversion to demonstrate the levels I was capable of working at. Unless those social norms are challenged it’s more likely that it will be a permanent move.
I have several challenges to end this blog:
- As pharmacy professionals let’s have a sensible and structured debate on establishing clear and defined career pathways for all pharmacy professionals.
- If you are a recruiter, think long and hard about the competencies you want a post to encompass and before you opt for the stereotypical ‘thou shalt be a pharmacist’ ask yourself if that is really necessary or could a technician with the right background, knowledge and skills perform that role just as well.
- If you’ve had a similar fight for your career, NEVER GIVE UP. Instead, share your experiences because without them we have nothing to learn from and most importantly nothing to build upon.
Alison Hemsworth is national programme lead, pharmacy contracts and projects at NHS England, and is an honorary visiting senior fellow in pharmacy policy at the University of Bradford School of Pharmacy
Follow Alison @