Back to the Future
By 1993 I’d been a stay at home mum for three years. It seemed unlikely that I’d ever return to pharmacy, so I sought a part-time job that I could fit around looking after my children. I stumbled into being a Tupperware™ sales consultant. It’s ok to snigger; many did at the time. It was, however, a time for seizing opportunities and this role taught me the art of presentation. We all know how important that is in the modern healthcare world, particularly if you are ambitious and I’m VERY ambitious.
A Tardis ride to 2000 sees me working in an aseptic suite. I didn’t stay for long as it was clear that career progression was still limited. However it was a good platform to get back into the profession.
In 2001 I took a leap of faith…
I accepted a prescribing support technician role in a Primary Care Trust (PCT). The learning curve was a vertical straight line and was very scary. There was no peer group. There was just me. I only had a pharmacist to refer to for half the week and being able to work autonomously became vital.
To compensate for that lack of a peer group I joined the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK just as they were starting to discuss technician registration. I later became one of the first technicians to enter the voluntary register in 2005.
The pharmacist I worked with was (and still is) an academic and she was the catalyst behind the academic journey I ultimately undertook myself. I’d found someone who believed in me and gave me work that suited my competencies and not necessarily the qualifications I did or didn’t have. Eventually the prescribing support role morphed into community pharmacy development.
Keep a full bag of tricks
Portfolio working is a brilliant way to learn new skills and build networks. I embarked on this journey from 2004 and in addition to working in the PCT I had simultaneous roles in the following settings: NVQ Assessor – predominantly in community pharmacy; bank technician in a private hospital; and community pharmacy services facilitator for a Local Pharmaceutical Committee (LPC).
The NVQ assessor role saw me return to study after 20 years absence, setting the scene for more formal study later. Importantly, I had another line manager who believed in me, this time a fellow technician. The bank technician role maintained my dispensing competencies (vital for the NVQ assessor role) and the role with the LPC was crucial to how my future panned out because it helped me in the following ways:
To start to build extensive strategic networks with community pharmacy became a further example of valuing team members for their competencies and a chance to see community pharmacy development through the eyes of contractors instead of commissioners.
This was a defining moment in my career.
Beware of the big bad wolf
Agenda for Change brought with it great anxiety due to the mapping of core qualifications, which by then had become an NVQ 3 only. It’s a very clinically biased framework and it became a major barrier to career progression. It also brought with it role discrimination. For the first (but not the last) time I experienced meeting the person specification for the job:
Registrant of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (as it was then)
A minimum of 5 years post qualification experience but being rejected for interview on the basis I wasn’t a pharmacist.
I suddenly felt very disconnected and not worthy despite having held the reins on that very same job for 18 months.
If you are a fan of Ted Talks you will have watched Brené Brown and listened to her say that the root of disconnection is shame and that ‘the thing that underpins this is excruciating vulnerability.’
What I didn’t understand at the time was that this when I first learned to build resilience. That’s really important, because as Brown also says when we feel vulnerable ‘one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability.’ When we do that we numb other emotions, we feel sad etc. and it’s a vicious cycle. However when we embrace vulnerability and start saying ‘I’m enough … then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves’ (Brown 2010). For me, that opened more widely the doors to success.