A new type of pharmacist is now emerging from university, suggests Noel Wicks

Having just celebrated my 39th birthday, it is with some difficulty that I now look back and recall my time at university. I do remember how enjoyable it was and, in particular, I remember my first ever pharmacy practice lesson. This was the subject that most students were excited about doing because, unlike inorganic chemistry, people felt it most represented what they expected to be doing when they qualified.

Two things from that first lesson have stuck in my mind ever since. The first thing was the total luxury of having three hours to dispense six prescriptions. The second was the ejection of a classmate who thought it would be fine to rock up 10 minutes late without his lab coat. We learned a couple of important lessons that day: that our pharmacist teacher-practitioner didn’t take any prisoners, and that we were expected to think and, more importantly, behave like professionals. You’ll be glad to know, by the way, that the miscreant in question was allowed back into the next pharmacy practice session, which he made sure he was the first to arrive for.

In the intervening 16 years since I qualified (has it really been that long?) there has been a perceivable change in the motivation and attitudes of students towards their undergraduate career. Is it that the eye-watering debt they accrue has helped to focus the mind or is it due to the continual growth of the practice- related focus on undergraduate education? Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

Whatever the reasons, it seems that the modern undergraduate has evolved over the past decade and that a new breed of pharmacist is emerging from the educational cocoon. This is just as well, because the landscape into which they emerge is more challenging than ever before. In fact, going forward, pharmacists will probably be judged as much on resilience, adaptability and confidence as they will be in their technical knowledge. Of course, the tricky thing for an employer is working out who has these traits and who doesn’t, and who can apply them and who can’t.

I’ve no doubt that concerns raised about recruiting pharmacists with the right skills are valid, though I do wonder whether this has more to do with the traditional style of training we received than a lack of ability or willingness. Perhaps we all need to review our approach to CPD and start to think a bit more out of the box.
If I look back at the sorts of development activities I’ve done, it’s usually been the least traditional ones that have generated the biggest change in my practice: in particular, those done outside the pharmacy, such as sitting in on clinics or attending multidisciplinary conferences.

We shouldn’t just limit ourselves to healthcare training either. I’ve been having a lot of fun recently doing a junior rugby coaching course. This has lots of transferable leadership and growth mindset skills that could be applied equally well in the pharmacy as on the rugby field. Who knows, the tackling practice may even come in useful, too.

Going forward, pharmacists will probably be judged as much on resilience, adaptability and confidence as they will be on their technical knowledge

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