I have watched with interest the aftermath of the This Morning clip and the uproar and social media activity that has ensued.
And rightly so too.
Whilst my team and I were busy looking after our patients the very notion of our hard work and existence was being denigrated publicly on national TV.
I found this a very bitter pill to swallow, but it has also left me reflecting on our profession’s perception, reputation and representation.
When I was 16, I attended a careers session held by my secondary school. I told the lady running the interview that I wanted to be a pharmacist. I always had wanted to be a pharmacist yet she tried to discourage me. She said to me you are a ‘straight A’ student so why don’t you become a Doctor or go to Oxbridge instead?
I remember feeling quite insulted and vehemently trying to defend the role of a pharmacist to her. If we are honest to ourselves, pharmacists, rightly or wrongly, have always been one of those professions that have felt they have something to prove.
I think I personally accepted that if we are to change the perception of pharmacists, that change would need to begin with me.
I can quite honestly say that for the majority of my career I have worked tirelessly to do just this. I cheekily call myself a self-proclaimed cheerleader for pharmacy and have without over-dramatising it made it my mission to champion pharmacy from the grassroots.
If we think about why the comments were made by those individuals on This Morning, we could say they were born from ignorance. My greater concern is that these comments were based on poor experiences of interactions within pharmacy. Perhaps these experiences left a lasting misconception of the role of a pharmacist?
I don’t think we can underestimate the impact of each and every interaction we make daily as pharmacists and I feel quite strongly that each of these interactions must be professional and personal. In fact, my pharmacy motto is ‘to make every contact count on a personal and professional level’. I always tell my team that you have to assume every customer is a mystery shopper/ Which reporter/ GPhC inspector/your family member and best friend rolled into one. I’ve worked hard to build a pharmacy team that share my values so that every interaction between my team and our patients is a meaningful one.
I found the ‘shop-keeper’ comments quite amusing.
Controversial, I know, but I actually enjoy being a ‘shop-keeper’. One of the main reasons I like this title is that it makes me treat my patients as customers. I feel I owe these people good customer service. I have a saying on my counter for my team:
“If we don’t look after the customer, someone else will”.
Treating a patient as a customer in my eyes notches them up on the level in terms of the care and service they receive from me and my team.
Finally the comments about Pharmacists ‘pretending to be doctors’ and ‘picking boxes of shelves” are the ones that I have found most grating.
For the 15+ years, I have been a community pharmacist. I have never pretended to be Doctor. In fact quite the opposite, I have worked to improve the reputation of pharmacists by doing so much more than just picking a box of a shelf.
Patients have benefited from most pharmacists offering so much more such as advice during an MUR, having a chat about concerns when starting a new medicine during a NMS intervention, receiving a flu jab or being helped to give up smoking. The list could go on and interestingly will go on as our service offering grows.
Societies naturally have biases and prejudices.
I’ve made it my professional goal to challenge these and change mindsets when it comes to perceptions and the reputation of pharmacists. Anytime someone has asked me to do a presentation on pharmacy, I have said yes. I have talked about pharmacy to local charities, schools, MPs, Patient Participation Groups, faith groups, GPs, nurses, CCG leads, Health Authority leads, at national conferences and the list goes on.
Not because I love the limelight and am a secret megalomaniac, but quite literally because I want to raise the profile of Pharmacists.
I sometimes have reached out to the local and national bodies in frustration and asked why aren’t you representing me more, but I have realised that their job would be so much easier if we were all representing ourselves better.
Quite early on in my contractor life, I approached a local senior pharmacy figure and asked him why he didn’t do more to market community pharmacy and he cited the famous JKF quote to me, he said:
“Reena, don’t ask what pharmacy can do for you, but what you can do for pharmacy”.
Initially, I was a little underwhelmed by his response, but then unwittingly this has become one of my main careers aims.
Finally, my pharmacy heart has been bursting with pride with every comment on the #whatwedoinpharmacy twitter thread which was a great idea to shatter the misconceptions and raise awareness of our roles. I’d also like to say a personal thank you to Amit Sahdev for his interview on This Morning. Well done for being a new, fresh, positive face of pharmacy. You did a fantastic job advocating for our profession.
I really hope this inspires more fresh faces to learn to use their ‘pharmacy’ voice to represent the sector in a positive light.
I definitely could do with some more pharmacy cheerleaders to join my gang.
Reena Barai is an independent community pharmacist, NPA board member, Fellow of RPS and self-proclaimed ‘cheerleader’ for pharmacy.