The international pharmacy student – Victoria Becheva

Victoria Becheva

is international experience beneficial to the pharmacy profession?

Pharmacy’s rapid progress during the last decades showed us that worldwide there are more and more challenges for pharmacists. Because of this international experience is essential to incorporating new concepts, improving healthcare services and education and helps us gain higher levels of proficiency by using approaches different that these in our own country.

In the era we live where the world is more open than ever, the more we learn about cultural differences, the better we understand patients and add value to the projects of the institution we work for. Witnessing the latest pharmacy developments and different working styles and comprehending the pharmacy systems in other countries can provide (future) professionals with new ideas about improvement, learning and professional development. But why is this so important?

It’s well known that pharmacy practice and education and not standardized worldwide which presents difficulties in understanding and integrating different models within the clinical and the industrial field. Studying and working abroad provides you with important knowledge and understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the pharmacy system in your own country.

It strengthens your leadership and communication skills – you become more independent, adaptive, self-reliant and open-minded, which are important skills to master, given that among other professionals, pharmacists have the most access to patients.

Moreover, you receive the chance to step out of your comfort zone and experience the kind of stress that gives you psychological hardiness. In addition there’s also the other side of the coin that people usually forget, namely hosting someone from another country. This also comes with facing different situations and challenges and expands your vision about the profession.

Let’s take an example: if we have a historical look to some of the most powerful cities in the world like London or Amsterdam, we notice that they ruled the world by being open, global and international. So in order to rule the world one must think global. This is why it is of highest importance to strive to provoke interest and instil motivation in gaining international experience in the early stages of a person’s career.

Encouraging students and young pharmacy professionals to open their eyes for such more global viewpoint could provide us with a stronger future work force and eventually lead to a new improved generation of pharmacists.

Last but not least, it’s not necessary to go abroad for a long period of time. Even a shorter stay in a foreign country (a few months) or joining an international non-governmental organization could be advantageous.  What’s actually scary is leaving your work or university and travelling hundreds or thousands of kilometers to do something which might not turn out to be what you had expected. Accepting such a challenge says something about such people’s personality and that kind of determination and flexibility are being looked for by many employers in the pharmacy sector.

Victoria Becheva is a pharmacy student at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, she also works for the European Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (EPSA) as National Individual Mobility Project (IMP) coordinator

Additional information
Individual Mobility Project

Are you a newly qualified pharmacist? Here are Roshani Patel’s top tips

Roshani Patel
Roshani Patel

THE registration examination is over now, but what next? Have you thought about this?

Let me propose a few further questions to you all:

  • Are you feeling confused?
  • Not sure about your next career move?
  • Or not sure what needs to be done?

It’s okay if you are feeling all the above. But, something to bear in mind is that you are not alone, every student across the country goes through the same emotions, and remember there is always support and guidance available.

Two years on as a community pharmacist, this is my advice on how you can establish your career and stand out from the crowd. There are three key areas which I have highlighted below that I feel are fundamental in establishing a successful career from day one.

The first steps
Sit back, relax and enjoy the freedom, however there are a few aspects to be considered.

Curriculum Vitae (CV) — No matter what job you decided to apply for, an employer will request to see a CV.

Is yours up to date? Does it reflect your recent qualifications, job and skills? Don’t panic if your CV needs some work. Take some time out and make the necessary changes that are needed to allow you to stand out at your next job interview.

Are you stuck on how to improve your CV? No idea where to start from? Again, do not panic, as there are some great resources and articles out there that can be used to give you an idea on how to write a successful CV. A great article that I would recommend is How to write a successful CV published by the Pharmaceutical Journal. Also, consider having a look at pharmacy CV templates online. Another way to improve your CV is to take the opportunity to ask to look at CVs from friends that have already graduated and are pharmacists.

Business cards — YES, business cards, a great way to leave a lasting impression with any future employer. They are small, easy to distribute and you can be as creative as you like. No matter what career pathway you choose, it’s always good to have one.

Something I have personally experienced is that you never know who you might bump into. So, always keep one in your purse or wallet. A few things to remember: when designing your card make sure it is not too over-complicated, the card should be simple; use colours and a template that will stand out; and lastly, don’t forget to include your General Pharmaceutical Society (GPhC) registration number, this will allow employers to check that you are a registered pharmacist in the United Kingdom (UK).

Services — You may have all heard of Medicine Use Review (MURs), New Medicine Service (NMS) and Emergency Hormonal Contraception (EHC). These are three key services that every employer will ask if you are accredited to provide, especially in the community sector.

So, don’t wait around – get yourself accredited for these services as soon as possible. In previous years, many students have often been confused about which provider to use; take some time out and research the providers to see which one is the best for you.

As you are aware, the pharmacy profession is changing and the future is focussing on a patient-centred approach. What does this mean for you? And how do you stand out from the crowd? The NHS has many key priorities, which the pharmacy profession is trying to ensure we meet at all times.

Two of the national key priorities that have been developed in the last year are consultation skills and polypharmacy. A lot of employers want employees to complete these modules. I would highly recommend you to have a look at this, including those considering working within the hospital sector. A great learning resource to navigate through this is the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate education (CPPE). This will not only allow you complete these services, but will allow you to enhance your career.

Also, the CPPE highlights other national priorities that I would strongly advise you to have a closer look at and complete. This will not only show any future employer your determination to stand out from the crowd, but that you are up-to-date with your knowledge and clinical skills. Other services that are important to consider are Stop Smoking and Flu Vaccination service.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) — There is often a lot of confusion created around this subject in how to go about obtaining one, and many of you may have had a DBS check carried out at university, so try to obtain the certificate if you have had one done previously.

A lot of employers will request for a DBS check to be carried out on you, so be aware. It is nothing to be worried about; it is simply a legal aspect that is fundamental, especially when accepting jobs in hospitals or other companies. Those of you considering locum work, it is also good to ensure that you obtain one and keep it filed away. Some locum agencies are now providing this service at a charge, so do enquire.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) — Remaining to be an active member of the RPS will not only allow you to keep up-to-date with the recent news and updates, but will also allow you to keep up-to-date with events and network opportunities in your local areas or on a national level.

I highly recommend for you all to take a closer look at that the RPS, as they have recently developed the RPS Foundation Programme aimed at all pharmacists in their first 1000 days of practice. This programme, will not only improve your knowledge and various clinical skills, but will also be a great contribution to your CV. I strongly encourage you all to renew your RPS membership and remain an active member

Insurance — As a newly qualified pharmacist do not make the mistake of not being legally covered. You never know when you will be in need of some legal advice in relation to work. I highly recommend those of you in need of indemnity cover to take a closer look at providers and choose the one best for you.

Career pathway
The greatest thing about being a pharmacist is that you are not restricted by the diversity of work available. Yes, many qualified pharmacists do generally choose to work in either the community or hospital sector, but there are other routes that can be considered. So, do not feel as though you are restricted on your choice.

One thing I will mention is that it’s important to  learn to adapt your career to evolve around changes. This will allow you to excel in your career from day one. There are many job opportunities available in various sectors of the pharmacy profession, be wise with the decision you make. I would strongly advise you to consider taking some time out, explore and do some research.

Those of you considering the hospital route, have a think about completing a diploma. This will not only improve your clinical knowledge and skills, but will allow you to enhance your career. However, those of you that are considering the community sector, consider doing the RPS Foundation Programme.

Network, network and network at all time. This is a great way to be able to meet and interact with new people within the profession. Take every opportunity given to network, you never know who you will bump into. As a newly qualified pharmacist be active, be sociable and continue to learn at every opportunity given.

Make sure you join twitter as it is a great networking resource, something I have personally experienced. As an active member of the RPS join your local practice forum (LPF) — this will not only enable you to feel more involved with the profession, but will also allow you to meet and interact with other pharmacists. Also try to attend events on a national level throughout the year — these will provide you with great networking opportunities and be useful for  continuous professional development (CPD).

The transition from pre-registration pharmacist to a newly qualified pharmacist can be extremely daunting. There is plenty of support and guidance available at all times, so never feel alone or disconnected with the profession. Take every opportunity as it comes and continue to improve your professional development at all times.

The world of pharmacy is changing, learn to adapt and to do things that will allow you to stand out from the crowd.

Good Luck!

Roshani Patel is a community Pharmacist

Follow Roshani @roshani170587

PhDoh! My experience in gaining a PhD


Dr Li-Shean Toh

NEVER in my wildest dreams did I think I would pursue a PhD. It seemed something so alien to me, I mean, these were the smart people right?

I sometimes multiply numbers wrongly or don’t quite know how to open a milk carton! I did, however, always know I wanted to be a pharmacist. Doe-eyed, I entered the pharmacist workforce. I tried out different fields such as tertiary hospitals, community and general practice. I loved my job, I love my patients and I found the ins and outs of medications ever so fascinating.

But, after all the years working as a pharmacist, I noticed that there were always improvements that could be made in the healthcare system. Quite often as a front-liner you are too busy with your patients’ immediate needs and it was difficult to make a strategic change affecting the larger picture. I got enveloped in prescriptions, and seeing patients get better seemed enough. Yet, there are days that I felt jaded, I wanted to do more and there was this incredible intellectual itch, to learn more.

Lift off
A serendipitous encounter with one of my supervisors in the hospital staircases gave me the push I needed. I got lost in a new hospital, and her liking to taking the stairs instead of the elevator gave us an opportunity to talk about research and her PhD. It was inspiring, I pondered with the idea and ended up trying for scholarships.

After much sweat and tears with numerous applications, I finally got a scholarship from the University of Nottingham which was also a fortunate happenstance where I met my second supervisor at an education fair, who introduced me to a third supervisor with the funding. After going through the application process and interviews, I embarked on my PhD on a part-time basis which lasted a year. After that, I switched to full-time.

I thought I went into my PhD with my eyes open. However, when people said “it was difficult,” I thought they were referring to just the intellectual impasses. Truth is, no one really talks about the unexpected challenges such as the emotional and motivational difficulties. When doing a PhD the freedom is nice, but it adds an element of anxiety. Even with very supportive supervisors, I have constantly asked myself “Am I doing this right? What if all I’ve done is wrong and they’d fail me at the end of three years?”

Frustration is also a common friend throughout a PhD. Frustration when the research you do gets stuck, when you are trying to work through a problem, but you don’t know what else you can do. You are supposed to be the expert right? If you can’t solve the problem, no one else can… Supervisors and peers can offer you a different perspective, but the pressure is immense.

A seemingly simple task like writing a thesis takes a toll on your determination and endurance. There are some days I got so fed up and annoyed by merely looking at my thesis feedback. I would avoid reality and sleep for three days straight with the irrational hope of making it all go away.

As you go along, you realise everyone can regurgitate and apply the knowledge. But, creating new information is what a PhD is about. The more you read, the more you realise you don’t know. And that’s what it’s all about, about exploring, creating new knowledge and making changes. Of challenging the well-known science status quo, and pushing the norms outside of their comfort zone (see the image below).

Aside from the emotional component, the intellectual impasses were as perilous as I had feared. In the first year, I had to study a bunch of things I had no idea existed or thought I needed. My research interest was about osteoporosis, but before I could do research I needed to understand the philosophy of science, and methodology that goes hand-in-hand with it. There was jargon galore that sounded more like Dothraki (Game of Thrones reference) to my ears than proper English.

There is an ocean of literature you have to swim through on your own. But after surviving this journey, I can now navigate through the large amount of data by quickly identifying the useful and the not. Hence, deriving information and then knowledge from the huge amount of data gathered.

Expanding comfort zones
Socially, I didn’t expect the need for self-promotion. I knew that the competition for academic jobs was fierce, but I had not known the amount of self-promotion needed in networking at events such as conferences. This is not something that comes naturally to me and it didn’t help that I don’t use social media well. Putting myself out there was something I had to learn, self-promoting when I felt a certain amount of “imposter syndrome” was really difficult.

I did however, adore the travel bit that comes with the conferences. People and their cultures travel from all over the world to meet and discuss ideas at these conferences. It rejuvenates and inspires me to meet people whose work I have cited. It was a fan girl moment for me when I could discuss my project with one of the authors of a renowned paper. I was giddy with excitement and all the days of banging my head on the keyboard was worth it!

Additional costs
Another factor I didn’t anticipate was the cost on friends and the increased isolation, you tend to follow the social rules of the academia, at the expense of your own personal ways. A friend of mine once asked “Why do all you PhD students seem to work till late nights and eat at odd hours? You don’t even work? You’re just doing some research at Uni right?” But they have very different lives and might not get why you are so stressed and busy all the time. They may have good intentions by asking things like ‘How is your PhD going?”, the dreaded “When are you finishing your thesis” or “Does your research have any impact in everyday lives?”

These academic social norms can lead to detachment from your old friends as the work done throughout a PhD is very different from a 9-5 work week.

The best advice I can give before embarking on a PhD journey is to read books on it and/or talk to someone who recently completed their PhD. My third supervisor did strongly emphasis during my interview: “You will need to work very hard for your PhD. I mean hard, as in VERY hard. Do you understand me? I mean really VERY HARD,” and every bit of that is true.

The PhD journey is a hard one. Every PhD candidate has had major euphoric ups and epic fallings, including crying buckets. But I haven’t met anyone who has regretted embarking on a PhD journey whether they have completed it or not. I never regretted mine and I still want to make changes albeit, baby steps because like the famous saying goes ‘If not me, who? If not now, when?”



Dr Li-Shean Toh is a lecturer in medicines management at the University of Tasmania

Jailhouse pharmacy rocks – fancy doing time in a different sector?

shaun hockey

WHEN I heard the clang as the gate was closed behind me for the first time, I have to admit that I was a bit nervous. Would there be serial killers walking around all over the place? Would there be fights left, right and centre and where was the pipe I could escape through if I was mistakenly locked in a cell in true Andy Dufresne style from Shawshank.

That was 10 years ago, and I’ve now worked in six different prisons and I have to say, I find it really rewarding. There’s no doubt that it can be a challenging environment to work in – the nature of the patients you are working with dictates that, but these are quite often people with really complicated backgrounds, many abusive in nature and with a sprinkling of substance misuse thrown in to the mix in many cases.

The best thing about working in prisons or secure hospitals though is the other members of the healthcare team – GPs, dentists, general and mental health nurses, physiotherapists, radiographers, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. We all work together to deliver the best possible care to the patients, however they present.

So from a professional and financial perspective, locum work in secure environments is really worth considering.

Accessing locum sessions can be tricky. But if you are ready, willing, and able to give it a go call an agency with experience working in secure environments and they can guide you through the compliance and security requirements.

Shaun Hockey is pharmacist. He runs a medical recruitment company, Medacy. Check out his site for vacancies.