A split training course transformed my vision of community pharmacy

It’s been almost two years since this highly anticipated email from Oriel arrived in my inbox and was offered my pre-registration training at Woolpit Health Center as a community / GP shared internship.

It was a welcome relief as I hadn’t performed as I had hoped in Oriel’s multiple mini-interviews and situational judgment tests. I wasn’t sure what to expect but, looking back on my experience, I’m really happy and grateful for how things turned out.

The Woolpit Health Center is located in Woolpit – a Suffolk village with a population of almost 2,000 and, according to Wikipedia, is “noteworthy for the 12th century legend of the Green Children of Woolpit”. With such a small population, it must be a pretty boring place to work, right? Not at all.

The practice serves around 14,000 patients and, due to its rural location, it is not just a doctor’s practice but a dispensing practice. This means that a dispensing physician can dispense the patient’s medications if they live too far from a community pharmacy.

What makes the Woolpit Health Center even more atypical is that it also has a “normal” pharmacy, which makes it a hybrid dispensary / pharmacy model. I didn’t expect a rural pharmacy to be particularly busy, but with around 1,000 items distributed each day, there are always opportunities to learn.

As with many MPharm students, the community pharmacy didn’t sell well to me – I was concerned that it was boring and not very clinical. By comparison, the world of hospital pharmacy has always been glamorous, and it turned out that if you didn’t strive to do your pre-admission year in a hospital, then you weren’t ambitious enough. I wasn’t entirely sure what industry I wanted to get into and ideally would have loved to try all three.

My pre-registration training provider was not your standard pharmacy – as it was part of the surgery, we had access to all patient records just like general practitioners do. This meant we knew exactly what medications a patient was taking, their conditions, and recent consultations with various medical professionals.

This allows the pharmacist to better understand a patient’s needs and build a better rapport. I have often had to remind myself that this is not the norm in many places and also wonder why it is not. This access meant that pharmacists could provide better and more holistic care to patients. Even when we were faced with trivial issues like inventory issues or minor prescription errors, we didn’t have to call an office and try to contact the GP to issue a new script. Instead, the pharmacists simply issued an alternative and informed the prescriber. I would like to think that this is where the future of community pharmacy is headed, and I feel privileged to have been part of such a progressive model.

Working in this unusual environment as the only pre-registration intern was rather difficult. I often found myself worrying about what I didn’t know and then had to step back and remember that I – a recently graduated pre-enrollment student – compared myself to pharmacists, doctors and nurses who have been qualified for many years.

I feel very fortunate to have been trained in this multidisciplinary environment. This is one aspect of hospital pharmacy that I am sure is attracted to many, except that it is on a smaller scale, which makes it possible to get to know everyone better and to ask questions that you would otherwise be too shy to pose.

Each day was like no other. Some days, I dispensed, I served the patients and I supplemented the controlled drugs Register. Other days, I would process letters from the clinic, take care of doctors ‘duties, and help with patients’ medication requests. As my confidence and experience grew, I began to treat minor ailments and did medication reviews as well as long term condition reviews.

One of the most memorable consultations I have had was with an older patient whose asthma medication I reviewed. This patient would request two salbutamol inhalers each month. When I asked them how they used their inhalers, they told me they used the relief three to four times a day and the preventative when they had a cold. Even though they have had asthma most of their lives, they have never been told how asthma is treated and how the different inhalers work.

The patient was grateful for my explanation and agreed to use his preventer regularly. Being able to use my pharmaceutical knowledge to help someone and potentially improve their condition is an incredibly rewarding feeling and I am so lucky to have been able to experience it early in my career.

My pre-registration training was comprehensive and could not have prepared me any better for life as a newly graduated pharmacist. It made me fall in love with primary care and I am extremely grateful to be a part of this industry. I am now employed by Suffolk Primary Care as a clinical pharmacist for the East Suffolk Primary Care Network.

To all final year students who are eagerly awaiting their basic education: wherever you are, take advantage and make the most of it. I found the Oriel process extremely stressful and yet, without it, I would never have found the hidden gem that was my pre-registration training course.

Sally sosnicka is a clinical pharmacist for the East Suffolk Primary Care Network



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