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'We must protect the heart of our profession': A love letter to community pharmacy

This Valentine's Day, Ade Williams articulates why he loves community pharmacy and wants to see it flourish

I love pharmacy because I love people.

People. The eccentricities, peculiarities and increasing impatience. Community pharmacy places you right in front and amid the unpredictable whirlwind of emotions that come with wellbeing concerns.

The rawness of humanity and its vulnerability are unmasked as anxiety, fear, relief, and frustrations play out.

The relationships with your team – a group of people grounded in their interdependence, confidence, and reliance on each other – underpin all we offer to the public and patients.

Everyone who steps into a community pharmacy is afforded dignity, respect and acceptance.

Read more: ‘Communities are in a wellbeing crisis, they need pharmacy'

It is a type of love that does not demand reciprocity but always deserves respect.

These are the uncompromising values that have defined community pharmacy for generations.

It is not always easy to sustain, no more so than today.

Levels of uncertainty and an ever-present sense that we lack of agency can make us feel like we are an unanchored vessel being tossed about on choppy seas, with tumultuous waves bashing against us.

The daily pressures we face doing our best for those we care about are breaking many of us.

It will certainly break at some point. For many, it already has.

Things only worsen knowing there is no one out there but those on board the vessel with you –  your team, who care enough to save you.

The richness of the team, mining resilience through shared humour and kindness, is priceless.

The trust put in us demands that we live up to being our best every time and in every encounter.

So we offer everyone that comes through the door this precious gift, never grudgingly.

Read more: Pharmacists are not 'cheap' substitutes for GPs – we are so much more

You are never faceless in a pharmacy. We will always see you and want you to know this.

The banter and laughs over the counter are matched by the relief of a concern discussed, or a fear shared in the privacy of the consultation room. We see you.

Sometimes one look is all it takes to know. ‘‘I have just been given a cancer all clear."

"My husband just died."

"My mum is now in a hospice."

The safety that trust in us affords makes the unmasking of emotions, the most uncommon of British traits, natural in a pharmacy.

Every day without fail, there is something unexpected that floors you.

Read more: How my pharmacy responded to a nightmare flood before Christmas

The patient who regularly comes in to drop off money for those who cannot pay for prescriptions.

A patient’s son fulfilling one of their Dad’s last wishes – a thank you for the care provided over the years.

Or the patient recovering from opioid dependence writing you a poem describing how it feels to hear the birds again.

Through pain and disappointment, interwoven with the thrills and ecstatic joy, we share, life is a richer, vivid tapestry.   

Pharmacy’s great privilege is also our foremost responsibility – to look after people.

They are also increasingly becoming worried about us.

Read more: ‘Community pharmacy needs to wake up to its wellbeing disaster’

At its most admirable and attractive, pharmacy is all heart but never reckless. Passionate, irrepressible, and unfailing.

Sadly, if we do not protect the heart of our profession, we will have only a functional and inflexible form.

This will be difficult for people to fall in love with or admire.


Ade Williams is superintendent pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy in Bristol

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