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Top tips for trainee pharmacists starting their placement year

There are many unknowns for trainee pharmacists starting their placement year. But by following these top tips, you can optimise your chances of success, says Zhyar Said

The placement year could be the first full-time job for many trainee pharmacists. So, striking a work-life balance allowing you to revise for the final exam as well can be strenuous. Zhyar Said achieved 95% in the final exam during his trainee year and shares his top tips here.


Tackle the clinical side early


To make the most of your trainee year, tackle the clinical side first. The best thing to do would be to complete your notes in the first few months to ensure you can apply this knowledge to practice. It will also make your revision period a lot simpler before the exam!

Read more: Top tips for pharmacy students ranking their Oriel preferences

While four to five months is typically enough to memorise all of the clinical side of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) framework, you’re not learning the clinical element to pass an exam but to become a pharmacist. Do you really want to be processing prescriptions in the dispensary and have no idea what is going on in front of you because your clinical knowledge just isn’t where it needs to be?


Keep your educational needs your top priority


What is the end goal of your trainee year? To pass the GPhC exam and become a fully competent pharmacist. Your role as a trainee pharmacist is to learn as much as you can, so that one day when you are a fully qualified pharmacist, you know what you are doing. Though this is your main goal for the year, it is not everyone else’s and you have to appreciate this.

Read more: NHSE to ‘explore’ shortened medical degree programme for pharmacists

For most of us, we will be in a pharmacy, hospital or GP surgery, where the healthcare professionals (HCPs) will be tending to patients as their main priority. Therefore, it is up to you to keep your educational needs your top priority and strike up educational conversations with your tutor.


Make the most of your study hours


Here’s a free calculation question:

“Student X is permitted five study hours per week throughout their 52-week placement and has four weeks annual leave. If covering all of the clinical content takes around 100 hours, how many times in that year could the student cover the clinical topics if using study hours alone?


52 weeks minus four weeks holiday = 48 weeks with study hours
48 weeks multiplied by five hours of study per week = 240 study hours per year
240 hours divided by 100 hours per review of clinical topics = 2.4.”

Read more: NHSE announces 29% increase in pharmacist training places by 2028/29

A student can review the entire clinical syllabus at least twice by only using study hours.

You don’t strictly have to cover just the clinical content in your study hours, but this is just demonstrating the importance of how much you can get done through just your allocated study times. Sure, an hour isn’t enough to cover anything big, but if you set yourself enough small tasks to clear through one at a time, you can get through a lot.


Ask for help when you need it


There are many resources out there to help you through your journey as a trainee pharmacist. These range from educational resources and support to mental health services, to legal advice if you were to ever need it. Some great organisations include Pharmacist Support and the Pharmacist’s Defence Association (PDA).

When it comes to getting yourself through the clinical and calculations knowledge, think about the pros and cons of doing it without subscribing to a course vs doing it alone. As pharmacists, we need to know about cost-effectiveness.

So if you feel like you really need some guidance for the sake of passing the exam the first time around, subscribing to a course might be a financially better choice over failing and losing out months of salary to re-sit the exam. That is by no means to say that you cannot pass without subscribing to a course – plenty have!

Read more: Workforce plan: Pharmacist degree apprenticeship under ‘consideration’

As well as that, try to not go through the year alone. Use the resources that are out there. There is no reason for you not to have someone to talk to when you have a simple question.


Don’t use old materials


This might sound obvious, but the world of pharmacy is constantly changing. Before you start learning from random old notes that you find, make sure you can at least reach out to the author to clarify anything if you see any differences between them and current resources.

Read more: Workforce plan: Pharmacy school says class size increases need 'consideration'

Materials from just two years ago would have massive discrepancies between now and then including guidelines for diabetes, epilepsy, and several infectious diseases. These are larger topics from the GPhC framework, and you’re sitting an exam where every mark really does count.

Good luck!


Zhyar Said is a healthcare analyst and the owner of a trainee pharmacist educational platform on Instagram called @Revise_Pharma

Want to hear what the foundation year is really like? Listen to C+D clinical and content custom editor Nana Ofori-Atta's candid chat with Marvin Munzu of Pre Reg Shortcuts in this podcast, where they share trainees' experiences of what the foundation training year is really like.

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