You only need to turn on the TV on Saturday night to hear stories of people fulfilling their dreams against the odds. With more than a dash of exaggeration, the rags-to-riches stories of reality TV contestants are designed to tug at your heartstrings.
But meeting Niusha Shekarian, who scooped the title of Pre-registration Graduate of the Year at the C+D Awards 2014, serves as a reminder that inspirational stories can be found in everyday lives.
Niusha always wanted to be a pharmacist but family circumstances meant she missed out on the A-level grades she needed to enter pharmacy school. Instead, she embarked on a degree in business management and computing.
At this point, Niusha could easily have decided to settle for a different career. But she remained determined to become a pharmacist and took a biology and chemistry access course after graduating. Five years later, having gained a first in pharmacy at the University of Hertfordshire, she is sitting in the dispensary proudly wearing her Lloydspharmacy badge.
Niusha admits her career path has been somewhat unusual. "When I tell people I have a computing and business background, they don't think it's got anything to do with pharmacy," Niusha explains. "In a way it does – running a business and community pharmacy is business-based. And it doesn't hurt to be good with computers in the dispensary."Business brain
Niusha's business acumen was clearly an important factor in making her pre-registration year worthy of a C+D Award. Not only did she improve the care of patients, but she also boosted the performance of Lloydspharmacy's Wood Green branch in London, where she spent her placement.
Her work on the repeat prescription service is a prime example of this approach. She was keen to secure loyal customers by signing up as many as possible to the scheme. This made her Lloydspharmacy branch the highest in the area for sign-ups for eight weeks running, with many customers thanking Niusha for making their lives easier.
Chatting to customers also made Niusha more aware of when they were coming in for their prescriptions – and how to make the experience more convenient. "Elderly people had to keep coming in at different intervals to get their medicines," Niusha remembers.
She took action by writing a letter to their GPs alerting them to the problem. Although it only required a "simple change" from the doctor, it meant that the patients no longer needed to traipse to the pharmacy unnecessarily. "It would make such a difference to the patient," she tells C+D.
The secret to making this a success was building a good relationship with the local GPs by meeting them in person – something she encourages all pre-reg students to do. "Get yourself out there and get involved with the community," she says. "See if you can help [the GP] in any way," she says, adamant that the better your relationship with your GP, the better your pre-registration year will be.
This enthusiasm for getting involved in the local area was the driving factor behind another of Niusha's business ideas. Spotting a potential gap in the market, she approached every primary and secondary school in the borough to offer pharmacy services.
"We went into the schools and had two full flu clinic days. We had really good feedback and they [the schools] contacted me again and asked about other Lloydspharmacy services," explains Niusha. On the back of this interest, she offered to put together a personalised package of services for the school's staff.
"I sat at home for a few days and decided to make a package of diabetes testing, blood pressure checks, smoking cessation, pain control and weight loss advice – five things offered to every staff member at a certain price per person," Niusha explains.
The outreach project was a success both financially and clinically. Fifty staff members came on each day – taking the combined income of this and the flu days to £900 – and Niusha worked with her tutor to carry out the consultations.
"Everyone focuses on the elderly and care homes, but this was an opportunity to focus on people like teachers, who are mostly under 50," Niusha says. "Four out of 100 had to be referred to their GP. It created awareness of the kinds of things pharmacies can do for them."
Niusha certainly tapped into something that the NHS is trying to push at the moment: pharmacy as a frontline care provider ahead of the GP. "Part of our role is that we take the burden off your GP and A&E. We need them to realise we offer these services and tell their families what the role of the pharmacist is," she stresses.
Niusha clearly made a significant difference in her short time at Lloydspharmacy's Wood Green branch. When she won the C+D Award in June, though, she was completely shocked. "I was very excited when I found out I had won. I wasn't expecting it at all," she says.
She made the most of the opportunity the awards ceremony presented. "It's the best place to network – you're new as a pre-reg so its good to meet other people and get advice from them," Niusha says. "It made a big difference to my future in the following months and a lot of people asked me about the campaigns and the outreach clinic I had done."
Since then, Niusha's career has indeed gone from strength to strength. Soon after scooping the C+D accolade, Niusha won Lloydspharmacy's pre-registration graduate of the year award. Niusha believes her success has been down to sheer hard work.
"[Being a] pre-reg is like carrying two full-time jobs," she says. "If you want to pass the pre-reg exam the first time round, you have to be very committed to studying and not leave everything to the last minute; it's all about time management. You have to forget your social life for a year, but then you have the rest of your life to celebrate and have fun."
Niusha is now working as a full-time pharmacist at Lloydspharmacy in Enfield. There, she is determined to continue her proactive approach. "I have done my vaccination training and I have had a school contact me about this. The NHS has commissioned a lot more vaccines this year and, alongside that, we are going into schools to create awareness, especially with the current Royal Pharmaceutical Society campaign for urgent care," she explains. "Creating awareness is the main thing to me."
In the near future, Niusha has her sights firmly set on becoming a pharmacy manager – a goal that seems realistic considering how much she has achieved in just one year. But she would also like to help other students embark on a successful career in the same way she did. "I'd like to go into teaching and be a pre-reg and regional tutor," she says.
"My pre-reg tutor is now one of my closest friends; building a relationship with them is important. She left me to do what I wanted to do. She knew that I knew my limits."
Niusha has a clear vision of her future in pharmacy. Despite a rocky start to her career, her business training has spurred her on to come up with entrepreneurial ideas and she now works with a determination that sets her apart from the crowd. Her story proves that success is possible – even if things don't exactly go to plan.
Tom Kallis 2013
Following his award win, Tom started work at a Boots store in Plympton, a suburb of Plymouth, Last year, he moved to the multiple's flagship store in central Plymouth, where he now works as manager.
Sarah Patterson 2012
Sarah has progressed to a managerial position at Rowlands in Cults, western Aberdeen, since winning her award. In her role as manager, she has been working to diversify the different services the pharmacy offers to patients.
Sulapha Manaim 2011
After completing her pre-registration year at Paydens in Larkfield, Kent, Sulapha is now manager of the pharmacy company's branch in Hythe, also in Kent.
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