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‘Adopting a positive attitude could be pharmacy's saviour’

"My positive psychology has had a battering"

Community pharmacist Ali Sparkes explains how positivity and resilience helped her overcome injury and financial stress

Dear readers,

In my introductory blog for C+D I invited you to join me on a rollercoaster of emotion. I think those words might have been a little prophetic. In the spirit of authenticity I thought I’d share a story with you, as a lesson in life and leadership for us all.

Just four days after writing that first blog, I found myself flat on my back in a farmer’s field (no sniggering at the back). I only wish my fall could have been filmed for its amazing speed, as it could have earned me a fortune in today’s zeitgeist of memes. Once I’d achieved a seated position and engaged my clinical diagnostic skills, a quick assessment told me that my leg shouldn’t move easily to the left while my foot remained static.

Three months later I’m getting back to walking, slowly and with the aid of some snazzy stainless steel plates and screws. It has been quite the CPD exercise. Was I taught where the syndesmosis ligament was at undergraduate level? I think not, but it was a long time ago. Certainly, my positive psychology has had a battering. I’ve had to endure the financial stresses of being off work. I’ve had the dog rehomed (I hope temporarily) and my cat Joey died suddenly (even a huge vet bill couldn’t save him). My painful experience hasn’t always been the stuff of nobility in suffering, but I always try to put things in perspective.

My adoption of positive psychology is very practical. As my dear mum would have said: “There’s always someone worse off than you.” It’s more than fluffy quotes and being happy all the time. At its core, positive psychology is about resilience and finding meaning in what we do.

As part of my coaching qualification, I read a book by Viktor Frankl titled Man’s Search for Meaning. The book draws on the author's real-life experience of the concentration camps in World War II. It has its critics. Its essence, however, is about surviving in difficult times and how one’s attitude can be a matter of life or death.

Why is this relevant to pharmacy? We need resilience skills in a profession with ever-increasing stress levels. And our customers do too. Last time, I blogged about the social aspect of healthcare becoming much more important and how clinical skills should be taken for granted by nature of our education.

I believe we need leadership – including self-leadership – skills to augment our clinical skills, and coaching is a great method of achieving this. Coaching is about acknowledging and respecting people’s inner core and abilities. Very often in healthcare, we label people as diseased, or even as a disease – a diabetic, for example. This detracts from the skills and core of human existence and resilience. If we think of the origin of the word disease, it’s not an external event, its meaning is a “lack of ease”.

Frankl – who had a medical degree and later became director of the Vienna Polyclinic of Neurology – suggested one's primary focus should be to enlighten others to their own internal resources and provide them tools to use their inner core. Think of the power of this intervention! We understand the effect of the placebo, but what about counteracting the “nocebo” – the negative expectations of treatment? How much more could we add to self-care skills, compliance and self-efficacy with an approach of coaching and positive psychology coupled with clinical knowledge?

Probably Frankl’s best-known quote from Man’s Search for Meaning is: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

If things are going well today, hurrah and enjoy every moment, but be sure to save this for the next corker of a day, where having the right attitude could just be our saviour.

Ali Sparkes is director of The Health Dispensary in Neath, Wales, and winner of the C+D Award for Independent Pharmacy of the Year 2017


Leon The Apothecary, Student

A good attitude is always good to have, and I would add to that by including the importance of standing up when something is wrong, and by not accepting stresses disingenuously as being part of the job.

Respectfully, "There’s always someone worse off than you" is very bad advice to give to someone, and I will never give it to someone personally. Most people are well aware that there are others suffering. It comes across as insensitive, not supportive. 

Such a phrase can stop people talking about their issues and internalising their problems which can lead to self-doubt, self-guilt, self-blame, self-shame and self-trivialising.

Those five simple words trivialise what the person is going through as if their current situation is actually not important or difficult to manage. Whatever someone is experiencing, whether it be big or small, is important.


Bob Dunkley, Locum pharmacist

And for more down to earth pharmacists there is Pharmacist Support.

dave de cat, Community pharmacist

a positive (or negative) attitude probably isnt going to actually pay the overdue wholesaler bill

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Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Heartl
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