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'What I've learned from my 39-year community pharmacy career'

"I admire the talent, knowledge and enthusiasm of the pharmacists I’ll leave behind"

Graham Brack recounts some of the highs and lows of his four decades in pharmacy

“Have you thought of becoming an actuary?” My careers teacher’s words came as a slap in the face. I didn’t think I was that boring.

At this point, some hereditary obstinancy came into play. Despite chemistry and biology being two of my poorer subjects, I decided to persevere and become a pharmacist. Everybody respected our local chemist in his starched white coat. I could do that.

University days

A few years at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen followed, from which I emerged with a pharmacy degree – and a fiancée. She is Cornish, and so we married in Cornwall, raised a family, and bought a community pharmacy in Truro. Thirty-three years later, we’re hanging up our white coats – although pharmacists don’t wear white coats anymore.

They are long gone, as are mixtures like Mist Mag Carb Aromat (for conditions that cause a ‘nervous disposition’), almost all extemporaneous dispensing, and breaking bulk packs into bottles of 28 during ‘spare’ moments.

Pharmacists no longer hand-write 400 labels a day and, though I would hate to disappoint my old pharmaceutics lecturer Mr Galloway, I have not wrapped a package of medicines in white paper and string for some time.

On the plus side, we don’t have to recite our orders to wholesalers over the telephone, we now have a clear idea what should be in our controlled drug cupboards, and pharmacists are working alongside GPs – as opposed to begging obdurate receptionists to be put through to them.

Starting on the right foot

I remember on our first day at our community pharmacy I walked round the local surgeries, giving the GPs our home telephone number. “If you need us, we will come – any hour, day or night,” I said. “I know you won’t abuse it.”

The GPs were not used to that – and it broke the ice. The knowledge that we wanted to solve problems, not cause them, set the tone for future discussions. A few days later, I rang one GP I had met, to ask him to see a patient I thought might have a dendritic ulcer. I turned out to be right, and years later, when some local GPs were opposed to making chloramphenicol available over the counter, he told them that it didn’t mean pharmacists would miss serious conditions – because we never had before at our pharmacy.

Building lasting relationships

My generation had grants to go to university, which means the taxpayer in the street paid for my education; that entitles them to my best efforts, and a lasting relationship with their pharmacist.

Patients can be maddening, mystifying, fickle creatures. But they’re still people. As people, they are entitled to respect. They don’t magically transform from people to patients when they become ill.

But I hate the phrase ‘patient-centred care’. If it’s not patient-centred, it’s not care. If we don’t keep people at the heart of what we do, we won’t be a caring profession. We won’t deserve their trust, and without that, we can achieve very little. Show you care, and people will forgive a lot. At least they’ve always forgiven me my mistakes.

Time for the new generation

One of the greatest rewards of community practice has been that my wife and I have seen babies that came into our pharmacy in 1985 grow up and have babies of their own. We’ve also watched vigorous adults become older and frailer; and helped some of them during their last days. These patients have watched us become parents and grandparents, while we’ve become if not wiser, then at least more cunning at hiding what we don’t know.

A year ago, my wife looked at me across the dinner table and said, “You know we wondered how we’d know when it’s time to retire? I think it’s time now.” I have granddaughters who need help stacking bricks and putting their socks back on. I admire the talent, knowledge and enthusiasm of the pharmacists I’ll leave behind in a profession I still love, but which has become much more difficult over the years. It’s time to let a new generation of pharmacists take centre stage.

Graham Brack is a community pharmacist and proprietor of Reeds Pharmacy in Truro, Cornwall

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Getting your foot on the career ladder can be a daunting prospect for pre-registration and newly qualified pharmacists. That’s why C+D – in association with Boots – has created two careers events, in London and Bradford, to give new pharmacists a valuable insight into the range of options out there.  

We’ve assembled a diverse array of speakers across the spectrum of pharmacy sectors – from community pharmacies and hospitals, to GP practices and academia.  

Each speaker will be sharing their unique experience and advice both on stage and with attendees while networking over complimentary food and drinks. 

Career options for pharmacy

9 Comments

Sudhir Monji, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Graham is showing the need to adapt and yet be true to yourself and want to care for people, always, and from the bottom of your heart!

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

A good man and a proper pharmacist. That is what we are losing.

Peter Sainsburys, Community pharmacist

I'm envious because you got to enjoy the golden age of pharmacy, before all this silliness set in. If only pharmacies had to be owned and run by pharmacists, and not any Tom, Dick or Harry from Aldi with a company BMW and a bluetooth headset, then I'm sure the profession would still be flourishing.

I hope you really enjoy your retirement, it certainly sounds like you've earned it!

M B, Superintendent Pharmacist

 

Refreshing - finally a nice piece to read. Well done and hearty congratulations on your retirement. 

They don’t make em like they used - unfortunately comes to mind. 

 

A Long Serving Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

I've been a pharmacist about as long as you. I've spent my career partly as a locum and partly employed. Sadly I cannot retire now as HM Government won't pay me a pension for a few years yet, and my own pensions are diminished by my years when I was self-employed (no employer contributions). I cannot look back with such fondness, I'm afraid. I have seen quantity take over from quality. It's all about the bottom line now, services, script numbers. Whilst they were important before it's become a profession run by accountants and managers with few of the caring elements that used to be so important. I may be cynical, but I do not see community pharmacy as a profession having much of a future. I wish I was out now, but look forward to retiring asap.

M B, Superintendent Pharmacist

Give the old boy some praise. Be Postive. It’s not about you (or me). 

 

 

David Moore, Locum pharmacist

Congratulations, Graham. I've just hung up my pestle & mortar after 46 years. Never locumed for you although I'm only 17 miles away! (Also married a Cornish maid!)

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

46 years!!!!! How did your sanity survive?

Barry Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Congratulations on your retirement. We thank you as a outstanding example of our great profession and while we envy you we think you deserve a fabulous time off the bench! All the very best.

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