“Boots, Lloydspharmacy, supermarkets – it's all the same. You will just be stacking shelves with medicine.”
I was told this by a long-term friend (who is not in the healthcare field), when we were discussing my career path.
It was an interesting perspective, and I was prepared to challenge it there and then. When I explained the spectrum of roles available within the profession, I was pleased to see how surprised my friend was at the prospect of a pharmacist being useful beyond the counter of a community pharmacy.
After this conversation, I decided to question other people I know who have limited knowledge about healthcare careers, on what they assume the role of a pharmacist is, and where pharmacists work. I was intrigued to learn that many people were not aware of the extensive clinical knowledge and skills pharmacists are equipped with from the early days of their educational journey.
For starters, a four-year degree with integrated masters would be a waste of resources if the final result was dozens of graduates from pharmacy schools across the UK going to work in retail, pricing and stacking medicines on shelves.
I recently attended a Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) conference at the House of Commons, to launch its model of pharmacists working in care homes. I heard about the integral role of pharmacists in a multidisciplinary team, and learned about yet another role on offer to pharmacists.
At another RPS conference I attended, about the growing need for pharmacists in general practice, I met a pharmacist who works at a prison, along with several others who had completed their independent prescriber course and were working in hospitals.
As my educational journey continues, I am constantly exposed to more positions available for pharmacists. One thing I have learned is that every role available offers a completely different perspective on the day-to-day tasks of a pharmacist in a given sector. It seems to me that the underlying common factor between most pharmacist roles is, undisputedly, patient care.
All pharmacist roles are equally vital today, and although they may be challenging in varied ways, they all (including community pharmacy) demand skills beyond retail: problem-solving; efficiency; time-keeping; and patient consultations.
Of course, roles such as academic positions may not involve a great deal of patient contact, but it is important to remember the journey academic pharmacists went on to get to their current role, which will have included several hours of patient care and empathy.
Overall, I don't think it's fair to demean the role of community pharmacists. Saying, “You just stack shelves” is an outdated view, which is nothing like the actual daily tasks in community pharmacy.
Saffah Huseeba Danial is a pharmacy student at the University of Lincoln, and a national representative for the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association