Case study

Pharmacist manager — Adam Harkness

Adam became a community pharmacist after graduating with an MPharm from Queen's University Belfast. Find out about the challenges and rewards of community pharmacy

How did you get your job?

Before graduation I searched for different full-time positions. While at university I spent a year on a work placement at a local pharmacist in Belfast, and wanted to continue in a similar position.

However, jobs were difficult to find given my lack of experience in the world of work and the fierce competition in Northern Ireland. Therefore, I decided to become a locum community pharmacist until I could find a full-time position. I used Locate a Locum, an app which matched me with shifts from different employers across the UK. I use this to fill up my schedule each month.

What's a typical day like as a community pharmacist?

Mornings are the busiest time of the day, no matter what type of pharmacy you are in. This is the time that most patients come to collect their prescriptions, and many will also pop in to ask for advice or information about health services. Depending on whether you are out front speaking with patients, or out back making up the prescriptions, it can get hectic.

By the afternoon, it's a little quieter, so this is the time to carry out Medicine Use Reviews (MURs) and catch up with any admin tasks which need to be done, such as putting in an order for some pharmaceutical supplies. I also continue to fill prescriptions and advise patients until home time. Depending on the pharmacy, I may also be asked to provide private consultations for patients.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Community pharmacy is a real passion. I love being amongst people and helping them with their everyday medications. It's a very rewarding profession when you are delivering necessary drugs to someone who may be trying them for the first time.

I also enjoy the variety of my job. Locum work isn’t for everybody, but I like the fact that I may be in Belfast one week and on the opposite side of the country the next week, if I want to work my shifts like that.

What are the challenges?

Working as a community pharmacist can be draining. You are on your feet for the majority of the day and some customers can be angry or unhelpful. Some can even lie about their prescriptions, so you have to be sharp-eyed with every single prescription and person that comes in.

The addition of being a locum community pharmacist also means I have some insecurity in my life. While my shifts and income is relatively regular, I have to work to find those shifts rather than simply getting on with the work in the pharmacy. If you're a fan of routine, it can be hard to adjust to the constant shifting of locum work.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My degree is obviously the bedrock of my pharmaceutical career. During my time at Queen's, we studied pharmacy from the basics of chemistry, to drug design and the industry of pharmacy itself, and I'm able to look back on those teachings every day.

I feel that my placement year was especially useful, as it was my first time in the 'real world' of pharmacy and cemented my love of community work.

How has your role developed?

I am still working as a locum community pharmacist, but I've learned so much about the profession in the last two years. I know that I've improved the way I communicate with patients, and I am a lot more confident about my day-to-day work.

I think I will continue to work as a locum, but I can imagine that in years to come I may want a more routine job, to work around a partner or family. Ideally, I would be positioned in a local pharmacy where I can get to know the community better than I am able to in my locum shifts.

How do I become a community pharmacist?

My top tips would be, firstly, to work as hard as you possibly can at your degree. This is an exciting time for any student, but your results at the end of five years can really set you apart from other job applicants.

Secondly, get as much experience as you can. Even if it's just as an assistant in a pharmacy at the weekends, your experience and passion for the industry will speak volumes for you when it comes to interviews.

And my third tip is to make friends - in your degree, your work placement and in whichever pharmacy takes you on part-time, full-time or just for the day. Having the right contacts can really pay off later in your career.

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