Forging a successful career path as a pharmacist: Interview with Jody Butler
Pharmacists train as experts in medicines, playing a pivotal role in healthcare and the support of patients. In this article we talk to Jody Butler, Superintendent Pharmacist, whose career to date has spanned working in a doctor’s practice, multinational chain and the independent sector. He describes his day-to-day role and diverse experiences in the UK, with candid advice to those embarking upon a career in pharmacy.
What is your full title and what does you current role involve?
I currently work as Superintendent Pharmacist for two pharmacies, Kumar and Numark Pharmacy in Cambridge. They are a small chain of independents. I’ve been in this role just over two years. In my daily work, I’m in charge of running the branches and the legal side of the pharmacy — so making sure everything is run correctly in terms of procedures. It’s also my role to check we are hitting all the right legal standards and the staff are happy.
In addition, I work as a pharmacist in both of the branches. A core part of the role is dispensing prescriptions. You have to issue the medicines that are appropriate, check with the doctors if you have any queries with the script, ensure patients are OK with their new medicines, and make certain there won’t be any contraindication with their current medication.
One of our branches is a 100 hour pharmacy and I work three shifts there — one late and two early ones. Our other branch has standard 9am to 6pm working hours, and I work one day a week there.
Within my clinical role in pharmacy, I carry out medicine usage reviews. This entails going through all the medicines a patient is taking once a year and looking for any potential issues that you can help resolve. I also advise patients starting new medicines for certain conditions and then review them after two weeks. This is to help with compliance and to check everything is going OK for the patient. Also, if there are any issues being encountered this can be referred back to their doctor at an early stage. We also do flu jabs within the pharmacy.
Additional responsibilities outside of what I’ve already mentioned include having the pharmacy inspection-ready when a pharmaceutical inspector comes. In fact, we had one very recently, which we passed fine. I’m also responsible for ensuring staff have access to the training they need and have adequate support.
At the moment, outside of my work responsibilities with my employer, I serve on the Local Pharmaceutical Committee (LPC) as Vice-Treasurer. I have always been interested in pharmacy policy and I find it a very interesting addition to my role. The committee is a great way to find out what’s happening elsewhere in the area and to help develop relationships with other parts of the National Health Service (NHS).
What inspired you to choose pharmacy as a career?
At school, scientific subjects were always my thing. I did double Maths, Physics and Chemistry, and I also liked Biology. So when I was looking at careers initially, I tried to find jobs that would factor in my interests. I’m naturally quite a people person as well, so I was interested in something public facing. Pharmacy seemed to be an ideal fit for all those criteria. It offered a flexible career choice, and that really appealed to me. For example, you had a choice of routes you could follow including community pharmacy, pharmaceutical industry roles or hospital pharmacy.
"...scientific subjects were always my thing. I did double Maths, Physics and Chemistry, and I also liked Biology. So when I was looking at careers initially, I tried to find jobs that would factor in my interests."
Can you describe your career path once you’d finished your degree and pre-registration year prior to your current role?
My first role was as a locum in a pharmacy in London. I had started a PhD in Biochemistry — an area distinct to my pharmacy background. It’s something that I wanted to try out and see if research was where I wanted to go. I worked as a locum at weekends, to help provide extra revenue, during my studies. After a year, I decided research was not for me and discontinued the doctorate. Having a pharmacy degree meant I had the fall back of going into a pharmacist’s role, so I went to work as a locum full time. It’s an interesting job, as you get to see a variety of different pharmacies and how they work. If you're lucky you can have regular slots with the same branch, so you get a chance to know your patients.
During my time as a locum, I got approached twice for full-time pharmacist roles. The first was for an independent pharmacy that was looking for a manager, and the other opportunity was from my former pre-registration tutor who was working in a primary care trust at the time. She had a pharmacist’s position available in a dispensing doctor’s surgery in Linton, Cambridgeshire. I decided to take the latter role and subsequently worked there for 5 years.
One aspect of the role I really enjoyed was the opportunity to run my own patient clinics for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As a pharmacist, it’s usually unheard of to have protected time to speak to patients. You feel like you have constant time restrictions on any consultations and something to check all the time. In contrast, in my role within the doctor’s surgery, I had 10-20 mins to talk to patients to get a better understanding of their illness and help.
"One aspect of the role I really enjoyed was the opportunity to run my own patient clinics for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As a pharmacist, it’s usually unheard of to have protected time to speak to patients."
I enjoyed my role in the primary care trust, but after 5 years, I felt like it was time to find a new challenge.
I decided to take a series of locum positions for multiples, (a term used to describe national big chains of pharmacies). The final position was a maternity cover for a manager. When the manager didn’t come back, I’d made enough of an impression that they asked me to stay on in a managerial role and negotiations went well. I had a great relationship with the local doctor’s surgery, including access to their computer system to help provide consolidated care for patients.
After a few years, I was asked by the company to move to a bigger branch. It was a difficult decision for me as I really enjoyed my work in the existing location. However, in the end it came down to some negotiations to persuade me. It took a fair bit of convincing from my employers!
The role differed in that, up to then I had been in a busy shop in terms of the number of prescriptions we received, however, the retail section was small. The new bigger branch was busy for scripts and had a large retail area. That was a bit of an adjustment.
How did this affect what you were doing day to day?
It didn't affect things a lot to start off with, but as a manager you’re in charge of making sure the entire shop runs smoothly as well. Working in a corporate pharmacy, you are provided with planograms* to help you with the retail side. So if you ensure the staff know what they are doing you can rely on them to keep sales going. The multiple I was working for ended up selling the pharmacy side of their business to a multinational with an even stronger retail focus.
Another decision they made was the introduction of managers that were not pharmacists. The idea was that pharmacists would be focussed solely on the prescription side of things but at the same time, lost the ability to manage staff hours in the dispensary. This approach was a company-wide push. It felt we were going in a more retail oriented direction. I decided this wasn't the environment I wanted to be in and sought a new role in the independent sector in 2015.
What aspects do you enjoy most about your current role?
I really enjoy having contact with patients and I would never want to relinquish that entirely. I like the relationship that you develop with doctor’s surgeries as well. This includes going to the surgeries and talking to the doctors and staff there. Also, I like the freedom of the independent sector - it’s a lot less restrictive than working within what we refer to as multiples. I have more control and influence in taking us in certain directions and offering different services.
"I really enjoy having contact with patients and I would never want to relinquish that entirely. I like the relationship that you develop with doctor’s surgeries as well."
In my experience, independents are more efficient at offering new services as they come along. Multinational chains tend to be resistant to new services at first, and then jump on the band wagon when things are more established. For example, there’s a new service at the moment for the emergency supply of medicines. Patients can phone 111 and they are referred to pharmacists taking part in the scheme. Then, by accessing the patients standard of care records, you can issue medicines as appropriate. The Cambridgeshire area was a pilot site for this and independents in the region took it up. They are now just starting to get some multiples coming on board with it, and eventually, it will be rolled out nationally.
What aspects do you least enjoy about your role?
The staff management can be a challenging part of any role at times. Even within small teams, smoothing over troubled waters can be interesting.
What skills are valued most in your profession?
Within the superintendent position I’ve got now - attention to legal detail, people skills and ability to deal with members of the public. More broadly speaking, being able to communicate well helps enormously in clinical roles and also holds you in good stead for being able to deal with any complaints that come through occasionally. The ability to reassure individuals and also act upon issues quickly is also important.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career as a Pharmacist?
I think it’s an interesting time to be embarking on a career in pharmacy. With the recent cuts announced by the government to community pharmacy funding — you really want to be focussing on making sure you are as marketable to as many sectors as possible. Looking at the way things are likely to go, I would recommend you have a prescribing qualification. It’s not being used much presently, but in the near future, when places diversify to keep themselves afloat, I think it’ll be a great skill to have. It will help take pressure off GP’s as well. When I worked at the doctor's surgery I was lucky enough to be in the first cohort of pharmacists trained as supplementary prescribers. Pharmacists now can be independent prescribers, which ideally suits itself to taking on clinical roles and running clinics. The way that pharmacy is progressing in the community, I envisage prescribing being a more prominent part of future roles. I think pharmacists will have a key role in running disease-focussed clinics for patients, and local groups to help give individuals better access to healthcare.
In the past, you could progress your career path quite quickly in the UK, but that’s harder to do now. There hasn’t been a limit set on the opening of new schools of pharmacy, so you have a large number of newly qualified graduates in the market. Also with the open borders over Europe, we’ve got more pharmacists in the country looking for jobs than we have ever had. With funding cuts, the pressure is on to limit costs and salaries are an area that are feeling the squeeze.
*Planograms: Diagrams that detail how and where specific retail products should be placed on shelving and displayed. They aim to maximise customer purchases.
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- Royal Pharmaceutical Society: Careers Information https://www.rpharms.com/resources/careers-information