The life of a locum pharmacist isn’t all white coats and dispensing medication. It is a compelling career choice that many pharmacists pursue. But how do you become a hospital pharmacist? What is life like on the wards? And why choose the locum route?
With so many questions in need of answers, we spoke to Hannah Awan, a locum band 6 clinical pharmacist and valued member of the Medacs Healthcare family, to see if she could help cast any light on the subject.
How did you become a hospital pharmacist?
“Whilst I was studying at university, I had a few placements in hospitals as part of my degree. During that time, I found it quite interesting as there were a lot of topics I was learning at university that I was able to put into practice clinically.
In my pre-registration year (an additional year’s training after graduating), I gained a lot of practical experience and training whilst working. Only after completing that training was I able to sit an exam which determined whether I qualified as a pharmacist. My pre-registration training was carried out in a hospital, during which I was able to shadow and assist the other pharmacists who were also working. They advised me on what was expected of me on the wards and what my work responsibilities would include. During that year I gained plenty of experience whilst working in various areas of hospital pharmacy and thus, quickly realised that was something I was interested in.
After I qualified as a pharmacist, I worked as a band 6 pharmacist. During that time, I felt I was able to work confidently on the wards alongside doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. I also felt like I was gaining a lot more clinical experience and enhancing my knowledge.”
What is life like for a locum clinical pharmacist in a hospital environment?
“As a locum band 6 pharmacist, you are able to work in different rotations (a rotation is a specific area of hospital pharmacy). For example, on the wards, there are several rotations like surgical and paediatrics; essentially different specialities. In addition, you have a rotation in dispensary where you are able to help with clinically screening outpatient prescriptions and inpatient drug charts, whilst also dispensing and checking medicines.
There are a lot more rotations, like medicines information, aseptics and production. However, as a locum, you primarily work in the areas where you are needed which I find is mainly on the wards.
As you work your way up, you do undergo a lot of training in different areas. This allows you to choose to become specialised in a certain field such as paediatrics or anticoagulation.”
Who do you typically work with as a locum hospital pharmacist?
It’s basically a pharmacy but the role is community-based. It’s where the patient would regularly go to collect their medicines within the community, so they essentially work with the GPs.
As my role is mainly within a hospital, it is secondary care. The chemist and I will mainly liaise with each other whilst trying to establish the drug history of a patient.
For example, if a patient isn’t sure of their medicine or has blister packs, I can ring up the chemist and speak to the community pharmacist. I would then need to find out what medicines the patient has recently collected. If it’s a blister pack, I would need to know how often the blister pack is supplied to the patient, what medicines are in the pack and when the next supply is due.
I would then inform them that the patient has been admitted into hospital so that they can keep hold of any medicines due for delivery. I would also let them know on discharge if there have been any changes to the patient’s medicines or in the blister packs so that they can continue with the new changes.
“As a hospital pharmacist, I mainly work with pharmacists and pharmacist technicians.
The technician usually labels and dispenses medicine in the dispensary, but their role has now become more advanced. They now also work on the wards, too.
Technicians are able to get certain accreditations, allowing them to work on the wards and support the pharmacists in taking drug histories of the patients and ordering medicines. Although it is the hospital pharmacist who has to confirm that the medicines are clinically correct on the drug charts, the workload of the pharmacist is still reduced.
Furthermore, Pharmacist technicians can also work towards getting an Accuracy checking qualification enabling them to check medicines in the dispensary, which before only pharmacists were allowed to do.”
Doctors, nurses and allied health professionals
“Outside of the pharmacy department, we also work with doctors and nurses. There are also the dieticians, physiotherapists and the SALT [Speech and Language Therapy] team who are very important.
Sometimes, if the patient has difficulty swallowing or if they’ve just had a stroke, we will liaise with the SALT team. They are the ones who assess the speech and swallowing of the patient, allowing pharmacists to gain key information like should we be giving the patient tablets or does everything have to be in liquid form? Using this information, we would then decide whether certain tablets are crushable or whether alternative medicines are suitable for that individual patient.
You’re making a difference because you’re working alongside these healthcare professionals. You feel that you are part of the team so you’re not on the sidelines.”
Why did you become locum pharmacist?
“I applied for locum work about two years ago. I’ve actually really enjoyed it because I found that I wanted to work Monday to Friday, nine to five.
Now I’m able to get the best of both worlds and do what I enjoy doing, which is working on the wards and learning more, as well as having a balanced family and social life. I have my weekends free. I have my bank holidays. I don’t have to work out of hours.
At my previous hospital job, I had to do on-calls which was quite stressful. This way I felt that there was a lot more flexibility and I could decide what I want to do work-wise. I can choose the roles I want to take on. It gives me a lot more independence.
Additionally, the pay rates are better too compared to what you would get at a normal NHS rate.”
What are the pros and cons of being a locum pharmacist in a hospital?
“I would definitely say the pros are being able to gain a lot of experience in so many different areas of pharmacy. Whilst working in a hospital, you learn a lot and forever enhancing your experience. You broaden your knowledge with each patient you come in contact with.
I find it very rewarding because you feel that you’re making a difference in the lives of your patients. Whether that’s through the treatments you are recommending or you’re telling the doctors to change a certain dose. You are working within a team and are able to give your input.
Furthermore, as a locum, you’re able to choose your work and have the flexibility and independence to decide how you want to work.
The cons are down to the NHS bed pressures. It can get quite stressful because you’re always on the go, especially towards the end of the day. It does get quite fast-paced as you have to ensure patients are being discharged. We have to make sure that the discharge summaries are screened and the patients have received their supply of medicines.”
As a locum hospital pharmacist, what has been your career highlight?
There have been times when I’ve been discharging patients on new medicine and they have thanked me for counselling them on that drug or for the support I have given them a lot of the time.
Sometimes you have a patient who is being discharged from the ward and they give us a box of chocolates, actually thanking the whole team for all the care they have received.
When you’re looking at all these different people who appreciate your work, especially when you see a vast improvement in their health throughout their admission, you really feel like you’re making a difference. I think that that in itself is quite rewarding, and obviously, the patient appreciates your efforts. You feel good within.”
What is your one key piece of advice for anyone looking to become a locum pharmacist in a hospital?
“If you’re truly interested in working as a hospital pharmacist, then you need to be fully committed to developing your knowledge, being proactive with carrying out and learning new things and facing new challenges.
You’ll be expected to give your all because it is a fast-paced environment, so would need to learn how to prioritise your work and manage your time effectively.
You need to be prepared to deal with different patients and work alongside other healthcare professionals. You need to be able to communicate well with the whole team and develop a rapport. You need to be prepared to be out there and not limit yourself to communicating solely with other pharmacists.
You should try to be an all-rounder and be able to form a good relationship with people on the ward, especially the nurses and doctors. That way, you know you’re able to get the most out of the role and ensure that your views are heard.”