While last year brought some unimaginable challenges, it offered an opportunity for many to stop and reflect on the obstacles they faced and how to overcome them. We asked pharmacy professionals what the year 2020 revealed to them and their advice going forward into 2021.
Eric Bazuaye, specialist clinical and neurology botulinum toxin (Botox) injecting pharmacist at Hull University Teaching Hospitals
“The year 2020 has taught me how to be resilient in difficult circumstances. The world is experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, with all the uncertainty of what lies ahead. COVID has had a big impact in pharmacy.
For a better 2021, it is important to view the experiences from 2020 as indispensable. Make sure to support each other during stressful times, but also remember that in order to look after others, you need to take care of yourself.”
Katrina Bicknell, head of pharmacy school at the University of Reading
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the events that followed the killing of George Floyd have magnified the existence of social, educational and health inequalities, but they have also shown that the commitments and actions of individuals can lead to amazing things — just look at the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“In 2021 and beyond, we should embrace being uncomfortable as we each try to understand our own privilege and educate ourselves, while listening to and proactively supporting those facing discrimination.”
Helen Ireland, training programme director, preregistration pharmacist training at Pharmacy Workforce Development South
“The year 2020 has highlighted to me the importance of being able to adapt and innovate — quickly! The global pandemic has catalysed a range of changes in the development and training of the pharmacy workforce. Novel educational delivery approaches and ways of engaging and assessing learners online that have been spoken about for some time are now a reality.
“As we begin 2021, we should reflect and consider what else can be done to support our preregistration trainees and their workplace supervisors’ development, and continue to thoughtfully enhance, evolve and optimise education delivery for the whole of the pharmacy team.”
Ishwah Khaliq, third-year pharmacy student at the University of East Anglia
“Throughout 2020, I had to adapt rapidly to the challenges of being a university student in a pandemic. This whole process showed me how resilient I truly am and how important it is to take time out for myself during the day.
“I would recommend pharmacy students find and practice healthy habits, such as yoga or meditation, going forward into 2021. It will help train the mind to shift into a more positive headspace and equip individuals to better recognise and support others who need help during these debilitating times.”
Khalid Khan, head of training and professional standards at Imaan Healthcare
“Throughout 2020, I have been extremely fortunate to be involved in a lot of work around equality, diversity and inclusion. I have learnt how extremely nuanced this topic is and that it requires a deep understanding before it can be addressed properly. I, myself, have had to challenge my own assumptions.
“Moving forward, we as a profession need to provide a safe space for those who have relevant insights to speak freely and educate those of us trying to make a difference, even though they may not be from the disadvantaged groups themselves. My goal for 2021 is to facilitate such shared learning, with a view to taking steps to address these inequalities.”
Helen Pinney, senior pharmacy technician at Crown Street Surgery, London
“The one lesson I learnt in 2020 is that you absolutely cannot rely on anybody else to recognise your value for you. The society we live in teaches us to take what we can from other people and, as a result, you may find yourself giving away your experience, expertise and labour for free.
“My advice going into 2021 is to know your worth, quantify it and demand what is owed to you.”
Aamer Safdar, pharmacy education, training and workforce development team lead at Barts Health NHS Trust
“The year 2020 has been one of change and challenge. I left a job in early 2020 after nearly 25 years and joined one of the largest hospital trusts in the country. Then came COVID-19. I have learnt so much about myself in 2020, with so many challenges in both my work and personal life.
“For 2021, we should always aim to think positively and believe in ourselves — Teflon not Velcro, where negatives slide off and positives stick.”
Peter Farley, chronic pain pharmacist at Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
“My role has been revolutionised in 2020 by COVID-19. Previously, I would have argued that a consultation required face-to-face interaction. But, having worked remotely for eight months, I now believe that I can undertake the majority of a medicine review over the phone. For chronic pain patients, the plus is it obviates the need to attend a clinic appointment, which can be painful. For me, the minus is that I have no non-verbal clues. On balance, I have learnt that a pharmacist’s clinical skillset can be applied both face-to-face and remotely.
“Looking to 2021, pharmacy should embrace this new way of working, as it will only be to our advantage in the future.”
Farah Haque, senior pharmacist at Babylon Health
“The personal lessons I’ve learnt have been from a mental health perspective. The pandemic has really allowed me to reflect, appreciate the little things and celebrate small victories.
“For a better 2021, we should learn to be more present in the moment, as well as to be kinder to ourselves and others. We are spending more time with ourselves than ever before; it’s important to be aware of your mental health. For anyone who is struggling, I would encourage you to acknowledge your triggers. For example, I limit my exposure to social media and practise mindfulness. I also recently gave blood which made me feel like I was making a difference.”
Tara Molloy, perio-operative prescribing pharmacist at Wirral University Teaching Hospital
“I’ve learnt that working as a team and supporting each other has never been so important. Get to know your colleagues and never judge them. In times where we cannot see our actual family or friends, you realise how strong the support network is among your colleagues. We are a united, albeit sometimes dysfunctional, family, but family and support network all the same. There is no policy, guideline or standard operating procedure that can teach you that.
“Always take the time to ask: ‘How are you?’, and no matter how hard, always take the time to answer it.”
Dan White, specialist mental health pharmacist and consultant clinical psychotherapist at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust
“During the first lockdown, there was much scepticism regarding the effectiveness of online communication. While I can now see patients and students face to face — well, mask to mask — I have found it far more problematic to understand and be understood during these conversations. The reality of taking non-verbal cues only from a person’s eyes makes communication, especially about sensitive topics, very difficult. If I had the choice to interact in-person but masked, or unmasked online, I would now choose the latter.
“My advice to those struggling to adjust to remote consultations is, when you next have a remote session, ask permission to record it. Then, when you have a quiet moment, play it back. This can be a bit awkward at first, but you quickly get used to it, and those who truly dread watching themselves back often find they don’t look as bad as they thought they did.”
Emma Wilkinson, freelance health journalist
“I’ve been a health reporter since 2002, but this year has been like nothing else. I’ve had to try new ways of working, including online teaching, and I’ve also ended up spending a lot of time on mentoring and support for other freelancers.
“In 2021, it is important to learn to be adaptable, as you never know what’s coming next.”
Many of the challenges encountered in 2020 have not magically resolved with the start of the new year, but with increased awareness and reflection of the year just passed, the lessons learnt can be used to make the most of 2021 and whatever it may bring.
- This article was amended on 12 January 2021 to update Eric Bazuaye’s job title