The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s (RPS) professional development and support service helps members across the sectors with professional and personal matters. Ivana Knyght, who leads the service team, caught up with Corrinne Burns to talk about her team’s work.
What’s your background?
I completed my pharmacy degree in 2007 at King’s College London, and stayed in London to do my preregistration training in a Tesco community pharmacy. After registering as a pharmacist, I was awarded a PhD scholarship in pharmaceutical science at King’s College, followed by the C W Maplethorpe postdoctoral fellowship for pharmaceutical education and research.
My research initially focused on membrane protein engineering with the aim of correcting human mitochondrial disorders and later on, interactions between peptide antibiotics and membranes and synthesis of biosurfactants for pharmaceutical formulation. I have spent time in the Membrane Protein Laboratory in Diamond Light Source, Protein Production Facility at Queen Mary University of London, Oxford Protein Production Facility at the Division of Structural Biology (Oxfordshire) and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in ISIS pulsed neutron source. During this time I collaborated with some outstanding, world-renowned scientists and contributed to the work of multi-disciplinary teams as a research pharmacist. These interactions stimulated my research interests but also highlighted the need for more pharmacists with specialised skills.
In 2015, I joined the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) as a Faculty practice pharmacist and was accountable for the development and delivery of professional development and support service, resources and guidance relating to the programme which, at the time, was just in its second year of inception. I enjoyed this role as it allowed me to interact with pharmacists from all sectors and stages of practice and fitted well with my background in academia.
I took up the post of RPS professional support manager in 2017, and on 1 March 2018 I stepped into the interim position of the Society’s head of professional support. I currently manage the professional support service, accreditation services, the library, and the museum.
What does your job involve?
I am accountable for the development and delivery of the RPS’ professional development and support service, resources and guidance; I manage the consultation process on behalf of the organisation as well as overseeing the accreditation service, and ensuring the RPS library and museum teams meet their business objectives and grow the service.
My week is split between manning the professional enquiry phone line and project time. I enjoy answering member enquiries and try to spend as much time as I can listening to and supporting them. Students, preregistration students, pharmaceutical scientists and pharmacists contact us to ask about different areas of practice.
Colleagues on the professional support team come from a wide variety of backgrounds and have a range of experiences including: community, hospital, general practice, medicines information, and academia. The team also includes an independent prescriber, pharmacy technician, members of the RPS Faculty and a colleague with a graduate diploma in law. We work closely with Pharmacist Support, to which often signpost members to them where appropriate, and vice versa. We share and learn from one another about how best to help members. We also have a good working relationship with Medicines Information centres, which support healthcare professionals and NHS organisations with enquiries relating to medicines information and management, and signpost members there and vice versa.
We are a very responsive team, so whenever there is a public health concern or a campaign we need to be up to date so we can respond to members’ questions and needs. Part of our daily routine is horizon scanning: checking for any new statements from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, for example, on whether any medicines or batches are faulty and need to be withdrawn. Every day is different – we just don’t know what’s going to come in via phone or email, so we have to be very flexible.
We are a very responsive team, so whenever there is a public health concern or a campaign we need to be up to date so we can respond to members’ questions and needs
The team is also responsible for managing the consultation process on behalf of the organisation. This involves looking out for consultations that may have implications for the profession during the daily horizon scanning process and deciding whether this is something the professional body should respond to, and if so who the most appropriate person or team is. Sometimes it is our team, and other times we will send it to the policy teams for decision, with ratification from the RPS national boards.
We support the professional standards team, and are involved with writing Medicines, Ethics and Practice. Having the project time to write is essential, but also very enjoyable as there is always an opportunity to get involved in writing a wide range of professional guidance. Some have a quick turnaround time based on importance and urgency while others are long-term, less urgent resources.
What kind of enquiries do you get from members?
We get thousands of enquires, by both phone and email and they really are wide ranging. At the moment, our top three areas for enquires include: legal and ethical matters relating to pharmacy practice, professional development (including revalidation and continuing professional development) and clinical enquiries.
A lot of the enquiries are from preregistration pharmacists and students, and we are hoping to grow this even further once the pre-foundation programme is fully launched. When preregistration pharmacists complete their registration exam and start practising, they often find their first couple of years can be quite daunting. They may feel anxious and unprepared: during their preregistration they had the security of a team that they knew, with a tutor at hand, then one day they register and go off to practise, and suddenly they don’t have that same support. This is where we can offer support via the enquiry line and our professional development programmes.
At the moment, our top three areas for enquires include: legal and ethical matters relating to pharmacy practice; professional development; and clinical enquiries
The Foundation programme provides preregistration pharmacists with support and a framework, as well as a tutor with whom they can work and ask questions. Also, there is a dedicated team at the RPS on hand to support and assist along the way. After the Foundation stage, the Faculty programme is for pharmacists who are beyond their first two years of practice, enabling them to think about their practice in terms of competence and benchmark themselves against their peers and identify gaps in their practice alongside tools to then work on them.
We also receive enquiries relating to formulation, product storage and stability and more recently biologics, which is great as I can make use of my knowledge acquired over doctoral studies and post-doctoral experience. We also have the research and science teams on hand for support and advice. One of the best parts of my role is working with colleagues from so many different backgrounds as well as problem solving.
Which sectors contact you most frequently?
We receive enquires from all sectors, but most enquiries are from community pharmacy, which probably reflects our membership base, as well as enquiries from hospital and primary care. I have also noticed that we receive a lot of enquiries from people wanting to switch from one sector to another. These days, more pharmacists than ever are interested in changing sectors and are more confident and empowered to build a portfolio career. The RPS Faculty has been fundamental to this because, for the first time as a profession, we are thinking of our practice in terms of competence and impact on the patient or the outcome and not just thinking, “what does my job description say I should do?”.
One of the best parts of my role is working with colleagues from so many different backgrounds as well as problem solving
As an example, I believe that community pharmacists often used to think that they were not good candidates for a career in industry. This may have partly been because they were not thinking of their career in terms of competence and all the transferable skills – problem solving, communication skills, managing teams, working under pressure and adapting to change. All those skills are very transferable and coupled with medicines expertise make for a very strong candidate.
We are seeing a lot of changes now, and many pharmacists work portfolio careers. This is great as it means that we have a mobile workforce, and with the current structure and landscape of the NHS that is very important. One of the roles of the RPS is to look at the workforce and ensure our programmes enable and support flexible professionals to adapt to changing care models and roles. We are in a better place than five years ago, but there is still a lot of work to do.
My message to pharmacists would be to always remember that they have so many choices career-wise, and that they can always make a career move. Being a pharmacist, in any sector, brings a breadth and depth of experience, expertise and competence that is transferable within the healthcare sector as well as outside of it.