Structured training for community pharmacy staff

Unlike their hospital counterparts, pharmacists working in the community do not have a clear training programme. However, there are many ways that pharmacy owners or managers can establish a structured learning programme for community pharmacy staff.

Snapshot of Warman-Freed pharmacy during busy hours of the day

Finding the time and money to train pharmacists and pharmacy team members is not easy but there are business advantages of having well-trained staff, including a more knowledgeable and productive workforce. Investing in training and development improves customer service, raises staff morale, boosts employee retention and, subsequently, increases profits.

Today many newly registered community pharmacists expect structured personal development from day one and throughout their careers, particularly as their colleagues in hospital pharmacy have access to training pathways that are linked to each individual’s expected career progression.

But what exactly is structured training? It means having a clearly defined training plan and time frame to ensure everyone improves their core industry knowledge and experience, as well as their soft communication and consultation skills.

Any structured training programme should support new team members and those looking to progress their careers. It can include distance learning, external training, in-house sessions with more experienced pharmacy staff and managers, presentations by suppliers and e-learning tools.

However, despite the obvious business and personal value of structured learning, implementing a programme remains a challenge for busy community pharmacies.

Distance learning

Kathryn Moffitt, a community pharmacist and teaching practitioner at the University of Sunderland, says it is easier for the larger high street pharmacy chains to offer structured training compared with smaller independents. “There are good distance learning packages that are well-structured and offer recognised qualifications and a route to career development,” she explains, citing distance learning opportunities provided by the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education and the National Pharmacy Association, as well as by external companies such as Buttercups Training.

But one of the disadvantages of distance learning “is that there may not be a lot of feedback from training providers and it may need an engaged pharmacist to help support a learner”, Moffitt adds.

Protected learning time

Another challenge is that many of the practice-based skills gained within community pharmacy require experiential learning and this is often unstructured.

Alison Strath, professor of community pharmacy practice at the school of pharmacy and life sciences at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, wants more community pharmacies to follow the example set in general practice and introduce protected learning time.

Source: Courtesy of Alison Strath

Alison Strath, professor of community pharmacy practice at the School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, wants more community pharmacies to introduce protected learning time

This is already happening in Scotland where community pharmacists in Forth Valley, for example, are offered protected learning time to attend training events, with the relevant health board covering locum fees.

“Protected learning time allows training with other healthcare professionals,” she says. “Community pharmacy should also consider introducing more vocational training schemes, although the challenges are different than in hospitals where the career structure is clearer and it is easier to structure and map training needs over time.”

“Another solution is a more blended approach to learning where cloud-based technology is used at work or at home alongside face-to-face training in the pharmacy or externally to cover areas such as assessing patients,” Strath adds.

Building specialist expertise

Tony Schofield, owner of Flagg Court Pharmacy based in the north east of England, accepts that structured training is vital to his business. He encourages his team members to study for a NVQ Level 2 diploma in Pharmacy Service Skills.

We all want our staff to feel confident in areas such as smoking cessation, cardiovascular health, Alzheimer’s disease and syringe exchange, for example

“Training is straightforward if you have a high turnover of staff at a pharmacy but trickier if you have a more stable workforce,” says Schofield. “I always have to judge the value of any training to the business but I want my staff to challenge me and feel motivated. I am looking at introducing more management training programmes.”

“There is a good relationship between pharmacies in our area and we do discuss structured training and the challenges,” he adds. “We all want our staff to feel confident in areas such as smoking cessation, cardiovascular health, Alzheimer’s disease and syringe exchange, for example.”

Schofield says that as pharmacies increase their public health role it is more important the entire team receive structured training so they can offer the best advice. He selects staff members to become specialists in different areas in which he is not an expert, such as animal medicines, because he can see a business benefit.

Use of technology

Technology is also playing more of a role to help pharmacies take a more structured approach to training. Online learning, for instance, can be scheduled and undertaken during quieter times or even at home.

Virtual reality technology can also be used. Green Light Pharmacy, a small chain operating in London, enables learners to access simulated parts of their own pharmacy and answer questions relating to particular categories or services. They can even assess patients in a pharmacy setting, dispensing drugs appropriately in a safe learning environment.

At the Warman-Freed pharmacy, an independent in London, now owned by Omega Pharma, a global healthcare company which specialises in over-the-counter medicines, electronic point of sale system data are being used to align ongoing category training with current and seasonal product demand.

Setting time aside

Heat maps created by Warman-Freed pharmacy’s CCTV system also show how many customers are in the store, which can indicate when it might be possible to take someone off the shop floor for training. However, Omega Pharma’s pharmacy and consumer insight manager, Joanna Mills, says training has been difficult to implement because the pharmacy is open until midnight seven days a week.

Heat maps created by Warman-Freed pharmacy’s CCTV system show how many customers are in the store, which can indicate when it might be possible to take someone off the shop floor for training

Courtesy of Warman-Freed

1) Heat map showing crowded store before 5pm
2) Heat map with fewer people after 5pm

“It is hard to release people from the pharmacy floor to train them and for independent pharmacies generally it can be difficult to know how to structure training, who should provide it and what resources are available,” says Mills.

“We look at the calendar and align our training resources so we do not miss out on seasonal sales opportunities, for example,” she adds. “We have to be relevant to local needs and if we have knowledgeable and helpful staff customers will come back to us.”

We encourage staff to read in their own time about industry and keep up to date with health news so there is some context for what they are being asked to do in their job and the advice they are giving

However, Mills says that creating the planned training calendar took a long time because the programme had to meet everyone’s training needs and take into account the working rota.

In Warman-Freed, much of the training takes place during quieter times such as mid-morning or mid-afternoon, while staff are often delegated to different roles so their colleagues can attend training. “We also encourage staff to read in their own time about industry and keep up to date with health news so there is some context for what they are being asked to do in their job and the advice they are giving.”

Tailored training

Of course, different people learn in different ways and this must be taken into account when planning a training programme. For example, if someone has returned to the profession after a career break, they will need help to demonstrate quickly the competencies demanded in a modern pharmacy and then receive ongoing training and support.

Some staff will enjoy e-learning from a tablet device or a desktop computer, while for others their knowledge and confidence will grow faster if they receive coaching from others on the job. The aim for each pharmacy owner is to get the right balance for each person, regardless of their role.

“A structured training programme should be constantly evolving, using trial and error, with the pharmacy reacting to what worked well and what was not so effective,” says Mills. “There is a lot more onus on suppliers to come into pharmacies and share knowledge of their products and categories rather than relying on pharmacy staff to gather materials. You also need to plan for your staff to train others, perhaps by asking different pharmacists and team members to become experts in particular areas so they can teach their colleagues.”

Sanjay Ganvir, professional services director and superintendent pharmacist at Green Light Pharmacy, echoes the view that having a clear structured training plan means understanding that every staff member has different needs at different times as their career progresses.

Green Light Pharmacy runs free training courses for pharmacists and pharmacy staff to improve consultancy and communication skills. The courses are incorporated into structured programmes and are funded by NHS Health Education North Central and East London, in partnership with a number of organisations including the University of Portsmouth.

Training is also provided to the pharmacy’s delivery drivers who often visit housebound people who can feel isolated and enjoy the human contact. “Our drivers often become a regular visitor who patients get to know and become friendly with, so the training must reflect this. Our drivers might have been visiting someone for years and they suddenly notice something that could be a warning sign concerning someone’s health,” Ganvir says. “A person’s home might not be as tidy as usual or they could be behaving in an unusual manner. Being able to notice changes can help with early intervention.”

“Staff within the pharmacy have supervisors who can go through the mandatory training and modules, but delivery drivers are one group who are not in the pharmacy all the time and the training they receive is not mandatory so when it comes to patient care they certainly need ongoing support,” he adds.

Measuring success

With any structured training programme it is important that the impact of any learning can be measured. Employee development should be aligned with the community pharmacy’s strategic plan and take into account industry trends that will affect future investment, including in staff.

There needs to be evidence that an individual is progressing in terms of the contribution they are making to the business and their own career. Formal qualifications are one clear measure, while many pharmacies find mystery shopping visits valuable to test product knowledge and customer service. These can also help identify where more training might be needed.

Other tests of whether a structured training programme is successful include staff retention levels, employee morale and sickness absence as well as repeat visits by customers.

Structured learning at Rowlands Pharmacy

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), the professional membership body for pharmacy in Great Britain, has recently accredited UK chain Rowlands Pharmacy as a Foundation training provider. 

The Rowlands Foundation programme supports pharmacists entering the profession and those who are in the early stages of their careers. It is delivered by a learning and development team, led by manager and pharmacist Sandra Hutchinson, pharmacist Justine Greenwood and management trainer, Andrew Gemmell, and involves strong working partnerships with the RPS, the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education and the Robert Gordon University School of Pharmacy.

Rowlands training includes scheduled face-to-face development sessions and observation of practice by the learning and development team, peer support from experienced pharmacists, a dedicated Rowlands e-learning site and online learning tools.

Being an RPS accredited training provider means Rowlands Pharmacy must deliver its courses to an expected Society structure. Trainees receive monthly phone calls as well as peer-to-peer and area manager support, all designed to ensure an individual’s training aims are met over a period of time.

Structured learning is a priority for all Rowlands’ staff at every stage of their career. “Training must be linked to an individual’s development needs. If anyone in the pharmacy team is lacking knowledge or experience it is our responsibility to fill the training gaps,” says Hutchinson.

“Justine and I are pharmacists but I also have a background in academia so we can deliver practice-based learning which is tailored and structured. We also have a management development programme which helps focus our newly qualified pharmacists on developing their teams as well as their pharmacy services.”

The company is investing heavily in e-learning and it publishes modules every six weeks. It is part of Rowlands’ strategy to deliver accessible learning in a community pharmacy environment where face–to-face training can be a challenge.

All modules are developed in-house and are designed to improve product knowledge, customer service and pharmacy services. Each module takes about one hour to complete and is split into four bite-sized sections.

“The modules are based around business need. It is important everyone is professionally trained on the legal, ethical and commercial responsibilities of a community pharmacy,” Hutchinson adds.

Structured learning is crucial to the business, Greenwood says, because customers will remain loyal if they are being served and advised by knowledgeable pharmacy staff.

“Members of the pharmacy team are motivated to do the training because they work in the local community and are serving people they know,” she says.

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Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, June 2016, Vol 296, No 7890;296(7890)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2016.20201216

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