Successfully supporting a trainee through their preregistration journey is an extremely rewarding experience. Preregistration tutors play an essential role in supporting their trainees to develop into competent and confident pharmacists. It also helps keep the tutor’s knowledge up to date, allows them to reflect on the bigger issues affecting the profession and develops their tutoring skills.
However, the differences between a good and a poor tutor can be stark. This can have a big impact, not only on the professional development of the trainee, but also on their future career. To ensure the best possible tutorship, there are six qualities that all excellent preregistration tutors should have.
1. Lead by example
Job shadowing is an essential part of the preregistration training process. During this process, a tutor should be a source of inspiration, advice and support for their trainees, and should exemplify the professional standards for pharmacists at all times. It is essential that a tutor does this by creating a safe learning environment to encourage and enable trainees to ask questions, explore solutions and become confident in articulating their views and opinions, helping trainees strive to be the best they can be through ongoing support and supervision.
Tutors should also support the growth and development of their trainees by engaging them in professional discussions and activities around real-life pharmacy-related scenarios, and demonstrate the appropriate action to take.
2. Give effective feedback
Tutoring a preregistration trainee involves providing opportunities to apply knowledge, skills and behaviours within a complex and stressful environment. Giving trainees effective feedback is, therefore, integral to developing competence and confidence and forms a big part of assessing and reviewing progress.
If delivered in the wrong way, feedback can result in damage to performance and decreased morale
It is important that preregistration tutors develop their skills at giving effective feedback. One way of doing this is through implementing a structured feedback model.
This should be:
- Based on evidence;
- Given in a timely manner at regular intervals;
- Provided in a suitable environment;
- Built into everyday practice.
If feedback is not given, or if it is given in haste or without pinpointing areas for development and highlighting areas of strength, then the training process requires improvement.
Many busy managers regard feedback as an intervention to be made when there are problems in performance. Others use it as a means of showing their approval or disapproval; this should not be the intention of feedback. If delivered in the wrong way, feedback can result in damage to performance and decreased morale.
3. Be empathetic and supportive
For many trainees, the preregistration year will be their first full-time working role and becoming accustomed to working life can be difficult. An additional pressure is thinking about the exam they will need to pass at the end of the year. It is important for tutors to understand what it is like to be a new trainee who may lack confidence and feel stressed or overwhelmed.
Excellent tutors ensure that trainees overcome this stressful period by having the necessary support in place and making the trainee aware of what is available to them. A good tutor will encourage peers and other team members to be part of the trainee support network, particularly in the tutor’s absence. A well-planned induction period is a major contributor to a successful preregistration year. Therefore, involving trainees in their training plan from the outset, and setting realistic targets while monitoring progress, are common practices for successful tutors. For example, agreeing on a date for which a trainee should be expected to achieve a certain competency and the specific exercises they need to complete within the agreed timeframe in order to satisfy those criteria. A tutor should be able to recognise when additional support is required and be understanding of a trainee’s individual circumstances. Maintaining open communication channels is essential to developing a supportive environment.
It is the tutor’s duty to ensure that trainees’ learning needs are met within a safe learning environment
Employee health and wellbeing are priorities and are not to be taken lightly. Tutors should encourage trainees to take appropriate action – for example, taking time off or scheduling an appointment with their GP, if their mental or physical health is at risk. If a trainee does require time off work, then it is the responsibility of the tutor to ensure their trainee is supported upon their return to work and make reasonable adjustments to ensure the transition is smooth.
Fostering a culture where trainees feel empowered to ask questions and express their concerns is of utmost importance as well.
4. Put patient safety first
A trainee who is learning will certainly make mistakes, so it is the tutor’s duty to ensure their trainee’s learning needs are met within a safe learning environment. As such, all work assigned to a trainee needs to fall within their scope of practice. This involves allowing them to understand and follow standard operating procedures as well as other relevant regulatory or legal frameworks.
Encouraging a culture where trainees learn from incidents is an absolute must when considering patient safety. Raising concerns with the trainee about developmental areas at an early stage, and explaining the possible risk will allow the trainee time to reflect and learn from feedback. In cases where improvement is not made, challenging poor practice and behaviours, and taking appropriate action to prevent errors when necessary are crucial to patient safety. It may be useful to encourage the trainee to propose solutions as this is a skill they will need when qualified.
Examples of this include involving trainees in tasks such as General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) inspections and quality improvement audits to ensure high levels of patient care are always delivered. In addition, involving trainees in supporting the safe practice of other staff members, raising concerns when appropriate, and displaying integrity and honesty without fearing reprisal or being judged.
5. Foster inclusiveness
As a new member of an existing pharmacy team, trainees can find it difficult to fit in. It is not uncommon for scenarios to develop that result in negative feelings. For example, where the dispenser or pharmacy technician feels that their role is being encroached upon because the tutor is passing on tasks to the preregistration trainee. These type of exchanges can result in tension between team members and can result in a toxic work environment
It is important that preregistration trainees are made to feel valued and are encouraged to contribute as an important member of the team. It is the responsibility of the preregistration tutor to ensure the team is prepared for a new trainee and explains the role early on. The pharmacy team must have an understanding of the purpose and aim of the preregistration year. Explaining the learning journey and what trainees need to do to meet performance standards may help with this.
Developing a proactive learning culture where all team members are engaged and where staff are valued and respected is vital to safeguarding the preregistration trainee’s development.
6. Set high expectations and follows up on them
An excellent tutor recognises the need to offer their trainee a range of learning opportunities and challenges that will allow them to meet performance standards, and help them realise their full potential.
In a busy pharmacy setting, trainees may not be following a training plan — although this is a GPhC requirement — and many may be confined to one area of pharmacy practice for long periods of time (for example, filling dosette boxes).
This type of learning environment will negatively impact morale and limit trainee learning in other areas of clinical practice. Excellent tutors will involve their trainees in a training plan that engages them in a range of learning opportunities. In addition, tutors need to make the entire pharmacy team believe that quality patient care is the outcome of the collaborative effort of all those working in the pharmacy. The trainee is not an extra pair of hands: they are a member of the team and, as such, the tutor should support their growth by exposing them to as many real-world experiences as possible. Helping contextualise their academic learning and consolidate it through clinical application of knowledge in a practice environment.
Overseeing a trainee’s journey from novice to a competent and confident professional will give the tutor a sense of pride and satisfaction. Although there is a learning curve for tutors, it can be very rewarding.
Box: Additional training and sources of help and support for tutors
While the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) does not mandate preregistration tutors to undertake additional training, the following courses can be beneficial for those interested in assuming a tutor role:
- National Pharmacy Association;
- Health Education and Improvement Wales;
- Health Education England providers.
Where to go for help:
About the author
Noma Al-Ahmad is a pharmacist and managing director at ProPharmace, a pharmacy training company that delivers training programmes to the pharmacy workforce. She is also an honorary lecturer at King’s College London.