Develop your leadership skills with the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer’s Clinical Fellow Scheme

Applications for the 'Chief pharmaceutical officer’s clinical fellow scheme' open in November 2022. Find out all you need to know about the scheme and how to apply.
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Good clinical leadership leads to improved patient outcomes, organisational performance and workforce satisfaction​[1,2]​. As the healthcare system manages the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and adjusts to the changing healthcare landscape, high-quality clinical leadership in the NHS is more important than ever​[3]​. The new model of working across integrated care systems requires collaborative, compassionate and inclusive multi-professional leadership at all levels to deliver truly integrated and high-quality care​[3]​

Medicines are the most common therapeutic intervention in healthcare and the highest financial spend after staffing, so it is important to get better value and patient outcomes from medicines use​[4,5]​. Strong leadership within the pharmacy profession is vital to achieving this. In recognition of the importance of multi-professional leadership, the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management (FMLM) offers clinical fellowships in a range of healthcare professions, including pharmacy. 

The Chief Pharmaceutical Officer’s Clinical Fellow Scheme was established in 2015 to offer pharmacists a unique opportunity to work with senior leaders and develop essential skills in leadership, management, strategy, project management and health policy. It is open to pharmacists from all sectors and is aimed at aspiring leaders who have not yet held a senior leadership role.

The scheme usually starts around September and runs for a period of one year, during which fellows are placed within key host organisations across the healthcare system, such as NHS England, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the Care Quality Commission. 

As part of a multi-professional community, fellows can partake in and lead on national projects within and external to their host organisations. The 2021/2022 cohort had more than 90 clinical fellows across the six multi-professional clinical fellowship schemes managed by the FMLM​[6]​

The fellowship year includes multi-professional education sessions that bring together all clinical fellows to explore key healthcare leadership themes as part of the FMLM leadership development programme. Fellows also join smaller ‘Facilitated learning action groups’ for a chance to reflect and consolidate learning​[6]​. Additionally, there are opportunities to attend ‘insight days’ organised by other clinical fellows to understand the functions of other host organisations and meet the senior leaders at their helms​[6]​. Throughout the year, clinical fellows can attend leadership conferences, speaker events and networking events to further expand their reach and form contacts across the healthcare system.

Box 1 lists the core criteria of the scheme​[6]​.

Box 1: Essential criteria of Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Clinical Fellow Scheme


  • Must hold a qualification of master of pharmacy degree;
  • Be registered and in good standing with the General Pharmaceutical Council as a pharmacist;
  • Must not hold/have held a formal, established senior leadership role analogous to consultant, chief, director or equivalent;
  • Must be able to demonstrate a significant contribution to your specialism/practice (e.g. service improvement, innovation and expansion of service);
  • Be eligible to work in the UK or participate in this scheme according to visa requirements.

Language skills:

  • Must have demonstrable skills in written and spoken English, adequate to enable effective communication.

Career progression:

  • Must be able to provide complete details of their employment history; 
  • Must have evidence that their present level of achievement and performance is commensurate with their career stage post.

Application completion:

  • All sections of the application form must completed fully according to the written guidelines, which will be available once applications open.

How to write a good application

When preparing for and writing your application, keep the following points in mind​[7,8]​.

  • Ensure you have a good understanding of the fellowship by reading about the scheme and educate yourself on the issues currently affecting the NHS and pharmacy profession;
  • Be clear on why you are applying for the fellowship. Remember, this is a developmental opportunity that will expose you to different parts of the NHS and associated ‘arm’s length bodies’ and how they operate, widening your perspective and preparing you for leadership roles;
  • Answer the question being asked of you, talk about what you would like to gain from the fellowship and what you can offer;
  • Be concise — summarise what they ‘need to know’;
  • Highlight your achievements and experiences at the local, regional or national level; 
  • Talk to current and previous fellows to gain more insights;
  • If you are unsuccessful the first time, reflect on your development needs and do not be discouraged — you can always reapply next year.

Tips for acing the interview

Follow this advice for the best chance of success​[9]​.

Before the interview:

  • Talk to friends and colleagues, and practise mock interviews;
  • Do your preparation. Revisit your application and current affairs, rehearse at least three examples that demonstrate your leadership abilities (including a difficult situation where things did not go well);
  • Ensure your clothes are ready and, importantly, try to relax and get a good night’s sleep;
  • If the interview is in person, look up the route and leave plenty of travel time; 
  • If the interview is virtual, ensure you have a quiet space set aside, that technology is working and that there are contingency plans for IT problems.

On the day:

  • Be confident. Visualise success, dress smartly — something that will help you feel confident;
  • Be personable. Breathe naturally, smile, do not talk too fast, pause so you can hear the questions and give a considered answer. The panel want to see you and your qualities shine through, so deliver that;
  • Articulate why you want this and why they should they pick you;
  • You may need to give a presentation with little notice — be calm and concise, and stick to the time;
  • Whatever the outcome, reflect on the whole process. What have you learnt about yourself? Are there any gaps for development?

Key leadership values

On its website, FMLM outlines key leadership values and behaviours that underpin effective leadership within healthcare organisations​[10]​. The values and behaviours are a series of competency-based attributes that will have a positive impact on the individual, their organisation and their patients​[11]​. Effective leadership is demonstrated by how and what you do, underpinned by the way you do it​[12]​

In modern NHS organisations, leadership is not limited to those in formally appointed leadership roles. The model has shifted to leadership being a responsibility shared by all staff to ensure the success of services​[13]​. There is evidence of a relationship between clinical leadership and quality of care — high-performing organisations tend to have clinicians at senior levels and these organisations perform better on quality metrics​[2]​. Therefore, understanding and adopting the right leadership values and embedding them into your practice can improve patient care, experience and outcomes​[14]​

There are many leadership styles and values, and different people will naturally favour different ones. Understanding your leadership style and values will help you in your leadership journey. Pharmacists may be drawn to values such as honesty, loyalty, compassion, and commitment​[15]​.

FMLM describes four behaviours that are essential for good leaders​[10]​.

1. Self

It is important that aspiring leaders understand themselves, the impact they have on others and their own development needs​[16]​;

2. Team

An effective healthcare leader has in-depth knowledge of how to establish, lead and drive successful teams while promoting equality, inclusion and diversity​[17]​.

3. Organisation

Effective leaders understand and contribute positively to the strategic direction and operational delivery of their organisations​[18]​. This includes adhering to principles of good governance, managing risk, encouraging feedback and navigating professional tensions​[18]​

4. System

Systems leadership is a critical component of healthcare leadership working across boundaries, professional disciplines and with a range of stakeholders​[19]​. Understanding system leadership is important during your fellowship and will enable you to demonstrate that you have knowledge of how integrated care systems will function in the future​[20]​. System leaders effectively contribute to policy development, seek to influence strategy and culture beyond their own organisations​[21]​.

Internalising the four FMLM leadership values can support your fellowship application, help you get the most out of the fellowship and help you in your career as you enter leadership roles.

Reflections on the scheme from 2021/2022 fellows

“A whirlwind of new faces and connections, inspirational stories, golden nuggets of wisdom, thought-provoking conversations, and endless opportunities; the fellowship experience has been a dynamic journey. Working on a variety of national projects at NHS England provided a deeper understanding of healthcare, a chance to contribute to the healthcare landscape and to observe and learn from great leaders. The strategic skills, allowing time for introspection in partnership with extrospection, and listening to and engaging with a wide range of views throughout a programme of work are the key skills for me to take forward in my working life and beyond.”

Marian Salek, chief pharmaceutical officer clinical fellow, NHS England, chief pharmaceutical officer’s office

“The chief pharmaceutical officer’s fellowship has provided me with a unique insight into UK pharmacy professional regulation and the organisational 2030 vision and five-year strategic plan. I have deepened my knowledge of UK healthcare commissioning, strategy and policy drivers and ensuing pharmacy, pharmaceutical care, and medicines optimisation priorities. Chairing an inclusive pharmacy practice workstream has been a rewarding fellowship achievement, teaching me so much about myself, as an inclusive leader, and about how far we have come as a profession. I have enhanced my written and verbal communication style (developing Patient Safety Spotlight articles), optimised social media, and finally piloted a Good Clinical Governance thematic review.”

Aileen O’Hare, chief pharmaceutical officer clinical fellow, the General Pharmaceutical Council

“The experiences of this year, coupled with the support, mentoring and guidance I have received, have given me the confidence to explore beyond the limitations I held myself to. I am coming away from this fellowship with a much better awareness of the health and care landscape, the challenges the profession faces and the opportunities to be explored. I have learned the importance of strong professional and personal support systems, of the value of networking, and of making sure I surround myself by those who will challenge my mindset and perspective. I know this year has had a huge impact on the leader I aspire to be and I am grateful to have been given this opportunity.”

Pooja Sharma, chief pharmaceutical officer clinical fellow, Health Education England

Apply for the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer’s Clinical Fellow Scheme

Applications for the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer’s Clinical Fellow Scheme are now open. Click here to apply.

You can find out more about the 2021/2022 chief pharmaceutical officer fellows here

The NHS Regional Clinical Leadership Fellow Scheme is also open to pharmacists and offers the opportunity to work within NHS regional teams. Posts are on a part-time basis (0.6WTE) for 1 year. For further details, click here.

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Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, September 2022, Vol 309, No 7965;309(3965)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2022.1.157015

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