After starting out by studying for a Bachelor of Pharmacy at Chelsea College, University of London, Maria Christou went on to do a PhD in drug metabolism and toxicology at the same institution. She later studied for an MSc in advanced level pharmacy practice at School of Pharmacy, University of London.
She says she has never had second thoughts about her decision to opt for a career in pharmacy and this has never been truer than right now. “This is a very exciting time for the pharmacy profession with widening opportunities to work across different sectors of practice and with other healthcare professions to deliver high-quality patient-centred care.”
Roles and networks
Dr Christou, who is head of the NHS Pharmacy Education and Development Unit and an honorary reader at the University of East Anglia (UEA) school of pharmacy in Norwich, started her career proper by undertaking preregistration training at Hammersmith Hospital’s Royal Postgraduate Medical School in London.
Since then she has spent some time in the US where she was first a postdoctoral fellow at the department of pharmacology at the University of Wisconsin Medical School and then an associate scientist at the same school. Back in the UK she has been NHS regional pharmacy education specialist (East Anglia Strategic Health Authority) and an honorary senior lecturer at the UEA Institute of Health.
Later, Dr Christou became specialist pharmacy education and training services manager for NHS private patient units and honorary senior lecturer at UEA School of Chemical Sciences and Pharmacy and at the School of Pharmacy, University of London.
Clearly, contributing to professional issues through involvement in professional groups is important to her. Dr Christou is a member of the NHS Pharmacy Education and Development Committee, the United Kingdom Clinical Pharmacy Association and the American Association for Cancer Research.
Faculty and the future
So, what are Dr Christou’s thoughts on the profession? What are the key issues being faced by pharmacists? “The [medicines] optimisation agenda is one of the key drivers for the profession at the moment, which presents both opportunities and challenges to demonstrate improved patient outcomes from medicines use,” she says.
“The widening horizons for the pharmacy profession are underpinned by parallel major changes in requirements for the initial education of pharmacists leading to registration with the General Pharmaceutical Council, as well as the continuing professional development of the workforce.”
The recent introduction by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of a professional recognition programme in the shape of the RPS Faculty provides what Dr Christou calls a valuable motivational tool for both professional development and career progression in a way that elevates the status of the profession as a whole. “I strongly recommend this to all colleagues who are eligible to apply,” she says.
Dr Christou was a member of the task and finish group for the RPS Faculty Accreditation Panel between 2012 and 2013; is a member of the RPS Expert Education Advisory Panel and is communications lead for the East Anglia Local Practice Forum.
She was also chairman of UKCPA education and training group committee between 2010 and 2013, and since 2006 has been secretary of the East of England Pharmacy Workforce Group.
Changing pharmacy degree
On the future of pharmacy education, Dr Christou says that she would welcome and support the implementation of a five-year integrated pharmacy degree programme, based on the evidence-based recommendations of the former Modernising Pharmacy Careers Programme Board.
“This approach would provide earlier exposure to clinical practice and would incorporate two preregistration six-month placements during years four and five.
“I believe that this will pave the way to closer and more collaborative working between academia and practice, and will improve both the overall quality of tutoring and the learning experiences of trainees.
It will also drive quality improvements in work-based (experiential) learning and assessment for the wider range of post-registration education and development activities,” she says.
“I feel privileged to have the opportunity to contribute to ongoing changes in pharmacy education while being supported and recognised by my professional body,” she adds.
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