The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) Faculty recognises pharmacists for their professional achievements. Faculty assessor and journalist Asha Fowells explains what is involved when applying for membership.
How did you find the Faculty application process?
Thinking about applying to join the RPS Faculty was worse than actually putting together my portfolio. Once I looked at the advanced practice framework in detail, it became obvious which pieces of work would make good portfolio entries, and that many would map to more than one of the 34 competencies. Keying in all the information was time consuming, but gave me an unexpected opportunity to reflect on what I had done over my years in community pharmacy, education and training, and pharmacy journalism.
Another unanticipated aspect of the process was gathering testimonials from people I had worked with over the years. The fact that they had all readily agreed to complete the forms was touching in itself but, upon reading what they had written, I was overwhelmed by how highly they regarded my work and me as an individual.
What has been the most valuable thing about being a member of the Faculty?
Two things: professional recognition and a clearer vision of what I want to do next. Working as a pharmacist – in whatever capacity – often involves working in isolation with only an absence of negative feedback giving an idea that you are doing OK. So receiving the news that I had achieved Faculty membership was rewarding.
Similarly, most people have a clear idea of what they want to achieve in the short to medium term after qualifying but, after a few years, decisions may become reactive rather than proactive — for example, deciding to apply for a position after seeing it advertised rather than having set out to do that particular role. Having a personal development plan (PDP) written by the Faculty assessors has helped me identify where my strengths and weaknesses lie and given me ideas of steps I can take that I probably would not otherwise have considered.
What happens to an application once it has been submitted?
Each portfolio is assessed by a trained assessor who judges which stage of advanced practice the individual’s CV, peer testimonials and entries map to. The assessor also writes feedback on each cluster, which forms the basis of the PDP. The portfolio is then looked at in the same level of detail by a second assessor. If there is a marked discrepancy between the overall stage each assessor judges the application to be at — for example, the first considers it to be at ‘mastery’ while the second deems it as ‘advanced stage II’ — the application will go to a third assessor for a final decision. This process takes around eight weeks. Post-nominals are issued four times a year, due to the need for all decisions to be ratified by the Faculty Credentialing Panel, at which point applicants also receive their certificate, PDP and Faculty pack.
What factors do you consider when assessing what Faculty level someone is at?
Ultimately, it comes down to how an individual’s application maps to the advanced practice framework. In broad terms, ‘advanced stage I’ is awarded to those who are performing exceptionally well in their work, in that they have moved beyond the newly registered stage and are established and experienced. Someone at ‘advanced stage II’ is demonstrating excellence in practice by regularly managing complex situations to the point that they are sought out for their opinions. ‘Mastery’ is only achieved by those who are considered national, or even international, experts in their field of practice, and regarded as leaders within the profession.
There seems to be a general feeling that it is only worth applying to join the faculty if ‘mastery’ is being attained — an impression that may stem from the fact that many of those at the top of the profession were the first to submit portfolios for assessment. However, this somewhat misses the point that all Faculty stages are advanced. After all, most pharmacists got something other than first class honours for their undergraduate degree, but this does not mean that they are not good at what they do. Anyone who has Faculty membership should be proud of what they have achieved.
What aspects make a faculty application particularly good?
From an assessor’s point of view, a good application is one that has robust entries that securely map to the competencies, and includes impact statements that support the evidence being provided. The impact statements and descriptions are important because they provide the opportunity for applicants to explain what they have done and why they think it is at a certain stage. Having more than one piece of evidence per competency is also helpful because it makes for a more compelling portfolio, as does having several peer testimonials.
Are there any common mistakes or pitfalls you have noticed in Faculty applications?
The use of jargon seems to be common. Applicants need to bear in mind that assessors do not necessarily work in the same sector as them and therefore might need help to understand what they mean — for example, by spelling out acronyms on the first entry.
There also seems to be a tendency for entries to be a stream of consciousness, which is difficult to read. The same rules as for any piece of writing should be adopted: structure sentences sensibly and check grammar and spelling. Getting someone to read entries before submission can be useful — a partner or friend is fine and, in fact, is more likely to pick up on problems with comprehension than someone with intimate knowledge of your work.
In a few applications, some fields — including impact statements, explanations or even whole clusters — have been left empty. That is difficult for assessors because we do not know you or your work and so are not able to fill in the blanks. Just as it is important to read through the whole paper when starting an examination, reading through all the information on the RPS website about applying to join the Faculty will help avoid such pitfalls and probably save time for both applicants and assessors in the long run.
What advice would you give to a pharmacist who has not considered joining the Faculty before?
Find out more about it. It is so easy to dismiss it by saying “it’s not for me” or “I haven’t got time” but I cannot think of anyone who would not find the process rewarding and valuable. Those I know who have done it have found it beneficial, often in ways they had not expected.
Glance through the resources on the RPS website, attend a local practice forum meeting on the topic, watch a webinar, read a blog on the topic, talk to a colleague who has joined the faculty — there are so many ways to find out more. Think “when?” rather than “if?” and encourage colleagues to do the same.