Socrates is said to have uttered the words “The unexamined life is not worth living” at his trial, and the same could be applied to our working lives as well.
For members of any profession — particularly one that is providing a service that supports the health and wellbeing of the public — it is vital to have enough time to develop values, knowledge and skills through regular critical self-evaluation and learning.
A culture of ongoing learning is built into many healthcare professions — some GPs even go as far as closing their surgeries on an afternoon every week to train their teams and ensure that they are keeping up-to-date with the rapidly changing guidance and policies in the NHS.
But it appears that this culture has yet to take root in every part of pharmacy. The 2020 salary and job satisfaction survey by The Pharmaceutical Journal has revealed that half (51%) of pharmacists say they are never given protected learning time and 39% of all pharmacists said they were never offered structured training.
The problem is particularly acute in community pharmacy, where nearly three quarters (72%) of community pharmacists reported never having protected learning time, compared with 51% of hospital pharmacists. Among GP and primary care network pharmacists the figure was 19%.
And this culture starts early. For example, not all preregistration trainees are offered study leave allowances or protected study time as part of their contracted working hours and others have this taken from their annual leave allowance. Even those on the provisional foundation programme this year will not have protected time for learning, despite the recognition that they require additional support.
Those pharmacists lucky enough to be on the primary care education pathway in England do receive 28 days of leave for protected learning for a mixture of face-to-face events and supervision meetings, although the evidence shows that the most valued activity for many is often simply having the time to discuss information with peers.
Of course, revalidation requires evidence of continued professional development and peer discussion, but this should be more than an annual regulatory requirement; it should be a continual process of pharmacists getting out of their comfort zone, questioning what they are doing and learning new ways of doing things.
As part of its wellbeing campaign, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society is calling for “pharmacists to have access to protected learning time to support and enable their professional development”. Our survey data show that there is a way to go before this is the case for everyone.
Regular paid protected learning time should become standard for all pharmacists in all sectors, no matter what stage they are at. As the profession takes on more clinical and diverse roles in the health service, it will become even more crucial and patients will expect their pharmacist to be capable in any situation.