If you were to look at my CV, you’d see it plagued with the variety of jobs I undertook as a student. I’ve been a waitress, a shop assistant, a children’s shoe fitter, a crazy golf attendant, a dog sitter and a miniature train driver. I tended to work at least two jobs over the summer and would cycle from one to the other. I had to, to supplement my student loan, but it also reaped some benefits. I built interpersonal skills that I wouldn’t have otherwise with my head stuck in the books as a pharmacy student.
Later, as a hospital pre-reg pharmacist, I no longer needed the extra cash. But I missed the breadth of work these ‘side-hustles’ gave me and once I became a newly qualified pharmacist, I wanted to mimic this in my career. I was put in touch with a GP network in Cornwall called People@Veor and my portfolio career began.
My working week is equally split between a busy community pharmacy in Newquay, which dispenses 20,000 prescriptions a month, and a GP surgery in Mevagissey, a small port in Cornwall, where I manage dispensing queries and host my own clinic for flu jabs, pill checks and blood pressure monitoring.
I work four days a week: Mondays and Thursdays in my community pharmacy, and Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the GP practice. The community pharmacy is so busy and I’m on my feet constantly, so by Tuesday I’m ready to work in the GP surgery at a slower pace. After two days of that, I’m ready to go back again to the fast pace of the community pharmacy.
Aside from a variety in pace, the two settings also provide transferrable skills. Community pharmacy has taught me to be patient and empathetic when patients are angry or upset that their scripts aren’t ready, and that only bodes well for working in a GP surgery.
Similarly, getting stuck in at a GP surgery has given me hands-on experience. On my first day at the practice I gave 30 flu jabs, where as I would only have given five in a day in community pharmacy. I didn’t have time to worry about giving my first jab — I just got stuck in.
In a profession that is becoming ever more expansive, a portfolio career like mine provides the job satisfaction I’m looking for, but it could also be the future of work for pharmacists.
Bigger teams of health professionals are beginning to work across primary care networks (PCNs) — NHS England has created 7,500 PCN pharmacist roles across England.
These posts will allow us to work as part of community teams and provide tailored care for patients. They are clinical and patient facing in nature and will give GPs more time to focus on patients with complex needs. But concerns have been raised: will there be enough pharmacists to fill these roles?
Owing to the high demand for pharmacists in the county, 10 pharmacists in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have taken on portfolio careers like mine. Although these careers have arguably been conceived in Cornwall out of necessity, they could help mitigate the workforce shortage nationally that would be created if pharmacists moved from the community setting to work in PCNs.
Pharmacists are also being expected to take on an increasing number of skills to cope with the demands of our ever-changing profession. If pharmacy is to become more consultation based — with the introduction of the Community Pharmacy Consultation Service — nothing provides better training than working in a consultation room in a GP surgery.
For patients, the benefits could be immense. Imagine the continuity and efficiency of care that we could provide by working not only in a community pharmacy, but also in the GP surgery connected to it.
How cool would it be if, instead of sending patients on a wild goose chase to follow up on a medicine issue, we could sort it out then and there, and that patient could go away happy?
For all these reasons, we should see the portfolio career as a pharmacist in general practice and the community as the future of our profession.
Ailsa Sharrock, portfolio pharmacist, People@Veor