Life as a postgraduate student and pharmacy technician

Ropa Mhlanga

I am one of the lucky ones. I have always known what I wanted to do after completing my Level 3 Diplomas in Pharmaceutical Science and Pharmacy Services Skills in 2015 — not many do. Like many pharmacy technicians I started my career in a community pharmacy, followed by working for the NHS and then in private hospitals.

When I first decided to undertake postgraduate studies I realised that it was not necessary to complete a formal training course to get the development needed due to the many options available; such as online training, appropriate reading and shadowing. I was happy enough with my career, however I was not satisfied. I loved my job but wanted to pursue further career opportunities and study a postgraduate course I would be passionate about. I had reached a crossroads in my career — should I pursue extra studies or wait until I had completed three years as a senior technician before applying for a managerial role. The decision to undertake further studies was based on broadening my scope of practice.

Life as a postgraduate is exhilarating and extends beyond my daily life as a pharmacy technician, but it does challenges me. There are plenty of assignments to get through. The trick is to balance your personal and work lives. I knew that my social life would somehow be affected but for me this is the starting point of my career and a means to an end. My postgraduate journey is a way of gaining new experiences and fulfilment.

Ideally, I wanted to complete the Pharmacy Management Programme at Ulster University, however I was disappointed to discover that it was no longer being offered.  I decided to pursue the Postgraduate Certificate in Cancer Studies at Newcastle University instead, as I have also wanted to learn more about the different types of medications used to treat cancer. I started the course in February 2018 and I aim to complete it by December 2020. Attaining this qualification will allow me to approve prescriptions, release medication for cancer patients, train nurses and undertake research work.

Entry into the course was difficult. I didn’t have much to fall on in terms of meeting the criteria but I think my personal statement did the trick as it showed my enthusiasm, according to the programme lead.

For me nothing was as daunting as trying to secure funding. I knew I didn’t want to burden my parents for finance nor did I want to take out a loan. Paying back the tuition fees would require a lot of work so I did my research into how to acquire grants to support my studies. Fortunately, I had also completed some research previously and so I had great mentors at hand to turn to for advice.

Looking back, I can happily say I have accomplished a lot in a short time. I have also completed the intense, five month long NHS Edward Jenner Leadership programme in November 2017, as well as the NHS Health Education England, London & South East Pharmacy Educational Supervisor training, the National Centre for Smoking Cessation training (NCSCT) and Stop Smoking Practitioner Training programme.  Completion of these means I am now eligible for promotion to a supervisory role responsible for pharmacy assistants, preregistration student technicians and newly qualified pharmacy staff. 

At the end of my studies I hope to undertake some research work with the Wellcome Trust or enrol in an NHS Graduate Programme. The most valuable lesson I have learnt is that you can achieve whatever you want, if you set your mind to it.

About the author:

Ropa Mhlanga is a senior bank pharmacy technician at South London and Maudsley (SLAM) NHS Foundation Trust.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Life as a postgraduate student and pharmacy technician;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20205546

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