As any pharmacist worth their stripes will tell you, the pre-reg year is tough. Juggling working in a pharmacy, studying for the registration exam and trying to maintain a social life makes for a stressful 12 months and is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
Fortunately, Charles Thomas’s time as a new recruit was far removed from this experience. During his time as a pre-reg student for Day Lewis’s Preston branch in Paignton, Devon, he managed to pull off an audit project on inhaler technique, promote the pharmacy’s winter pressure services and visit local schools to talk about life as a pharmacist – all while passing his pre-reg exam on his first attempt.
To top off this impressive year, Charles battled it out against stiff competition for the chance to be named Pre-registration Graduate of the Year at last year’s C+D Awards. Ultimately, his first-class work ethic and dedication to improving patient care wowed the judges and he walked away with the title. So how do you turn this potentially tricky year into mission accomplished?
1. Get out in the field
The transition from university to pre-reg placement can be a difficult one, not least because students must suddenly put into practice all they have learned throughout their degree.
Charles admits that it can be difficult no longer being “spoon-fed” through your studies. But he advocates gaining some experience before your placement because it can make all the difference in the future and help you to get the most out of your pre-reg year. He explains that the experience he gained working in retail as a teenager allowed him to “hit the ground running” as soon as he started his professional training.
Charles also gained summer experience with Boots and the Co-Operative Pharmacy in the three years running up to his pre-reg year and recommends that pharmacy students actively search for work experience placements during their summer holidays.
2. Think tactically
While landing your first job as a qualified pharmacist can seem like a long way off at the beginning of your pre-reg year, Charles recommends viewing your placement as part of your career. For him, this meant applying for placements in areas of the country where he was more likely to land a job once qualified.
For this reason, Charles applied exclusively for placements in the south-west of England, knowing that the area’s lack of pharmacy schools made it more likely that there would be job opportunities for him there.
“It never occurred to me to go to London because it’s so difficult to get a job there,” he explains. “I thought if I wanted to move somewhere like that I’d get experience in Devon first and then move that way.”
It was also important for Charles to find a company to work for that he felt could offer him plenty of opportunities, which is why he eventually chose a placement with Day Lewis. “Again, it’s that career move,” he says.
3. Make time for co-workers
The workplace is a challenge to navigate at the best of times, even more so for pre-reg students who may not have prior experience of working closely in teams.
Charles quickly recognised the benefits of forming good working relationships with his colleagues. His experience in retail meant he knew that bossing co-workers around was “the biggest mistake you could make” and instead recommends “just going in and trying to be a part of the team”.
Charles’s good relationship with his colleagues also provided him with the support network he needed to realise many projects during his placement. One of these included an inhaler technique audit, which found that 20% of patients were using their inhalers incorrectly.
By swiftly presenting his ideas to the rest of the team, Charles was able to get their valuable input into his plans. “If we had ideas, we’d bounce them off each other and come up with the best way of doing it,” he explains.
Although the busy nature of the pre-reg year can make it difficult to catch up with your tutor, Charles also endorses making time to talk with them. He and his tutor wouldn’t go longer than a month without having a “proper sit-down” and would also take five minutes at the end of each week to catch up, which made it a lot easier to track his progress over the year.
4. Make time for yourself
The pre-reg year often requires you to push yourself, but Charles warns that it’s equally important to avoid burning yourself out. He suggests avoiding revising late into the night, which can “feel like quite a lot” on top of working in a pharmacy. “You [can] just feel like you’re working constantly,” he warns.
Instead, while Charles grabbed every opportunity in the pharmacy to cram in study time, he stresses that he also needed some downtime in his personal life. “You’ve got to have something that you can do in the evening,” he says.
For Charles, making time to relax meant fitting the bulk of his revision into his lunch hour, leaving his evenings free to do as he wished. “Otherwise you just feel like you’re working constantly,” he says.
5. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
No matter how good the intentions you set out with, it can be difficult to organise your time efficiently. But Charles says that an organised approach is the key to a successful pre-reg year.
He made sure he set targets early on for what he was expected to learn and achieve during the year and then prioritised which actions needed to be completed and when. Although he was busy working in the pharmacy, he also used his free time in the dispensary to study, he explains. It might
sound like a gruelling schedule, but Charles says that he “just got on with it”.
Charles also stresses the importance of putting in the hours for the registration exam as early as possible. He stresses that all new recruits need to stay motivated throughout the year because the time “goes very quickly”. “It’s probably the quickest year of your life,” he says. A way to combat this is to set clear goals to keep focused, stay organised and know exactly what you want to get out of the year.