A career in communications
Published: 11 May 2009
Do you know your Apprentice from your Desperate Housewives? Would you be happy being pushed in front of a camera at 6am? And could you cope with being put on the spot in front of thousands of people?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then a career in communications could be for you. There are many roles for pharmacists in this area, from working full time in one of the major pharmacy organisations, to freelancing or making local radio appearances alongside the day job.
David Pruce is director of policy and communications at the RPSGB and says he got into communications “by mistake”.
The Society had trained all their senior staff in media skills, but he was thrown into the spotlight unexpectedly after a Which? investigation into pharmacy.
He explains: “I had to do something like 10 live and pre-recorded interviews as my baptism of fire. It was scary, but the adrenaline rush when you get it right is amazing.”
And this, he says, has always been his favourite thing about the job. “Just knowing that you are communicating with hundreds or even thousands of people and you have got across the message that you intended is such a buzz.”
Nargis Ara is a pharmacist who now works as a consultant and frequently appears in the media to give an expert opinion on health stories. After completing her pharmacy degree Ms Ara worked in academia, and her switch to the media came after she appeared on reality TV show The Apprentice.
She agrees that being in the spotlight can give a real adrenaline rush, but warns the work can also be quite unpredictable. “It can be quite random as to who calls,” she says.
This unpredictability extends to the interviews, too, says Mr Pruce, and he warns that you do need to be able to think on your feet. Sometimes you might go into a studio prepared for one line of questioning, only to be faced with something completely different.
And you’ll need to be prepared to talk about things that you might not necessarily be an expert in. Ms Ara has commented on everything from forensic science to foot and mouth disease and explains: “Stories are not necessarily anything related to something I would have learnt in my pharmacy degree, so I have to extrapolate my knowledge to get my head around things.”
You could also have to face some more unusual questioning, such as the time on local radio when Mr Pruce was asked whether he preferred The Apprentice or Desperate Housewives.
“I hadn’t watched either of them, so I said The Apprentice, but then they asked me who had been kicked off last night and I had no idea!” he laughs.
As well as being able to cope with the unexpected, Mr Pruce says one of the most important skills needed to work in this area is the ability to present information succinctly. But he thinks this is a skill you can develop with practice. Offering to do things such as presentations, or even lectures, would be a good start.
When you are confident in your abilities, he adds: “The best thing to do is to get yourself into a position where you can be a spokesperson for something, even if it is just your branch.” This will give you experience talking to journalists and improve your confidence. Mr Pruce advises: “You can often get into your local papers, which are often much kinder than the nationals. And be prepared to talk on the local radio, too; the more you do at a local level, the more experience you will get.”
It’s also very important to be aware of the different types of media, and how they might present things. As Mr Pruce says: “When you’re talking to certain people everything has to be measured; other people you know are going to be a little bit kinder.”
So if you’re looking to add a little excitement to your career, and think you could cope with the unpredictability of the role, then a foray into communications could be the right step.
And the beauty of it is that you can start on a small scale before you commit to a full-blown job change. Pharmacists regularly appear in their local papers or on the radio and, who knows, next time it could be you in the spotlight.