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What I learned in rising from counter assistant to GP practice pharmacist

Written by: Thomas Cox
Published on: 3 Oct 2018

Sue Alldred

Pharmacist Sue Alldred gave her seven tips for getting a job in a GP practice during the C+D careers evening in Bradford.

Ms Alldred walked a colourful path to achieve her role as GP pharmacist and head of clinical pharmacy of a practice group.

She began her pharmacy degree in 1993, and 13 years later started her current job as senior GP pharmacist at Colton Mill Medical Centre in Leeds. During this time, she worked her way from “counter girl in a community pharmacy” all the way up to working for a clinical commissioning group and in care homes.

What advice does she have for pharmacists looking for work in a GP practice?

1. Feel free to change 

After finishing her degree at the University of Nottingham, Ms Alldred worked as a locum pharmacist before taking a role at a London hospital. She says: “They shut me in the controlled drugs cabinet for three months – I decided that wasn’t where I wanted to be.”

So she switched to a Huddersfield hospital, to work as a specialist pharmacist.

“I started in rheumatology, then moved into ophthalmology, and finally neurology,” she says. “You need to be prepared to dot about and not fix yourself in a little box, because you might get stuck. Make a plan, but feel free to change at any point.”

2. Keep building knowledge  

While working in hospitals, Ms Alldred achieved her independent prescribing qualification, which she says is “really helpful if you want to work in general practice”.

She also earned a clinical diploma at the University of Bradford, which “helped consolidate all the clinical knowledge you’ve got coming out of university – it comes together and makes sense”.

“If you don't use your knowledge, it'll get rusty and then that makes it more difficult to work in clinical patient-facing roles,” she warns.

3. Prove your worth

GP practices are businesses where “profit is the bottom line”, so “you’ve got to prove your worth” to the team, Ms Alldred says.

She did this by becoming the “first point of contact” for doctors’ medicines queries, which is where she says GP pharmacists can make the “biggest impact”. She gets answers to queries faster than the GPs, particularly when dealing with hospitals.

4. Save the GPs time

Dealing with medicines requests saves GPs at her practice “around an hour a day each – that means they are going home earlier and they have a better quality of life”, Ms Alldred says.

She has enabled the practice to increase the number of appointments available, she says, resulting in “lots of happy patients, GPs and practice staff”.

“We are also improving the [healthcare] quality for patients.”

5. Engage with care homes

Ms Alldred spent three years in care homes, before starting at the GP practice, where she “learnt loads” through doing medication reviews.

She got her current job when one of the practices she’d conducted care home reviews for asked her to work for them.

She uses her care home visits to improve their policies around high-risk medicines and does polypharmacy reviews.  

6. Get support from colleagues

Ms Alldred is head of clinical pharmacy at South and East Leeds GP Group, which has nine pharmacists. They have a WhatsApp group where “there’s no question too silly”, as well as monthly meetings.

Being a GP pharmacist can be “a bit isolated” as you are “trying to create a new role in a sometimes hostile environment”, she admits.

7. Get experience

Getting experience through shadowing in a GP practice will “massively help” your chances of getting a job there, she says. 

Pre-registration training places are another possibility, and after two years at the practice, Ms Alldred has the experience to support a pre-registration pharmacist and her practice is employing one from next year. “Watch this space, as more opportunities will come as things develop over the next few years.”

Read five tips for progressing in industrial pharmacy from C+D’s Bradford careers evening.

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