While the basics remain the same, Sally Watson relishes the fact that every day in pharmacy brings fresh challenges and surprises

Sally Watson’s pharmacy journey began at the age of 17, with a job at her local branch of Boots in Clacton. After 10 years in the post, she had a long career break to start and bring up her family. When she returned to work, this time for an independent community pharmacy in Chingford, Sally found that pharmacy life had changed almost beyond recognition, with no end of new training requirements and services to get to grips with.

Undaunted, Sally got stuck back into pharmacy life and, over the following six years, she attained her medicines counter assistant and dispensary assistant qualifications, became a supervisor and then a manager with responsibility for the shop floor, and even embarked on a pharmacy technician course. 

The changes continued when Sally relocated to Harlow and accepted a job at Potter Street Pharmacy – a member of the pharmacy group Paydens Ltd – where she currently works. Thanks to the support of her team, Sally was able to complete her technician training and go on to become an accuracy checking technician (ACT).

“There has always been plenty of change in pharmacy,” says Sally. “When I first started, all the medicines were kept in jars and had to be counted out and measured, and there was no repeat prescription service, so people had to go to a doctor every time they needed a prescription. Nowadays, it is not easy to get an appointment with a GP, so people come to us first to ask questions about their health. These days, we dispense a lot more prescriptions, and have moved towards generics.”

Rewarding roles

As an ACT, one of Sally’s most important daily roles is carrying out the final accuracy check on repeat prescription items after pharmacist Vishal Mehta has done the clinical check. Potter Street Pharmacy serves a large elderly population, so this work involves checking and labelling a vast quantity of medicines in monitored dosage systems (MDS), which help patients take their medicines on time and avoid missing a dose. Sally’s checking role extends to palliative care boxes, which the pharmacy provides to relatives and carers of patients receiving end-of-life care from district nurses. To ensure that patients are not kept waiting for this vital service, Sally regularly liaises with the GP surgery next door and prepares the boxes in advance as much as possible. 

In addition, Sally has the responsible task of managing the pharmacy’s remuneration claims for prescription services, and enjoys the satisfaction of sending them off at the end of each month. However, providing medicines management services to a local hospice alongside Vishal is a role that she finds particularly rewarding.

“Vishal visits the hospice every Thursday to provide clinical services and I visit every Wednesday to do a stock check and order. I go through all the medicine cupboards and check items against a stock list to make sure that the hospice is not over or under stocked,” she explains. “It is a surprisingly lovely place and not at all how I imagined a hospice to be. While all the patients are terminally ill, they are supported to return home if possible. My sister works there, so it’s nice to see her when I visit.” 

Team effort

In between her roles in the dispensary and at the hospice, Sally finds time to serve customers at the counter, where she provides self care advice and signposts people to the pharmacy’s many services. This could involve referring a patient to Vishal if they are due a medicines use review (MUR), or directing smokers trying to quit the habit to stop smoking advisors Hayley and Andrea. During the winter months, Sally is kept busy signing up patients for flu vaccinations, and – as she always gets the jab herself – she can reassure patients that “it only takes a minute and doesn’t hurt”.

“Community pharmacy is all about patient contact,” adds Sally. “The whole team is very friendly and approachable, and over the last 10 years I have got to know many of our patients well. People aren’t afraid to come in and ask us questions about their health and they really trust the advice we give.”

Sally believes that being aware of her colleagues’ different roles and being able to switch between tasks with ease is essential when it comes to dealing with the unpredictable nature of pharmacy life. And of course, undertaking regular training and keeping her CPD record up to date is a vital part of staying abreast of change. 

“We are a good team and all work well together and can cover each other’s roles,” says Sally. “I am quite happy to do any task required. No one says ‘I am a such-and-such and I don’t do anything else’. We look after each other and that feeling extends to our patients too.”

Expecting the unexpected

To ensure that Sally is prepared to face any situation that may arise in the pharmacy, she is also a qualified first aider – a skill that was recently put to the test when she helped a little boy with a severe nosebleed. The child had fallen off his scooter, landing face first, and had been rushed into the pharmacy by his anxious mum. Fortunately, there was nothing broken and Sally was able to stop the bleeding and clean him up in the consultation room at the same time as keeping mum calm.  

Unexpected incidents like that really sum up what pharmacy life means to Sally and make sure that her job never gets boring. 

“I love the patient contact and the variety of my job,” she enthuses, before adding: “The basics are always the same, such as dispensing and putting stock away, but every day is different and there is always something new to deal with. You simply never know what people will walk in the door for.”

The whole team is very friendly and approachable, and over the last 10 years I have got to know many of our patients well

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