We visit a pharmacy that has been in the same family for 35 years, but isn’t scared to change

Left to right: Liz Vaile (MCA and health champion), Nick Bickell (trainee dispensing assistant), Minesh Chhatralia (MCA, health champion, smoking cessation adviser, delivery driver and Reena's husband), Reena Barai (pharmacist proprietor), Denise Mayne (MCA and dispensing assistant)

 

Pharmacy staff training is one of those issues that is always high on the agenda. Flick through any trade magazine and there will be a wealth of educational articles, ranging from the obvious candidates such as continuing professional development (CPD) modules to information pieces outlining new product launches, the educational content of which is easy to overlook although it is just as relevant to everyday practice. Many pharmacies rely on their staff reading these publications to keep them up to date, whereas others – usually the bigger multiples – may complement these with bespoke training materials which are distributed to all branches for employees to complete within a certain timeframe.

The one thing these different approaches have in common is that they depend on individual motivation levels. Not only has a member of support staff got to pick up the relevant piece of paper, they also have to read it, absorb what it says, and then apply it to their work. For some, this is simple. For others, it is far more difficult, usually because their working days are busy and switching the brain from ‘doing’ to ‘learning’ is not always an easy thing to do. And there is evidence – reports on community pharmacy by the consumer watchdog Which?, for example – that illustrates how widespread this issue may be.

Taking the initiative

Someone who has decided to do something about this is Reena Barai. As well as owning and running SG Barai Pharmacy in Sutton, South London, Reena has a keen interest in education and training, exemplified by the fact that her second job is as a tutor for the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education (CPPE). Like many, Reena says that she was disappointed when the publication Which? reported last year that standards of care in community pharmacy were incredibly variable. This led to her devising and starting a new way of training her staff, which she calls ‘Think and Talk’.

Once a week, on a day and at a time when the pharmacy is quiet but all staff are due to be in, everyone gathers in the rest area with a cup of tea. On the day that TM was invited to attend, the half hour session was informative and lively, with everyone chipping in with comments and questions. For example, Reena kicked off by explaining a campaign that was due to run in the pharmacy the following week, then medicines counter assistant (MCA) and health champion Liz Vaile took over and explained how she would broach the possibly tricky subject with customers. She was followed by fellow MCA and health champion Minesh Chhatralia, who led a discussion on the types of concerns people might have and how to address them. Dispensing assistant Denise Maine was quick to get involved in this discussion, while new staff member and apprentice dispenser Nick Bickell listened keenly and chipped in with questions.

There is little doubt that Think and Talk works well. Staff clearly consider themselves to be part of the meeting, rather than feeling they are being talked at, and are happy to voice their opinions and ideas, as well as to ask questions about anything that they haven’t quite understood or feel is unclear. Health champion Liz says: “It’s really good because we talk about what is relevant at the time. It’s also great because we actually all sit down together in the same place at the same time, and that in itself has meant that we have all got to know the pharmacy a bit better.” Dispenser Denise adds: “We learn a lot, but it doesn’t feel like training, maybe because we all bring our own experiences to the discussion.”

Think and Talk is also a good fit with the holistic approach the pharmacy has towards its customers and business. Reena sums this up by stating: “Pharmacy is the perfect place for healthy living conversations.” This attitude is reflected in health champion Minesh’s comment that training is now much more likely to involve processes and admin than it did when manufacturer-issued materials were used extensively, which meant that there was a lot of focus on products.

Great example

The pharmacy’s holistic manner has been reinforced by its recently completed refit, which means the medicines’ counter now runs seamlessly into the dispensary. Liz admits that she was unsure about the plans, but has since been won over. “Before, the pharmacist was hidden in the dispensary, but now they can see everything and everyone, meaning you are never left on your own, even on the shop floor,” she says.

A pharmacist is still on hand even if the consultation room – which can be accessed from both the dispensary and the shop floor – is in use. Reena is an advocate of the two pharmacist working model because of the flexibility it offers in terms of delivering services. In many ways, SG Barai is a typical small pharmacy. Located on a small parade of shops in a residential suburb of England’s capital city, it has been a pharmacy since the premises were built in the 1930s. But despite it being in the Barai family since 1979, it is most definitely not stuck in a time warp. Instead, under Reena’s expert guidance, it is constantly striving to better itself and do more for its customers, patients, and staff, as Think and Talk proves. Many could learn from such an example.

Top tips for 'Think and Talk'

  • Schedule the session for a time when the pharmacy is quiet and everyone is in – for example, when the morning and afternoon staff overlap
  • Make it informal. Encourage everyone to sit in a circle, rather than putting the manager at the front and everyone else facing them, classroom style
  • Have a few discussion points, and invite staff to set the agenda
  • Use resources, old and new. Leaflets, posters and aide memoires are training stalwarts, but think more broadly. For example, a (short) video clip shown on a laptop can be a good jumping off point for a new initiative
  • Encourage questions. It is far better that any concerns are ironed out early on so everyone is clear on the details and positive about the new campaign or strategy that is being implemented
  • Keep it brief. Twenty minutes to half an hour is plenty of time to run through quite a lot of new information without being so long that people start to switch off or feel overwhelmed.

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