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Taking healthcare beyond the pharmacy

In her close-knit community in Bristol, Ella Walker spends her days carefully attending to pharmacy patients, whatever their needs may be.

When asked how she thinks her co-workers would describe her, Ella Walker, apprentice dispenser at Cadbury Heath Pharmacy, said: “Hopefully they think I’m hardworking!”. Judging from her rapid acquisition of skills and progression in the pharmacy since joining just two years ago, it is safe to say they most definitely would.

New beginnings

Ella began her career in pharmacy working part-time while completing her A-Levels. “I started as a Saturday worker, and picked up odd shifts throughout the week when I could in-between college. My parents have been involved in healthcare, so I was always intrigued by this sector,” she explains. After completing her studies, Ella was offered an apprenticeship at the pharmacy which she completed before immediately beginning her dispenser apprenticeship – the role she is currently in. “Being offered the actual apprenticeship is my most memorable moment in the pharmacy,” she says. “After starting off working here just on Saturdays, when I was then offered the apprenticeship, I felt I was being recognised for doing well, and that’s a highlight for me.”

“It’s an environment that enables you to develop your skills and at a speed that you want to develop them as well”

One dosette a time

One of the many aspects of the pharmacy Ella is involved in is managing patient dosette boxes. This daily activity requires attentive care, as so many people in the local community rely on this aid to understand and take their daily medication. “Especially elderly people who do struggle,” says Ella. “Even with things like popping their pills out of the actual foil blisters.”

The fact that many people rely on the dosette boxes as an aid is something Ella takes very seriously, setting aside time every day to check discharge summaries and amendment sheets and to order prescriptions from the surgery. “We need to ensure we’re providing the exact medication that they’re meant to be taking at the right time, and it is common that GPs change these dosages and don’t inform us,” she explains. “So we do have to have a watchful eye over each patient to ensure we notice if there are any changes.”

In addition, Ella ensures the patients themselves feel clear and confident on their medication too. “We make backing sheets to go with the dosette boxes so patients can read about and see what they’re taking each day – we also tell them what each medication looks like so they can identify it themselves. It takes a lot of care,” she adds.

Individual needs

Though she has only worked in pharmacy a short amount of time, Ella shares some vital guidance she has learned for those assisting with over-the-counter (OTC) recommendations and advice for patients. She notes that it is important to be incredibly attentive to each customer as an individual, especially when it comes to recommending products. “When you’re on the counter and you’re serving customers, you have to ask the relevant questions before selling them an item,” she explains. “There have been times where I’ve served diabetic people asking for cough medicine, but a normal, common one has sugar in. It’s really important you don’t sell them something with sugar in and advise something that suits their health condition.” Paying attention to details like this is central to providing safe and appropriate support and recommendations to all customers.

“We make backing sheets to go with the dosette boxes so patients can read about and see what they’re taking each day”

Crucial care

In Ella’s community, healthcare extends beyond of the four walls of the pharmacy. “Every few weeks we bring out new health awareness campaigns and advertise them in the pharmacy, on our social media, in local magazines, and by dropping leaflets at the library and at the local food bank, so that the community are aware of what we’re providing.” One of these campaigns aims to encourage people to have their blood pressure checked in the pharmacy. Through this service, Ella herself has found several patients with high blood pressure and has had to refer them to a GP – as keeping blood pressure in check is vital for overall wellbeing. “It is so important for these people to be on the correct medication that they should be on,” she explains.

Helping people make crucial steps in their health, partnered with the pharmacy’s learning space, is what keeps Ella motivated in her role. “It’s an environment that enables you to develop your skills and at a speed that you want to develop them as well. Probably one of my biggest achievements and highlights would be learning and gaining the otoscopy training. I’m really proud of qualifying in that.”

And the only way is up as Ella plans on completing the Level 3 pharmacy technician course next: “The pharmacy is definitely a setting I want to stay in!”

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