Working her way up from pharmacy novice to head office via a whole host of other challenges, Jenna Whitehead proves the sky is the limit

A career in community pharmacy hadn’t always been on Jenna Whitehead’s radar but an interest in healthcare, sparked by looking after someone with learning difficulties at school, meant that when the opportunity arose, it certainly appealed.

“When I left school at 16 I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I’ve always been driven and I wanted to earn my own money and get some independence,” says Jenna. “My brother came home one day with a job advert for Co-op Pharmacy – before it was Well – and it was an opportunity to do the NVQ level 2 but they’d pay you the wage of a dispensing assistant while you were doing it.”

After six months of training, Jenna qualified as a dispensing assistant and stayed in the role for just over two years. “I’d be fulfilling repeat prescriptions and making sure all the needs of our customers were met, I did the blister packs for the community and the prescriptions for drug misuse,” Jenna recalls. 

A head for healthcare 

After leaving the Co-op Pharmacy, Jenna worked as a nursing assistant at the local mental health hospital for a couple of years but pharmacy soon came calling once again. 

Starting again as a dispensing assistant at a LloydsPharmacy branch in south Manchester, Jenna quickly built up her confidence and skillset. “Lots of the staff were part time and I was picking up a lot of stuff and had taken on lots of responsibility,” she says. “After six or eight months I felt like I’d reached my potential and I asked my area manager if there was anything else I could move on to do.”

The answer was to become a change coach, supporting pharmacies to implement and embrace technological change within the business. After a few months, Jenna was asked if she would like to be a branch manager and got thrown in at the deep end. “They basically said: ‘You’ll start on Monday morning, here are the keys!’ It was a small branch – we did about 5,000 prescription items a month – so it was quiet but a great starter and I progressed really well,” Jenna explains.

After several pharmacies and a short move back to Well, Jenna’s pharmacy management role was still going strong. But as always, she was looking for her next challenge.

Moving on

A few months later, an opportunity arose to become a care home support manager at LloydsPharmacy. It involved helping to improve the quality of care in care homes through the implementation of a new medicines management system, which Jenna really enjoyed, although it was only a 12-month secondment and she wanted something permanent. This came in the form of a Careplus account manager role at Well, which Jenna started in October 2016.

Careplus is Well’s dedicated division dealing with medicines management in care homes through the Well Pad, which uses cutting edge barcode technology to clinically intervene to stop errors when dispensing medicines to a resident.

“I look after a set amount of customers so that’s 27 care homes and we have around 300 care homes in total,” says Jenna. “It’s my job to train the home correctly and make sure they’re doing everything as they should. I speak to care home managers and staff on a daily basis and regularly go out and visit homes. We also have a web-based portal which gives us visibility of the interventions on the Well Pad, enabling us to offer support conversations via phone.”

Although Jenna’s current role isn’t patient-facing, her past dispensary experience is certainly of use. “I think the fact that I’ve got pharmacy experience definitely helps. I’ve got that extra knowledge so that if I see something that isn’t right I can flag it up,” she says. “I support managers to train their team and I think that coaching and mentoring from the management side of pharmacy has really helped with that. It’s all about trying to get them to take that ownership and not giving it to them on a plate – no one learns that way.”

Variety is key

With so many care homes under her supervision and the range of potential queries vast, no day is ever the same. “I get a daily report from each care home so that structures my week to an extent but I never know what’s coming on the phone so every day is different. I spend time booking in visits and being proactive – spotting potential queries and get in touch with them before they get in touch with me,” Jenna explains. “If I visit a home then I’ll bob into the pharmacy that services them too. I think it’s important that having worked in pharmacy, I understand the pressure they’re under. [The pharmacy staff] relate to that and know that I’m not just that person from head office,
I understand their position.”

It’s no secret that Jenna loves a challenge, but this is particularly evident when she says: “I like when it’s not going quite right and I can turn it around. I’ll make myself available to [the care home] and say ‘let me support you’ and ‘what tools can we put into place to help?’ I give people those tools to help them improve and watch them turn it around and I thrive on that. If they’re struggling and you know you can help – there’s nothing better.”

Pharmacy calling?

Jenna clearly loves her current role and says it’s her favourite so far. But does she miss the front line of community pharmacy? Definitely. 

“I miss the conversation and the laugh and joke with regular customers,” says Jenna. “I liked that continuity, having regular customers who come in every month or even everyday, and building those relationships. I still get that to an extent but not with the patients themselves as I’m dealing with the people looking after them.”

And will she ever go back to the coalface? Perhaps. “It’s an absolute bonus that I’ve got an NVQ,” says Jenna. “I want a family at some point and might need flexibility in a job so it’s a great thing to have that choice to go back into pharmacy. However, I love being field based and the variety that I have now so I’m definitely staying put for the time being.”

I give people those tools to help them improve and watch them turn it around and I thrive on that

Recommended

Top for teamwork

Paula Hindmarch’s passion for helping people meant that a switch from police officer to dispensing assistant was n...