From Pre Reg Student to Locum Pharmacist: The Do’s and Don’ts
Four long years of university are complete and the final, possibly most difficult, challenge, your pre-registration year, has been conquered.
All those competencies to fulfil, all the over-the-counter skills, all the dispensary hours, and all that revision, are finally behind you.
So, what next?
Do you dive straight into a structured working life? Progressing up the corporate ladder, from the second pharmacist to the manager, and possibly beyond?
Do you take the more flexible route and gain experience working in many different pharmacy settings as a self-employed locum pharmacist?
Or do you scrap all of that all together and travel the world to stimulate your mind?
Well, I can’t really help you with the first or third options, but I can certainly provide some useful tips on working as a locum pharmacist.
As a self-employed locum pharmacist, you can expect to see a vast array of pharmacy environments, and as the weeks, months and years go by, you will begin to develop a much clearer idea of which particular environments suit your particular working style, with respect to their processes and procedures.
Unfortunately though, at least for the first few months, finding out what works for you is very much trial and error. In my first year working as a locum, I worked in over 50 different pharmacy settings and compared to some of my peers, that was a modest number. They would be at a different pharmacy every single day.
However, there are some general tips which can be of assistance to everybody, regardless of background or ambitions.
Starting off can be daunting, so ease yourself in!
Your pre-reg year was 52 weeks of not only training to be a fully qualified pharmacist, but also a lot of familiarising yourself with your environment. The way that pharmacy business operated, the protocols it adopted and the environment it provided all moulded you in to be a capable employee of THAT business.
Needless to say, there are other settings which may operate exactly like that one. However, based on my experience, every pharmacy is different; whether that difference manifests in one insignificant process, or ten of the most important ones.
If you worked in a pharmacy that was relatively quiet dispensing an average of 4,000 items monthly; then you may be in for a shock accepting a shift in a pharmacy that does 12,000 items a month.
The best thing you can do is to work your way up to that level. You might often be nudged out of your comfort zone, but that’s far more preferable than being fired out of it from a cannon!
A good way to implement this is to try and mix up your working week. Alternate days in a place that works at the pace you’re used to with days in a place that tends to be a little more on the go. It’s a great way to develop your confidence and before long you’ll be slipping into 20,000 items a month with no trouble at all.
1. Don’t be afraid to try new things
The perception of failure is one of, if not the biggest hindrance to your success. By the time I had been a locum for six months, a few of my friends had yet to make that leap because the idea of it scared them. As a little kick up the backside, I offered them some of my shifts which I knew were likely to be quiet, at pharmacies that tended not to have an awful lot of traffic coming through them. Before too long they were wondering what they were so afraid of.
The same rule can apply to taking regular work or permanent positions. Every avenue will benefit your development in some way or another and will develop your overall skill set.
2. Get accredited
The world of pharmacy is a constantly evolving environment, and at times I can barely keep up with it myself! However, there is one aspect of it that’s here to stay; service provision is sticking around and its role in pharmacy is highly likely to increase. With the various clawbacks currently in play, not to mention those that are forthcoming, affecting the bottom line of pharmacy businesses, pharmacists will be expected to take on a wide range of new responsibilities to deliver these services efficiently in an effort to deliver extra revenue for their business. This also fails to mention the immense satisfaction that there is to be gained from helping somebody by delivering such a service. There are fewer satisfying things that a patient who hasn’t smoked in two years thanking you for helping them quit.
To be able to offer these services, however, you need the relevant accreditations, and many pharmacies won’t even take a second look at your CV if you don’t have at least some of them. At the very least, consider MURs, NMS, safeguarding level 2, registered as dementia friend and repeat dispensing absolutely mandatory. And if nothing else, the more of these you have, the more you stand out from those competing for the same shifts, and the more you seem qualified for the rate you’re being paid.
Register as a dementia friend
Substance Use and Misuse
Instalment and Methadone Prescriptions
Emergency Hormonal Contraception
3. Explore every avenue
To hit you with a cliche briefly; it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Networking is absolutely paramount to you obtaining work. Believe me when I say that somebody is much more likely to have a good impression of you once they’ve actually met you in person, or based on the word of mouth of a person or organisation they trust.
Within the first few months of qualifying, I did a couple of key things to ensure that I was first in line for shifts.
4. Join agencies
Granted, some you may have heard negative stories about locum agencies and the work they provide. However, there are an equal, if not greater, number of positive reasons to join them as well. Regardless of all else, they WILL get you work, it’s what they’re set up to do. There are some agencies that now work actively with locums to understand their needs and tailor their service. Ultimately, they will have the relationships in place with pharmacies to be able to get you in; relationships that can really only be built over a decent amount of time and therefore ones which you wouldn’t have built yourself just yet.
For more information about how locum agencies can benefit you click the link below. My Locum Choice has highlighted how they can help locum pharmacists:
Sometimes the most effective way to make yourself known is the oldest. When I first started trying to obtain work, I doorstepped several local pharmacies and introduced myself to the managers and the teams, leaving behind a business card. Make a good first impression, present yourself well, and you’ll be sure to linger in their memory. My first batch of shifts came in exactly this manner.
6. Keep the team on your side
You might think that this piece of advice goes without saying, and yet the number of stories you hear about pharmacists not following it make you realise that perhaps it’s not as obvious as you may think (common sense isn’t as common as the name suggests, after all), and as such it’s one of the best pieces of advice I can offer; make sure you get on with the staff. Honestly, even if you don’t make the best impression on the owner/manager, keep the team sweet.
This benefits everyone. It benefits the team, knowing they have somebody they like and who likes them in charge, and people are always more motivated working for somebody they have a good relationship with. It benefits the business owner and regular manager, who won’t return the day after your last shift with them to a team of disgruntled dispensers cursing you out. And of course, it benefits you since you’ll have the support of a skilled team who like you as a person and you’ll be more confident in delegating tasks to them.
You’ll spend most of your time with the staff, and there isn’t anybody who will know the ins and outs of their pharmacy than the dispenser that’s been there the longest. They will have worked with all kinds of locum pharmacists throughout the years. Some of whom would have been great but others would sooner be forgotten
The worst thing you can do is work against the team. They will follow certain procedures and have their own way of doing things, so roll with that. Try and adapt your way of working to theirs, rather than being dictatorial and imposing your style on them. At the end of the day, who’s been there longer?
Obviously the above comes with the caveat that as a responsible pharmacist you will want to be making sure everything is running by the rule book since ultimately, you are accountable. but as long as you’re legally and ethically comfortable with what you see, there’s no reason to try and reinvent the wheel.
That’s not to say that you can’t suggest the odd thing here or there; some of my best working relationships were formed when I put it to the staff that perhaps a certain process might be made efficient by adopting a process I had seen used in another pharmacy. Just know where to draw the line.
As with anything, there’s an amount of paperwork to be handled before you can get out there into the real world. I cannot stress how important the following things are to protect you and your career so don’t ignore them.
8. Indemnity Insurance
Make sure you stay protected and obtain indemnity insurance. I would recommend using either of the following:
Pharmacy Defence Association (PDA) http://www.the-pda.org/
National Pharmacy Association (NPA) https://www.npa.co.uk/
9. DBS Enhanced Check and Certificate of Clearance
It’s the most important thing to show that you are suitable to employ. The enhanced check is the only check which provides information on pharmacists who may be on the “barred” list, preventing them (with good reason) from being able to work around young children and vulnerable adults. In recent years, a satisfactory DBS check has become a necessity before one is allowed to work for any of the larger pharmacy chains, and as such, it is a requirement when registering with many locum agencies.
For more information about the Disclosure and Barring Services (DBS) certificate and how to obtain one please visit the following link:
Apply for a DBS – Use discount code BLOG2018 to get £6 off the DBS
10. Accreditations, Certificates, and more…
Whenever you complete any of the accreditations mentioned above, be sure to keep your certificates, as employers and agencies will ask to see proof before they let you run riot in their consultation rooms.
It’s also worth printing out a batch of spare responsible pharmacist notices should you ever not be able to print one at the pharmacy
To print a responsible pharmacist notice:
Oh, and keeping a few business cards to hand, which you can leave at the end of your shift, never hurt anybody either.
11. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
Do be sure to read, understand and sign the SOPs wherever you work. Not all pharmacies operate the same way and should the worst happen while you’re on a shift and it’s because you weren’t aware of a pharmacy’s processes, then it’s not likely to end well. It’s also a legal requirement for everybody working in a pharmacy, be it for six hours or ten years, to do this. Many pharmacies will also have locum guides, which will at the very least give you a decent rundown of what you can expect during the day, as well as an outline of the most important SOPs.
12. Invoices and PMR Helpguides
This isn’t from personal experience, but friends of mine would take template invoices and even PMR help guides on their travels. These proved highly useful, especially when working for independent pharmacies who had little in the way of a standardised invoicing system.
13. Smart Card with Locum access
This can sometimes be a real pain to get sorted so the sooner you start the quick it can get sorted. Many pharmacies are stating that the locum must have a locum enabled smart card before working a pharmacy.
In order for pharmacies to get paid for the Summary Care Records Criterion, they need to demonstrate that they are accessing Summary Care records on an increasing basis. Therefore, it’s advisable that you’re able to access them since this will help with their numbers. That being said, having the ability to access these records will be highly beneficial to your practice anyway. Please follow the guidance that the PSNC have created around this criterion.
14. Books are your best friend
The BNF and the MEP are your best friend in the first year of your locum work. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to use them. We all know you tagged them silly for your exam anyway so you may as well make the most of them!
As you begin to see patterns in prescribing, and deal with common interactions more regularly, you will find yourself using it less.
If you are a hospital pharmacist entering the community pharmacy world then it may also be worthwhile taking a book on Over the Counter (OTC) products as well.
15. Keep your phone out of sight
You often hear stories about locums who spend time on their phones all day and even, in one memorable story, bring their iPad along to watch movies while the staff potter about their daily business. Don’t be that pharmacist. Not only is it ridiculously unprofessional and likely to set a bad perception of you but more it is a major distraction to a role you’ve only just started and therefore probably need to focus on at least a little bit. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by concentrating more on your Facebook feed than your patients.
16. Phone a friend
In early days, certain numbers are worth keeping handy. Contacts such as NPA helplines or even an experienced pharmacist that you may know just to give you some confidence. It’s natural to be nervous when you’re starting out, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed by. Don’t risk making mistakes for the sake of fear or pride.
17. Stay organised
This may seem quite obvious but it is really important to keep your accounts in order. Keep any receipts related to your locum work. This could include clothes, petrol and stationery to name a few examples. Have a system that helps you keep this in order. Trust me, you’ll thank me when tax season rolls around. Never underestimate the value of a good accountant too. He’ll save your life, and a few quid too!
Be sure to keep track of those shifts you’ve worked, and those shifts you’ve been paid for. It’s surprising how many people will forget to pay you, and disappointing how many people will try to get out of paying you. Unfortunately, not everybody in the working world has a sense of honour. Be sure to chase payments at the earliest possible point. Obviously don’t go banging down the boss’ door asking where your money is the day after your shift, but similarly, if it gets to the end of the month and you haven’t received a cheque, then perhaps raise it with whoever should be paying you. Beyond a certain point (usually six months), it becomes very difficult to get the money you’re owed. Stay on top of this from the off.
This is the part a lot of locums at the start switch of on. It’s not exciting and fun. However, you should be excited by it because if you do it right it can save you a lot of money. See our blog about
19. Understand Quality Payments
How pharmacies get paid has been changed. Now, they have to meet certain criteria to obtain these payments. As a locum it is very important to understand this and what you need to do.
20. Enjoy what you do
There is work out there, and there are opportunities are out there. Do not let negativity from anybody pull you down. There are far more positives out there in the profession; focus on those, enjoy what you do, and you’ll find your days go a lot smoother.
That’s really all I can offer by way of advice right now. As I already mentioned, everybody has a different experience of the working world, everybody works in different ways, reacts to problems in different ways, and gains satisfaction in different ways, and as such all I can really do is offer the odd tip here and there on how best to be prepared for it all. The journey is different for everybody, but the end point, being a great pharmacist, is the same. Perhaps in a few years, you’ll be writing one of these for the next generation of pharmacists.
Until then, good luck to each of you!