“You’re so lucky, I wish I could do what you do” – A quote I despise!
By Nicholas Colwyn Parry
A series of blogs explaining it all, from taking the leap from stability, security and routine work to the unique, fast paced life on the road of stayaways. I am here to tell you all about what it means to be a locum pharmacist!
I would like to start off by apologising for the length of this blog, I promise the rest won’t be as long.
Who am I?
Who am I? I am Nicholas Colwyn Parry and I have worked in community pharmacy for nearly 10 years. I started off like many others as “the Saturday lad” in LloydsPharmacy. Here I saw the role of the pharmacist and thought it was a bit of me. Before pharmacy I was literally working on a farm cleaning out coops and pig sties, so to even get away from that smell was a reason to step into pharmacy. I swapped my half-eaten wellies, chewed up tracksuit and shovel for a suit, a cup of tea, a pen and never looked back.
I had it all! The dream job, the best store and colleagues that I value as friends
Many people asked me why I never wanted to be a doctor, or a dentist etc and the truth is I have a phobia of getting physically involved with someone I don’t know. I never want to put my fingers down someone’s throat, and If I’m honest, there is not enough money in the world to make me want to give someone a prostate examination. I am extremely grateful people do, because without doctors and dentists and all other healthcare professionals we have, then we would be in even more of a mess than we are in. There would probably be a lot less people too.
Unlike many of my colleagues (and hopefully these blogs may reignite the passion for pharmacy in some of those) I love pharmacy. I like the fast-paced workload, the interaction with patients, improving the quality of life in them, new medicines and therapies, how said medicines and therapies work, the services we provide etc I could really go on. Every day I have been in work I genuinely feel like I have made a difference so for me it’s just a bonus it pays well.
I had it all. The dream job, the best store (272 Chester), colleagues that I value as friends, a manager who always supported me and a long and successful career ahead of me at Boots.
So why did I leave?
So why did I leave? I would love to say what the exact reason is, but this is a blog not a novel, so I’ll whittle it down to just a few main reasons. This is the first blog I will write showing the highs and lows of leaving the security and stability of a well-paid job, to starting out on your own in a completely new part of the country!
This is a direct quote from my notice of resignation – “I am proud there are people in our store with 25+ years service badges, but the truth in the matter is the idea of being in one place for as many years as I have been alive terrifies me. At 25 I am in the prime position to build my own independent way with my own business.”
Time was probably the main reason I left. I wanted my own time back, I wanted the freedom of deciding my own hours, and I wanted to be in charge of where my decisions took me. I will never understand having to ask someone else for my own time back as a day off a year in advance. The job was fantastic, targets were hit and scorecards were turning green, but it was for a shareholders financial gain and not my own. This is something that will never add up for me. I also felt that I was starting to stagnate as I was seeing the same drugs and the same patients, every, single, month.
I also never wanted to meet a 25 year old version of myself who tells me he is about to embark on a journey around the country to see and do amazing things and all I can reply to him is “I wish I did that when I was younger”. Which brings me onto the title, I hate the word “wish”. It is something that doesn’t exist in my vocabulary, as the only thing stopping a wish from coming true is yourself. You are, and always will be the only one who stops you achieving anything. It sounds cheesy to say things like “stop wishing, start doing” but it couldn’t be any closer to the truth, get up, make the necessary changes, and start living your own life! Just because you are breathing doesn’t mean you are alive.
“you never get rich working for someone else”
My Grandmother is possibly the biggest influence in my career, and something she has told me from an early age is “you never get rich working for someone else”. She also has always told me being rich isn’t all about having money but spending your time wisely and making fantastic memories in the process. She’s right, so something had to change for me to take back the time that is rightfully mine and so to regain full control of my life I had to leave the security of Boots.
Why the south west? There are many reasons, but the 3 main ones are the desirable active lifestyle, lucrative and beautifully diverse.
The closest schools of pharmacy to Exeter are Bath, Cardiff and Portsmouth. Most people who graduate and qualify are aged 23 and choose a city or well populated town is their residence of choice. As the South west doesn’t have many major shopping centres, airports or cities, it is seen as a land that lacks opportunity for the younger generation. All 3 of the aforementioned uni’s are at least 2 hours from Exeter, and I therefore completely understand why people wouldn’t want to settle here, not just pharmacists. Due to these aforementioned reasons there is a deficit of pharmacists. I don’t believe there is a lack of opportunity in the south west, I just believe there are different ones.
Why the South West?
Firstly, the south west has a unique pace of life, it’s so well connected with nature from lush walks with wild deer and horses in Dartmoor, to catching waves off the North Devon coast. The views are simply breath taking and you wouldn’t be able to tell if you were abroad or in England on a sunny day. Life is definitely slower down here, but that just helps you take everything in. Everyone down here really appreciates the active lifestyle they can live down here, so much so every house on the coast has either a 4×4, a pickup truck, or a campervan on the drive accompanied by a surfboard. Everyone seems to be so welcoming when they find out you are there for the same reasons as them. Saying this, I have been accused of stealing jobs a few times as there is limited employment opportunity down here. The terms “Grockle” and “Emmet” have been said to me on a couple of occasions.
Secondly, it pays a lot more. This is mainly due to the deficit of pharmacists in the south west, I probably wouldn’t be doing this if I had dependents, such as a wife and children as I would be spending far too much time away from them. So you tend to get people who do these shifts are young, single risk taking individuals with a sense of adventure. Seriously, some places I’ve stayed, within 30 seconds of me being there I have wanted to go back home, but that’s the risk you take! When I say it pays better, I mean advance bookings for £30 an hour can be made easily for 3 months in the future. This removes the constant hassle of booking shifts on the day, not knowing where you’re working next or where your next pay-check is coming from are all reasons I was put off from being a locum when I qualified. When you are self-employed time is money, so an hour a day spending chasing invoices for a 3 hour shift you did last month costs you more than the shift was worth.
For those wondering, £30 x 9 (hours) x 5 (days) x 46 (-6 weeks holiday) = £62k a year (plus mileage and accommodation, and occasionally food) puts you closer to the £80k mark. As your expenses are so high, tax bills are generally quite low, leaving a healthy net profit if you run it as a limited company. That’s if you only do 5 day weeks and 46 weeks, you have the freedom to do 6 or even 7 day weeks as you decide your own hours! I tend to work 6, 6 day weeks then have a week off. Sometimes I travel home, sometimes I’ll go to another part of the country, but I tend to stick around the Devon/Somerset area just out of preference.
“its beautiful down here”
Lastly it’s beautiful down here and there is so much to see! I just mentioned I work 6, 6 day weeks then have a week off and this is my time that I have earned. I spend this time wisely filled with activities in the south west that you would never have the opportunity to do if you lived in a city or the north west. To name a few things I have done on Sundays or the week off I take, I have been to a Yoga retreat, made my own mead and cider, visited one of Devon’s 60 vineyards (I didn’t even know we had any in the UK), visited Stonehenge, Glastonbury Tor, deep sea fishing, bike rides, learned how to surf and one host even took me surfing before we went to work. To me it sort of really is one big holiday with a bit of work in-between and it’s definitely the lifestyle I wanted, I just didn’t know how much I needed it. I feel so much sharper in work, I am learning new things again, meeting new people and picking up more skills and networking a lot more! In short, I am happy in my career once again.
If you have made it this far then genuinely thank you for reading. If anyone would like to contact me to discuss anything about being a locum pharmacist, and what it means to be a locum pharmacist, if you are unhappy in your career, feel stuck, stagnated, drained or just fed up, you are more than welcome. I have worked in community pharmacy, but I also have links with hospital, knowledge of industry, prison and even cruise pharmacy. As a profession we need to help each other find their niche in pharmacy and play everyone to their strengths.
I would swap opening my front door to a main road for the views of endless fields any day!
I will discuss in later blogs about things I miss about home, what I wish someone told me about this unique journey, what it means to be a locum pharmacist, and some of the unique challenges faced in these far away destinations. After working in the city centre of Chester the hustle and bustle of a city is just not for me, I would swap opening my front door to a main road or empty corridor of flats, for the views of endless fields or waves breaking on the ocean any day of the week!