William Allan - Chief Pharmacist
A love of the sciences led William Allan to his career in pharmacy. He knew he wanted to do something to do with chemistry and had considered becoming a lab technician when his (then) girlfriend was considering pharmacy.
“I hadn’t thought about a career in pharmacy but once I was accepted into the course everything just fell into place. I studied Health Sciences at Otago then was admitted into Pharmacy.”
In Auckland you get admitted straight into Pharmacy in your first year (direct entry). You have 4 years at university and one year in an intern pharmacist position which is one year under a registered pharmacist, then you're tested and become registered if you pass.
William has been the Chief Pharmacist at Hawke’s Bay Hospital for the past 6 years where he manages issues with policies, staff and the management and use of medicines, therapeutics and health and safety in hospital. His day starts at 7am, he adds it doesn’t need to but he takes safety of medicines and patient treatment very seriously. “I really like what I do, clinical pharmacy is patient centred, and you have access to doctors and nurses and their notes so you can really use all of your training in caring for the patient. Having the full history of the patient has a big impact on the way drugs are used and sometimes figuring it all out can be quite challenging.” Dealing with patients and helping them to get the best use out of their medications is the most rewarding aspect of the job for William.
Since registering as a pharmacist William has worked all but one year in hospital pharmacy. “Once you’re registered you can work anywhere but you do need to make a decision about your career fairly early on to keep moving forward. I went overseas to get a Masters degree because they didn’t have it in NZ at the time. I completed my Masters in Clinical Pharmacy in the UK with the intention of staying for 3 years which turned into 18 years! I got a lot of experience and covered most disciplines. I was Deputy Chief Pharmacist at Broomfield hospital in Chelmsford, Essex and then became Chief Pharmacist. My second Masters in Education in Clinical Pharmacy Teaching gave me the opportunity for lecturing and presenting to other health professionals. In the UK I taught at Anglia University to nurses in a teacher practitioner type role and was a senior lecturer at Auckland School of Pharmacy. There’s a lot of scope in pharmacy, there’s a rewarding job there, I don’t know any unemployed pharmacists!
Having a breadth of experience has been invaluable. You don’t have to be an expert in every area but it’s helpful to understand concepts, for example we have an Asceptic unit where we make injections and understanding the principles allows me to provide expert overview and effectively manage all areas of the pharmacy.
You have to be genuinely into life-long learning to be a pharmacist, there is annual recertification and you have to keep up to date with new guidelines and new drugs. If you’ve got that knowledge you can apply it to help the patient. It’s rewarding being an expert in your field and gaining the respect of other health care professionals in the team.
It’s important to have a strong like of sciences and know your way around a calculator but it’s just as important to like people, have empathy, compassion and an interest in what you do. You get great rewards by being an advocate, offering ways to make it better. You might change a drug and then need to offer another drug to counter the side-effects when you’re helping people manage their condition. You need a good eye for detail to make sure the doses are right, be task oriented, a completer/finisher (you can’t lose interest half way – the outcome is very important!) and it doesn’t hurt to be a bit pedantic!
How the body might react to an additional medicine is almost like putting together a puzzle, you’re trying to find out which side-effects are coming from which drug if any. Ultimately what you’re aiming for is helping people get the most out of their medicine with the least side-effects. Everything I do I keep that uppermost in my mind.”
One of the biggest challenges for a hospital pharmacist is getting more hospital pharmacists. “It’s a great career. You need to be able to work as part of a multi-disciplinary team and be able to negotiate and communicate effectively, to get your point across without being overawed by someone more senior than you. We’re also an effective backstop for nurses and doctors; the checking process means added peace of mind which I think they appreciate. We’re all human and it’s good to have those checks and balances.”
William recommends getting exposed to all aspects of pharmacy before making a decision. “Go and work in a hospital pharmacy or community pharmacy to see what it’s like. Get a job where you’re exposed to all aspects of pharmacy. It’s important to grab opportunities when they come and it’s good to see the development of mentoring in pharmacy. Find out where you get your job satisfaction, for me clinical patient contact and making a difference for patients in hospitals is where it’s at.”