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How Karen Baxter's career evolved from clinical pharmacy to content strategy
Twenty years after registering as a pharmacist, Karen Baxter, director of content strategy for Pharmaceutical Press, reflects on her move from clinical practice to publishing and shares some advice for others considering a similar career change.
Source: MAG / The Pharmaceutical Journal
As a newly registered pharmacist in 1996, Baxter began her career as a resident rotational pharmacist at Derby City General Hospital in Derbyshire, England. Baxter had aspirations of becoming a specialist gastroenterology pharmacist and was certain she had found her calling providing specialist gastroenterology support to medical teams, during inpatient consultant ward rounds and outpatient clinics. Although this was long before the introduction of prescribing pharmacists, Baxter feels her contribution was valued, “the constant interaction with the medical team made me feel very much part of the multidisciplinary team and my input was often called on.” In 1999, Baxter completed a clinical pharmacy diploma followed by a master’s in clinical pharmacy the following year.
In 2000, Baxter became a senior pharmacist for education and research — a joint position between the University of Derby and Southern Derbyshire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust. She quickly discovered a passion for writing and found herself spending more time producing course materials for the university’s MSc in clinical pharmacy programme than on the ward or in clinics. “Removing one foot from clinical made me realise that I could actually affect patient care on a wider scale by creating content for others,” she says. When an opportunity arose to join the editorial team at Stockley’s Drug Interactions in 2001, Baxter assumed she would need years of writing experience to take on such a role.
However, her chief pharmacist at the time, David Cousins, convinced her to go for the job, “I was told that although a publishing organisation can teach me how to write, edit and convey information; what they can’t necessarily do is teach me the clinical skills and understanding which is what is really important with a publication like Stockley’s.”
With a renewed confidence in the clinical knowledge she could bring to publishing, Baxter was surprised how smooth she found her departure from clinical practice. However, working in an office was unlike the atmosphere of a hospital or clinic. “Moving to a library-like environment was strange,” says Baxter, “But things have definitely changed in my team and it is now a much more dynamic atmosphere.”
When she first joined Pharmaceutical Press (PhP), Ivan Stockley, the eponymous editor, was still at the helm, editing the authoritative source for information on drug interactions. When Stockley retired in 2005, Baxter’s role expanded into managing new writers. Baxter recalls, “This felt like a natural progression, given my previous management experience in secondary care,” and she began taking on more managerial responsibilities across various titles published by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), which also owns and publishes The Pharmaceutical Journal.
In 2011, Baxter became director of the BNF, with her responsibilities growing to include all major reference titles within PhP, including Martindale and Stockley’s. In 2016, she became director of content strategy and although she is no longer actively involved in content creation, her role still encompasses many areas of the business including commercial, marketing and product development, which she finds mentally stimulating. “My heart is in content creation, that’s where I started from, but I very much enjoy the part of my role which allows me to work with colleagues both internally and externally,” says Baxter. The focus of her role has become more strategic than it once was, working with commercial teams to describe the value of the content and the benefits it brings to health professionals, who are the end users. Baxter also attends meetings to promote PhP products and to assist the sales team in unusually big licensing deals at government level or with large organisations.
Demands of the role
With a varied role that demands both content expertise and commercial acumen, Baxter finds herself having to constantly switch between topics and products. One moment she could be discussing excipients with a joint venture partner in the United States, the next she may be required to manage issues regarding the digital format of the BNF. Baxter admits, “This can be pretty exhausting, but I wouldn’t give it up as that’s part of the joy of the job.” The biggest challenge Baxter faces is prioritising organisational constraints, such as print deadlines with the ongoing desire of the team to improve, develop and write more content. “We all want to deliver as much as we can but there’s only so much that can be done in any one given day.”
For Baxter, having a team that supports each other in a positive working environment really helps her day run smoothly; and with the demands of the role it’s important for her to take her mind off the job once she leaves the office, “It’s knowing when to leave work behind. At the moment I make an effort to switch off and go swimming to give myself some brain recovery time.”
Although no longer practising, Baxter is still registered as a pharmacist with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and is keenly aware of the issues facing both the pharmacy profession and the publishing industry. She believes it has been extremely useful for her to remain connected with the profession as it provides an understanding of the needs of healthcare professionals. “It helps me understand the environment in which we are working, even though it’s no longer such an essential part of what I do.
“Within an NHS context, budgets are a real issue,” says Baxter. “There is an ever increasing volume of information to keep on top of. Not only are pharmacists required to manage a day job where they are constantly under pressure but are also required to learn and develop within these constraints.”
Baxter explains that when it comes to publishing, there has been a digital evolution in recent years focused on finding “better, slicker ways” to provide content to end users at the point they need it. This involves ensuring the right people are part of the PhP team. “Within every organisation you need a range of people with different traits and characteristics. An understanding of the technological aspects of handling information, as well as the clinical understanding to write and present the information is an advantage,” says Baxter.
Within PhP, Baxter says her closest working relationships are with those who report directly to her and the writers creating the content, as well as the managing director of PhP who oversees the entire operation. She also works closely with the directors of global sales and product development to support the sales effort and the messaging around online and digital products, including Medicines Complete.
Baxter states that everyone is focused on creating the best, user-friendly content in an easily accessible manner to assist health professionals to quickly and efficiently find the answers they need to care for their patients.
One of the achievements Baxter is most proud of is the recent release of the BNF app. It has been a long journey to restructure the content from a book-centric format to content that can be delivered as an app. Baxter says, “Seeing the first pieces of positive user feedback was validation for the best part of three years’ work.”
In anticipation of Brexit, Baxter has had to consider the implications that Britain leaving the European Union (EU) might have for employees from the EU and other overseas areas. “Whatever happens with the Brexit negotiations, an individual’s right to work abroad and utilise their skills in different territories should remain, as it is beneficial for both the individual and the organisation,” she says.
Making a break
Anyone interested in pursuing a career in publishing — pharmacist or not — should take every opportunity in their current role to write if they can, whether it be contributing to an article, journal or magazine, advises Baxter. Even authoring policies and guidelines demonstrates an understanding of how to structure information for use by others.
Thinking back, Baxter says she cannot imagine what her career would have been like had she not taken that first leap into publishing, “Seeing your name published for the first time in a title used extensively in practice, is quite a moment.”
In terms of future career plans, she would eventually like to explore commercially oriented opportunities within healthcare. “I don’t think I can ever see myself losing the healthcare connection, it’s far too important,” she says. For now, Baxter is content with where she is in her career, although she does confess, “If I were to spot something that looked fascinating and provided enough of a challenge, it would be hard for me to say no.”
Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20203616
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