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Putting together a conference about alternative pharmacy careers

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Do you have five minutes?

These five words and the brief conversation that followed were all it took to lay the foundations of the Alternative Pharmacy Careers (APC) Conference when student lead, Aditya Aggarwal, first proposed the concept to James Desborough, director of studies at the University of East Anglia (UEA) School of Pharmacy.

During his third year of studying pharmacy, Aggarwal realised that, although information is available about starting careers in community, hospital and industrial pharmacy, there is a general lack of information available to students regarding other career paths they could take. Almost one year after the initial discussion, after hours of collaboration with UEA staff and a team of students recruited from all levels of the MPharm programme, this new initiative is ready to be launched.

Community and hospital pharmacy are both respected career paths and provide pharmacists with clinical experience that is often important for any alternative pharmacy career. The aim of the APC conference, however, is to explore the plethora of opportunities available to modern pharmacists after registration. We have secured several high profile speakers for the day: Ravi Sharma, a primary care pharmacist who has led the initiative to enable more pharmacists to work in GP surgeries; Mohammed Hussain, a pharmacist who was the clinical lead for the electronic prescribing service and is now leading on the development of the medicines digital strategy for NHS England; Brendan Martin, who has worked in healthcare consulting at KPMG, an auditing company; Jan Flynn from Rosemont Pharmaceuticals. Representatives from the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association, Royal Pharmaceutical Society industrial pharmacy forum, British Army and Bristol Myers-Squibb will be occupying stands on the day, providing students with the opportunity to network and ask questions.

Setting up a national conference is not an easy feat. Despite being a small team of students with no experience in conference planning, we were managing a national project by ourselves without the usual guidance we were accustomed to at university. Previously our lecturers had always taken a leading role — we were now working with them as colleagues.

We worked cohesively as a new team and learnt to solve complex problems we probably would not have experienced in other aspects of university life. We have overcome unexpected challenges, learnt to adapt quickly to the departure and arrival of team members, and developed time management skills to fit the additional workload around our degrees. We have also had the opportunity to develop our own set of entrepreneurial skills and, ultimately, we have founded an event that has the potential to benefit hundreds of students across Britain.

With the APC Conference due to take place on 23 January 2016, we have spent the past nine months pulling together our ideas in order to create this conference. We have completed a long list of tasks, including booking speakers, planning workshops, inviting reputable companies to occupy stands, and organising lanyards, parking and coffee breaks. What began as a five-minute proposal has evolved into a national conference created by students, for students, designed to demonstrate exactly how far the MPharm degree can take students.

I’d encourage students from other universities to grasp such opportunities to learn how to organise conferences and events. It is a transferable skill for life.

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