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Hospital pharmacy

Changing sector — transferring from community to hospital pharmacy

You have been working in community pharmacy for a few years but are keen to switch to the hospital sector. How likely are you to get the job that you want — and how can you improve your chances of success?

Career change - moving from the community pharmacy to the hospital pharmacy sector

Source: Phanie / Rex Features

Community pharmacists can be good at delivering good customer service and recognising patients’ needs — skills that are important in a hospital pharmacy role

Hospital pharmacy is a competitive sector — hospital pharmacists comprise 15–20% of the Register and the number of pre-registration places in community pharmacy outweighs that in hospitals.

Transferring from community pharmacy to the hospital sector can therefore present a challenge for qualified pharmacists. Mary Evans, chief pharmacist at Luton and Dunstable Hospital, is involved in the recruitment of senior hospital pharmacy staff, and has seen the process change over the years. “If you go back ten years or so, most hospitals had some pharmacists in dispensaries so community pharmacists could move more easily into a dispensary pharmacist or dispensary manager role,” she says, “but now that route no longer exists because dispensaries are technician-led.”

With competition fierce for hospital pharmacy places, is it impossible to make the switch? Not necessarily. “You mainly get people who have done a hospital pre-reg going into hospital pharmacies, but we do have two senior pharmacists at Luton and Dunstable who started out in community pharmacy, as well as a band 6 [pharmacist] who has made the transfer from community to hospital,” Evans explains.

Transferable skills

Customer service and recognising patients’ needs are important skills in a hospital pharmacy role, according to Evans. “Experience in community pharmacy makes you very aware of this – giving you good experience of talking to patients, over-the-counter products, counselling patients, the new medicine service and medicines use reviews, and developing concordant relationships with patients,” she says.

“Hospital pharmacists tend not to be as good at those skills, especially those in junior roles. Hospital pharmacists at ward level can get distracted by drug charts, patient notes and so on, and can avoid talking to patients if they are nervous of it, so can lack patient-facing experience, which community pharmacists do have. Confidence is the thing.”

What’s missing?

Although community pharmacists have the patient-facing experience, Evans says that what they can lack is “the in-depth clinical knowledge that we may anticipate our junior hospital pharmacists having”.

There are ways to address this, although these can also come with their own downsides. She explains: “Entry level for hospital pharmacists is band 6, and then in order to progress to band 7 they must complete a diploma in clinical pharmacy — which takes two years — to build their clinical skills suitable for reviewing patients in an acute setting.” Evans believes the problem with this is that community pharmacists with a few years’ experience who want to then change to hospital pharmacy may not find it easy to take a backward step in terms of learning: “We pretty much insist that they must do the clinical pharmacy diploma if they do not have similar relevant learning.” Then there is the drop in pay that would come with this. “A band 6 salary is around £26,000, which would probably be a hurdle for many community pharmacists wanting to transfer, plus [they must make a] commitment to studying in their own time.”

Boost your chances

There are things that community pharmacists can do to become a more appealing hospital pharmacy applicant. Evans says she would be looking for evidence of anything that demonstrates an applicant has taken on a more clinical role — such as working with GP practices, or taking the community pharmacy version of the diploma. “Expertise as an independent prescriber is also good, or if you’ve run your own clinics, but this is hard if you’re only in the first few years after qualification.

“You’ll almost certainly have to apply for band 6 roles and then you’re up against pre-regs with hospital experience. All in all it’s quite difficult but my advice is don’t be put off trying. Once you’re in you can show what you can do.”

A success story

One such person is Shahnaz Begum, who Evans says worked hard to get her foot in the door at Luton and Dunstable Hospital by doing bank work, being willing to take short-term contracts and being proactive in her move from community to hospital.

Begum completed her pre-registration training in community pharmacy in 2009 and then did a cross-sector placement in hospital, which is when she realised she preferred the hospital setting.

She worked in the community sector for three years as a branch manager and studied abroad before getting full-time bank work at a hospital pharmacy with a trust in the north west of England. However, she was keen to work closer to her home in Luton.

“I applied for more than 20 vacancies across the country before I got the job in the north west, and even then they said my lack of experience was worrying, but that my enthusiasm swayed it in my favour,” says Begum. “Finally, the Luton job came up and even though it was only a temporary contract — which has now been extended — I wanted to go for it because it meant I could work where I live again.”

Be practical

Begum recommends working as bank staff as a useful way in, but warns: “It still doesn’t give you enough experience, even if you are doing it in a hospital. However, once you’re in you can prove yourself, and if the employer is also spending money on training you, they’ll want to keep you. In the end, it’s a lot to do with luck. It took me six months to get in, which at the time I thought was ages but now I realise was not long.”

And is she glad she made the switch? “While the money in community pharmacy is better,” admits Begum, “what I like about hospital pharmacy is the clinical side — that you can get to build a picture of a patient’s history and you feel as if your input has made a real difference to the care of some very sick people.”

Be prepared to move

As Begum will attest, those who want to change sectors must be flexible about location — a tactic that helped Vikesh Kakad, who now works as a rotational pharmacist at Peterborough and Stamford NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust, although he completed his pre-registration training in the community sector in 2012.

It was during a hospital summer placement that he got his first taste of hospital pharmacy, but he says: “Considering I’ve had previous hospital work experience as a student, I still found it hard to make the switch. On a few occasions when I was unsuccessful I was told that this was because other candidates had more recent hospital experience.

“However, I consulted a few hospital pharmacists at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) annual conference and I was advised to take my focus away from London due to its competitive nature, and consider other hospitals around the country. If you really think that hospital pharmacy is for you, then be prepared to pack your bags for relocation. This worked for me and I found a job very soon after that.”

Don’t give up

Persistence is the key to securing a job in hospital pharmacy, Kakad emphasises. He says: “Consult hospital pharmacists and employers via networking forums such as the RPS, British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association and UK Clinical Pharmacy Association conferences and seek advice. By attending these events, you will not only meet potential employers but also build your professional image as an enthusiastic and a proactive pharmacist. And when you fail, try again. I had to go through at least four interviews before I got my job [and] the overall process took me more than six months.”

The recruiter’s view

Healthcare recruiter Your World Healthcare recently advertised for a locum community pharmacist for a short-term position in a hospital in Scotland.

Sean Brown, team leader of the pharmacy division at Your World Healthcare, explains how this opportunity came about: “Although it’s rare for the NHS to specifically place job advertisements for community pharmacists, there are reasons why this might be the case in certain instances. For example, an NHS trust in a remote area may not have access to an abundant supply of other NHS-ready pharmacy candidates. Such hospitals could offer these locum workers the opportunity to train up to the desired position.”

Brown’s advice to community pharmacy workers wanting to transfer to the NHS is to emphasise the fact that you are based locally and you are keen. He suggests contacting the trust directly or registering with an agency that can help find jobs on your behalf. Additionally, he advises pharmacists to consider voluntary work because having NHS experience on your CV is crucial to securing a job in a hospital.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20067207

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