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Build a career in psychiatric pharmacy

From a preregistration training job in hospital to a consultant pharmacist post in a mental health trust, learning has always been part of Caroline Parker’s career, she tells Jeff Mills

By Jeff Mills

From a preregistration training job in hospital to a consultant pharmacist post in a mental health trust, learning has always been part of Caroline Parker’s career, she tells Jeff Mills

Royal Pharmaceutical Society member Caroline Parker is quick to acknowledge that she has made some good career choices since July 1995 when she started her preregistration training at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust. During the qualifying year she worked in a broad range of fields of pharmacy across several hospitals and had a placement in a community pharmacy.

“This wide experience afforded me a broad understanding of the role and opportunities for hospital pharmacists,” Mrs Parker says. “Towards the end of that year I worked as the clinical pharmacist on an elderly psychiatric ward at St Thomas’ Hospital.” It was there that she first took an interest in mental health.
Fast forward to now and Mrs Parker is consultant pharmacist for adult mental health services and lead pharmacist for acute services at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. She is also an independent prescriber.

Career path

“I have been fortunate in my career. I chose to work in a specialism — mental health — that at the time was not at all popular, and there was little competition for jobs. I had some excellent role models who encouraged and inspired me to learn more and work hard,” she reflects.

There was, it seems, no set career path — other than that indicated by the hospital pharmacist job grading system. But, says Mrs Parker, “my experience within acute teaching hospitals has always been that of a culture where learning was actively encouraged.

“Today I think that any pharmacist interested in specialising in mental health would have a clearer career path to look towards within specialist mental health trusts and via the College of Mental Health Pharmacy. Plus there is now a much greater range of job opportunities as this specialism has developed and expanded significantly.”

Faculty welcomed

Mrs Parker is enthusiastic about the RPS Faculty, an initiative which many pharmacists have been long awaiting but which became possible only after the separation of the roles of the RPS and the General Pharmaceutical Council. “Until the development of this central profession-wide scheme, accreditation of our professional skills and competency has been a little ad hoc,” she believes.

“As a mental health pharmacist I am fortunate enough to have a career in a specialism with a keen and forward-thinking specialist group — the CMHP — that a number of years ago developed its own certificate and diploma courses plus an accreditation scheme.” This accreditation procedure, she explains, formally tests the skills and competency of pharmacists and complements knowledge-based courses. “It allows our skills and expertise to be recognised, but the value of this is limited to within our own specialism, and is not known widely among other professionals.”

What specialisms have in common

“Accreditation schemes have also been developed by other specialist groups, again mostly driven by specialists working in a narrow therapeutic area usually within hospital settings,” Mrs Parker says. Yet she points out that not all specialisms have such schemes, and those that do exist lack consistency because they were each developed independently. “This scenario is not ideal since, despite our various technical expertise in specific areas of care, our core skills remain remarkably similar across specialisms,” she remarks.

The RPS Faculty will provide generic assessment criteria, offering pharmacists a common language between specialisms, meaning that skills acknowledged in one area of practice will be acknowledged in another. Mrs Parker believes that this offers a huge benefit for pharmacists who choose to move or change specialisms. “For example my current accreditation as a member of the CMHP only remains meaningful while I work in mental health. Should I ever wish to move to another area, say, renal medicine, this accreditation would be meaningless to employers despite many areas of common ground. The RPS Faculty potentially removes barriers to staff wishing to move roles within the profession, which can only be good news.”

Tools tried and tested

According to Mrs Parker, basing accreditation for the RPS Faculty on the generic Advanced to Consultant Level Framework ensures parity and comparison across different specialisms, and does not exclude generalists. “It is a tool that is already well established, tried and tested and widely used by many of us in hospital pharmacies so will be familiar to many,” she explains.

Only the first dimension is knowledge-based, so the content would vary across specialisms. However, the other five clusters — building working relationships; leadership; management; education, training and development; and research and evaluation — are all generic skills applying across all specialist and generalist roles.

“Professional support is one of the main reasons I chose to join the new RPS in 2010,” she says. “Moving an accreditation scheme ‘under one roof’ will also offer a chance of cross-pollination of ideas and processes and even knowledge between our existing specialist groups and with generalists — that’s got to be a good thing.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2013.11117787

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