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I was incensed by society's misconception of pharmacy, so I wrote a book on it

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I was incensed by society's misconception of pharmacy, so I wrote a book on it

Source: Janelle Soong

Occupation: preregistration pharmacist. And now I can add ‘author’ to that title.

At the end of June 2020, I published my first book — Let Sleeping Pharmacists Lie: Tales from Pharmacy School and the Patients You Just Don’t Forget.

I trembled as my finger hovered over the ‘publish’ button. I thought my heart would burst right out of my ribcage, and no (legal) amount of diazepam could have made it any less nerve-wracking.

But little me would be proud. As a child, there were two things in life that fascinated me to no end: the wonder of the human body and writing.

I was an introvert with Coke bottle glasses from day one, so books were my best friends. They became my happy place when everything else threatened to overwhelm me. Naturally, writing went hand in hand with my love for reading. And I used to submit short stories and poems to a children’s writing column in the newspaper.

This love of words followed me into my teenage years and then adulthood. Soon enough, I found myself standing outside the Franklin-Wilkins building in London. Its towering mustard walls, almost with pursed lips and narrowed eyes, seemed to be sizing me up, right where I stood. It was my first day as a pharmacy student at King’s College London and my world was about to change.

I quickly learned that I knew very little about what pharmacists do. I was oblivious to their sheer breadth of knowledge and what an asset they are to a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals.

And in my second year, I fell in love with pharmaceutical formulation and drug delivery. So much so that I deferred from university to experience the pharmaceutical industry.

But my biggest revelation was becoming aware of society’s misconceptions of a pharmacist’s work and the strange fire that this injustice ignited within me.

I was incensed, by the seemingly innocuous comments from family and friends — “the little person behind the counter … they stick labels on boxes, don’t they?” — and the more forthright disdain, like that of Sam Delaney on ITV’s This Morning earlier this year.

The more I learned about pharmacy, the more frustrated I was that so many are unaware of what a pharmacist’s skillset really involves, or what they are truly capable of. And I wanted to do something to elevate the profile of the profession in the public eye.

So that’s where my book comes in. During my studies, and work in various specialities, I’ve amassed quite the collection of stories. Clinical placements at some of London’s largest hospitals gave me some of my fondest memories and learning experiences. My weekend job at the local community pharmacy was a hotbed for patient anecdotes, both amusing and eyebrow-raising in equal measure. I also had thoughts on many aspects of pharmacy and the healthcare sector, thanks to my expert tutors at King’s, who taught me to question everything with an analytical, evidence-based mindset. And so my diary as a rookie in pharmacy grew.

This summer, I finally decided to self-publish my book, with the help of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing programme to help indie authors get off the ground. Self-publishing gave me creative control from start to finish, and I can proudly take credit for the writing, editing and cover design (and the many drafts that were tossed aside before it).

I’ve always been a perfectionist (occasionally to my own detriment), but I didn’t realise quite how much this trait would butt in throughout the process. I was constantly on the lookout for any stray grammatical errors that may have escaped my clutches, and hummed and hawed over whether small changes would make a passage more engaging, funnier, better. I now understand why writers describe the editing process as never-ending.

The response I recieved from the pharmacy community after publishing was overwhelming. Pharmacy students across the country told me how much they had enjoyed the book, and how happy they were to see someone writing about the real work of a pharmacist. And as a recent graduate of King’s, it warmed my heart to receive notes from incoming pharmacy students at the university, who told me how excited they are to be starting their own pharmacy journey. My heart soared with every message, online review and Instagram story tag, and that feeling won’t lose its lustre.

Here’s to pharmacists everywhere, who work tirelessly to deliver the highest possible standard of care — let’s fly the pharmacy flag.

Janelle Soong is a preregistration pharmacist and author of Let Sleeping Pharmacists Lie: Tales from Pharmacy School and the Patients You Just Don’t Forget, a collection of real-life pharmacy tales and anecdotes.

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