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Future-proof your pharmacy career!

Plummeting stock markets, tumbling house prices, bank nationalisationand near meltdown of the international monetary fund did not get to me.The imminent splitting of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society also didnot. They were all too gigantic and felt as if they had not, yet,directly hit me. But one snippet of pharmaceutical news did. It was theCochrane review suggesting that silver sulfadiazine may be ineffectivefor burns

by Malcolm Brown

Plummeting stock markets, tumbling house prices, bank nationalisation and near meltdown of the international monetary fund did not get to me. The imminent splitting of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society also did not. They were all too gigantic and felt as if they had not, yet, directly hit me.

But one snippet of pharmaceutical news did. It was the Cochrane review suggesting that silver sulfadiazine may be ineffective for burns (PJ, 11 October 2008, p412).

Around 1970, before that cream was marketed, I had manufactured it for a regional burns unit. I mixed sodium sulfadiazine and silver nitrate solutions. Suddenly, illustrious innovator felt like deluded dinosaur. The founding father sociologist Émile Durkheim described that feeling of unrest and uncertainty as anomie.

How can the individual cope, let alone thrive, in such turbulent times? My reflections follow, divided into biological, technological and socioeconomic. But first, a disclaimer: what is right for one generation may be wrong for the next; if you act on my advice and it does not work out, do not blame me!


Attempt to keep fit: pay attention to your health. That should not be too difficult for pharmacists, considering that it is the motto of their present Society. We have preached to others: avoid tobacco and excess stress and alcohol. Eschew an unhealthy diet. It is the latter that may creep up on you during a frantic day. With global warming, guard against malaria while in the East Anglian fens!

Your body, which mosquitoes may bite, ages. If you are female, as are the substantial majority of young pharmacists, bear in mind that the ability to conceive plummets after the age of 30. You should attempt to achieve other things, too, while younger: do your on-call stint and gain those extra qualifications. Presently, those in clinical pharmacy and prescribing appear the most sexy, but consider collecting long established legal, master of business administration, or Qualified Person credentials.


Technology evolves. Knowledge gained before registration rapidly becomes obsolescent: just compare today’s ‘Martindale’ with one published a generation ago. I wonder what its next edition will report about Flamazine? So continuing professional development is vital.

Arguably, some academically instilled knowledge areas are future-proofed. They include respect for scientific methodology including the judging of evidence and some behavioural science and statistics. For example, a pragmatic spin-off from the Gaussian normal distribution curve is the Paretto Principle. It can assist you.

Here are three illustrations. Twenty per cent of clients provide 80 per cent of profits. To reduce the height of that intimidating pile of invoices, you can review the easiest 80 per cent of them in 20 per cent of the time demanded to review them all. Inspectors typically only notice 80 per cent of errors; 20 per cent are missed. Numerous tests support that observation.

The sociologist Steve Fuller claims that, from the historical perspective of languages, persistent social practices claiming access to reality have undergone radical changes. In ancient Greek it was geometry. In medieval Latin it was theology, in 19th century German, it was history. In 20th century English, it was science. I suggest that remains, generally, the fall-back perspective of today’s pharmacists, globally. In mid 21st century Chinese, the favoured perspective is presently unknown.

You may well need to adapt to avatars, to medicines — and patients — being hardwired somehow to computer-readable identifiers and to direct surgery/pharmacy e-communication dispensed by robots. Be reassured that, presently, they have the emotional poise of a bag of frozen peas. You can offer something that they cannot: the human touch.


Nurture your non-codified knowledge that books, web and other tools cannot provide. Only interaction with people can provide. Hone those interpersonal and other softer transferable skills, such as building relationships.

Construct a trajectory of jobs that aids your personal development in those areas. For example, practise in more than one field of pharmacy. Plan your career; do not let it just happen to you. Proverbially, failure to plan is planning to fail. Seize the day! But not too quickly. Apply a sanity check so that you remain a round peg in a round, and not a square, occupational hole. Have a plan B, just in case.

If you are lucky, once or twice in your lifetime, someone whom you respect and who knows you and your situation well will take the trouble to proffer you sound advice. It is a golden nugget. Act on it.

During your career there will be times and places for co-operation and compromise. However, you may also have to jostle with others. For example, dispensing doctors may argue that, since pharmacists now prescribe, it is only equable that doctors again dispense. Knowledge from the web already emboldens patients.

Adequate professional assertiveness is necessary. You owe it to yourself: individuals who do not feel in control experience more stress. This assertiveness does not fall to you alone. Your institutions, in particular the Society, can also assist. This is how.

Since the 1960s, in Western societies there has been a diminution of trust by individuals in authority figures such as professional groups. One such is our Society. So potent is that mistrust that the Society is being split.

One component, the General Pharmaceutical Council is being trusted to look after the interests of patients first. It will register pharmacists, so they will gain its legitimacy, its official imprimatur, its status. That represents a significant leap forward.

The other component will be a new professional body. That body, if it re-engineers itself skilfully, will be able to look after pharmacists first. You may feel that it should succeed, considering how much of our money it is spending during the attempt. It will lobby for pharmacists and jostle, more subtly, behind some scenes.

It will also probably parade front stage and issue a clarion call to pharmacists, and they will listen and obey. We all love institutions; they are our most powerful societal group. Soon, pharmacists should have a system of two heavy-weight institutions.

One property that emerges from systems is synergy; hopefully it will be positive, supporting pharmacists. Those two institutions are potentially a dream duo. They will be cleverly constructed with their very own new names that will permit them to do new things. They will accumulate their very own sayings, legends and other sound bites.

I suspect that many pharmacists, like me, feel sad about the demise of our Society. But there are things that you can do for yourself and things that those new institutions can do for you. Your future is, perhaps, more secure than you might think.


Malcolm E. Brown is a pharmacist and sociologist from Beccles, Suffolk

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10043857

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