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Innovation in pharmacy practice could help to elevate the image of pharmacists

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One day, on my way to work, my attention was drawn to a TV advert on Oral B, presented by a familiar face. I later found out that the “Oral B lady”, Uchenna Okoye, who is also a London-based dentist, is the sister of a pharmacist colleague. Having been told a little about her accomplishments in business 12 years ago, a Google search helped me to gain more insight into her work.

Briefly, Uchenna was brought to UK at the age of 6 by her father and then sent back to Nigeria at the age of 11. She returned to the UK after her secondary education was completed in Nigeria, in order to study dentistry at Guy’s Dental School, London. After a brief practice at Boots, she joined St Georges’ Hospital where she was involved in treating difficult cases. Uchenna later attended New York University’s Rosenthal Institute, USA, in order to specialise in Aesthetic (Cosmetic) Dentistry.

Since I have always been interested in why some professionals do well in their professions, while others struggle to keep their heads above water, I decided to find out more about what inspired Dr Okoye to achieve so much in her chosen profession, dentistry. Interestingly, she now has her own private practices in London (London Smiling) and has been featured in several magazines and TV programmes, particularly on ITV and BBC News.

According to the allblackwoman.com website, “her unique and innovative approach to dentistry has made her one of the top cosmetic dentists in the UK and opened media doors for her”. It is also stated that “Uchenna is very creative and innovative. She has taken dentistry to another level…Uchenna challenges people not to be afraid of moving away from what is conventional, but encourages us not to do what everyone else is doing, but to risk being different”.

Young and aspiring pharmacists are full of ideas upon qualification, but they are often limited by man-made barriers. Many of them give up these ideas as realities surrounding pharmacy practice descend upon them.

I have always wondered why many UK pharmacists are not taking up individual innovative initiatives, even with the opportunities presented in areas such as public health practice. I think the difficulties faced by them include having a purely science-based pharmacy training (which is not clinically oriented) and later, a practice that is so risk averse. In addition, there are also issues with the remuneration arrangements that exist in the UK for pharmacists and pharmacy practice.

While it is possible for any UK pharmacist to start up his or her own private practices, we find that the ability of such practices to get enough private prescriptions or visits from paying/affluent patients and customers remains a stumbling block to such an initiative. This situation is likely to remain the same, as long as the NHS remains the main source of funding for pharmacy services in the UK.

Having said that, there is still a chance that things may not remain the same forever, particularly with recent calls by GPs suggesting that the government should consider asking patients to pay a certain amount for their health visits. The problem will now be to determine how prepared individual pharmacists are to take up any opportunities presented in pharmacy in the near future.

Sadly, the opportunity created by 100-hour pharmacies for young and aspiring individual pharmacists to exhibit their creativity has been lost due to the recent scrapping of this contract by the government. Any remaining hope for young pharmacists to showcase any innovative ideas they might have is now left with internet pharmacies which, although relatively easy to set up, may not be able to compete against the big multiples.

In my role as a preregistration tutor/mentor (community pharmacy) and as a teacher practitioner at a pharmacy school, I have come across many young pharmacists with buzzing ideas of how they can innovate and advance pharmacy practice in the UK. Sadly, just as was the case with their older colleagues, many of these young undergraduates will never get the opportunity to put their ideas into practice.

It may be that now is the time for the profession to energise every aspiring and innovative pharmacist, to think seriously “out of the box” and to do for pharmacy what Dr Okoye did for dentistry.

 

 

 

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