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How to get a head start with summer placements in hospital pharmacy

Are you thinking of applying for a summer placement in hospital? Here are some tips to keep you ahead of the game

By Fateha Al-Emran, Helen Badham and Julie Sowter

Fateha Al-Emran Preregistration training facilitator. London Pharmacy Education and Training
Helen Badham Preregistration pharmacist lead, South West Medicines Information and Training
Julie Sowter Senior pharmacy lecturer and professional lead for pharmacy, School of Healthcare, University of Leeds

Hospital pharmacy summer placements are in great demand and recruitment can start as early as November. Competition is fierce. So what can you learn from the experiences of past students and pharmacists who are involved in organising placements? This article provides you with information about:

You should include any hospital placements organised by your university on your application form and discuss what you have gained from them

You should include any hospital placements organised by your university on your application form and discuss what you have gained from them

• The benefits of undertaking a summer placement
• How to apply
• What to expect
• Getting the most out of your placement
• How to write about your experience when applying for preregistration posts

It is important to note that, although summer placements are popular, they are certainly not essential if you want to apply for a preregistration post in hospital. There is a good deal of competition for what is essentially a small number of placements and not everyone will be successful. Therefore, we will also provide you with some tips to maximise your chances of getting a hospital preregistration post if you are unsuccessful at securing a summer placement.

Benefits of a summer placement

Summer placements have many benefits and you may have already come up with your own list. However, here is what past students had to say:

• You gain an understanding of how hospitals work, how the pharmacy team works within the hospital and how it links to primary care
• It is an opportunity to get a working knowledge of procedures within a hospital dispensary
• You develop key transferable skills, such as communication and teamwork
• You can apply what you have learnt from university in the hospital environment
• You meet pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and other healthcare staff
• You get an appreciation of what working as a pharmacist means and the opportunity to reflect on whether you wish to apply for a preregistration post within hospital pharmacy
• You engage in experiences that may help you write your personal statement when applying for a preregistration place

The chance to work alongside preregistration trainees is also one of the valuable parts of a summer placement. This will give you an opportunity to talk to them about their experiences and gain an insight into what a preregistration placement might entail for you in the future.

How to apply

The application and recruitment process for summer placements varies from hospital to hospital. Therefore, we have provided suggestions to help you when applying:

• Find out who organises the summer placements in the hospital you are interested in. This may be a preregistration tutor, the lead education and training pharmacist or someone else. There is a vacation placements page on the Pharmalife website which provides brief information on how to apply for summer placements in each region. For example, it may link to another website that the hospital uses or tell you to contact the hospital direct using contact details on the hospital page on the Pharmalife website.

Alternatively, you may wish to ask teacher practitioners at your university if they know who organises placements or telephone the pharmacy department direct to find out who best to speak to or email.

• Once you have identified the best person, contact them as soon as possible to express your interest. Ask about the application process, the deadlines and which undergraduate years are considered because some hospitals will only take on third-year students
• You may wish to send in your CV along with your expression of interest for the department to “keep on file” until the application process formally starts
• Some hospitals require you to fill out an application form. Plan and carefully consider how you will answer any questions that ask you about your skills or interests. Those reading your application are looking for your interest in hospital pharmacy, your academic ability, communication and team working skills. Remember to proof read your application thoroughly for spelling and grammar. Hospitals will use a scoring system for short listing based on the information you provide in your application form
• Find out if they hold interviews for their summer placements and, if so, when these are. This is typically around February to April time

What to expect

Summer placements are a great way to get a taste of what to expect if you are thinking of undertaking your preregistration training in a hospital. However, since hospitals vary in size and specialty, no two hospitals will offer the same programme.

A number of hospitals ease their students in by having an induction where you get to meet other students and the wider pharmacy team. You will usually be given a programme of what you will be doing, along with contact details of the staff who will be looking after you. Placements typically last two to four weeks and are structured to provide you with as much experience as possible, so you should attend every day. Do not be surprised if your rota is a 9am to 5pm Monday-to-Friday working pattern. If you are unwell and cannot attend it is important to let the organisers know.

Most hospitals have a good support network and ensure that summer students are paired up with a more experienced member of staff. You may be going to the wards with a trainee pharmacist or someone who is experienced. Rest assured though, you will never be left alone.

A number of placements try to incorporate a variety of tasks both within the dispensary as well as on the wards. Some may even have you collecting data for an audit. You may rotate through various specialties and have presentations and tours. Whatever task you are doing or observing or however mundane it may appear, remember there are skills to be learnt.

Getting the most out of your placement

Students who come in with an open mind, seek to learn at every opportunity and accept tasks willingly are those who get the most out of their placements. For example, if you are taken on the wards make the most of the opportunity and observe how pharmacists interact with patients and other members of staff. Ask questions. There is nothing more encouraging than an enthusiastic, eager student who genuinely wants to learn.

Pharmacists love talking about how they got to where they are. It will also help you realise that there is a great deal of variety in hospital pharmacy. Remember that you will be quizzed too, so a good baseline of clinical knowledge will put you ahead of the game. Do not be shy if you do not know the answer; the key is to be proactive and look it up for another occasion. Come armed with a pen and notepad and scribble away. Pharmacists are more impressed by students who go away and look things up themselves rather than wanting to be spoon fed. Pharmacists are more impressed by students who go away and look things up themselves rather than wanting to be spoon fed

For the duration of your placement engage with staff and find out what it is like to work in a hospital. Do not be scared to get involved. You will need to be supervised but offer to help. Some students are given the opportunity to present cases on patient conditions to their supervisors or even to some of the department. This is your time to shine and show that you are preregistration trainee material.

What next?

If you are successful in securing a summer placement then make sure you do not forget to write down your experiences and what you learnt because this will help when you apply for a preregistration training post later on.

To help you think about how best to use your summer experience have a look at preregistration trainee pharmacist job descriptions. These summarise the role, responsibilities and purpose of the training year. There will also be a “person specification” that outlines essential and desirable requirements or characteristics. When you fill in your application form, show how your experiences are relevant to the job description. Discuss what you gained from your experience in relation to the characteristics that employers are looking for and use examples to illustrate how you meet these.

What if you do not get a summer placement?

There will be many students who will not be successful in securing a summer placement. If this is the case for you, then the following tips will give you the best chance of getting a preregistration offer.

Find out about open days to attend or arrange an individual visit:

• Explain why you are interested in a particular trust
• Ask questions about the roles and responsibilities of the pharmacy staff, what kind of tasks they do and the type of interventions they make
If you cannot visit, then at least make contact via email or telephone

Make an impact with your application form:

• Include any hospital placements organised by your university and discuss what you have  gained from them
• Use any of your previous community or non-pharmacy work to illustrate your skills on the application form. You can talk about team working and organisational skills in relation to anything significant that you have done 
• Show that the experiences that you have can be transferred to working in a hospital environment   
• Equip yourself with as much knowledge of working in a hospital pharmacy environment as you can. Look into the role of hospital pharmacists and members of the pharmacy team. Be aware of principles of hospital based clinical practice
• Make your application form stand out. If you have interesting pharmacy experiences or you are a sky-diver, add this in. Your application form will need to attract the reader’s attention
• Demonstrate you are committed to hospital pharmacy and to the trust you are applying to.

The following articles published by Tomorrow’s Pharmacist will help you with the preregistration application and interview process.

Making a successful hospital pharmacy preregistration application
How to ensure you do well at a hospital preregistration placement interview

Citation: Tomorrow's Pharmacist URI: 11125222

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