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How you can secure a summer placement in community pharmacy

Applications for those all-important community pharmacy summer placements are open now. Here’s how you can secure your place.

Steps to secure a summer placement in a community pharmacy

Source: Shutterstock.com

To secure a placement, you must make sure that your application makes an impression.

No two community pharmacies are the same so, when it comes to finding the right summer placement programme for you, expect some trial and error. Securing a summer placement is also competitive —however, there is a lot you can do to maximise your chances of finding a summer placement and have an enjoyable and productive time while you are there.

Why do a summer placement?

In the long term, the main reason for doing a summer placement is to gain experience of a real pharmacy with real patients — but, more immediately, pharmacy experience is a “must-have” on your CV by the time you apply for your pre-registration placement. A summer placement is also your chance to get to know a particular employer and, if you like the organisation (and it likes you), the temporary placement can often lead to paid part-time employment and a sought-after pre-registration placement.

Submitting your application

Be ready

The window for applying for a summer placement programme is short. The six-week application period for the Bestway group pharmacies (formerly owned by the Co-op) is already open, and closes on 11 January 2015. Other placement providers, such as Boots and Dean & Smedley (a small pharmacy chain in the Midlands, UK), are open until mid-March 2015.

Get online

Visit pharmacy employers’ websites and look under “careers” or “working with us”. Follow their social media accounts for the latest opportunities. If there is no summer programme advertised, see if the company offers pre-registration placements or has any permanent vacancies, which might offer a speculative opportunity.

Network

Speak to your university network, including tutors, teacher practitioners, careers officers and fellow students, as well as your own family and friends, because they can help you find a summer placement. Tutors will be able to help you with your application. Friends and family may be able to think of local pharmacies you could apply at.

Think broadly

Remember to consider small local independent pharmacies, which might welcome an offer of help over the summer period, particularly if they are located in less popular areas, such as rural areas.

Making your application stand out

There is no doubt that community pharmacy is competitive. Last year, the Co-op pharmacies received 17 applicants for every place on the summer programme. To secure a placement, you must ensure that your application makes an impression:

  • Employers want to see experience of dealing with the public, even if it is not in a pharmacy, so ensure you include any relevant work experience in your application. Showing you can work in a team is also important.
  • Employers want to see that you want to work for their organisation. Make sure you have done your research and mention what you like about the company in your application.
  • Personalise your application with extra-curricular activities or non-pharmacy skills. On behalf of Tomorrow’s Pharmacist, the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA) conducted a straw poll of its members, and one student said: “All of us will come out with same degree so it’s essential to focus on things outside the MPharm course.”
  • Get someone to check over your applications and your CV for errors.

What to expect next

All short-listing processes differ. For larger chains you should expect to complete some form of psychometric testing (to demonstrate personality traits), test scenarios (“What would you do if…?) and, perhaps, numerical tests. Others may make the decision based on your CV and covering letter or application, a branch visit and a reference from your university tutor.

Starting your placement

Most summer placements will last between two and six weeks and will have a flexible start date, usually up to the end of July. Often the location is negotiable because employers recognise that convenience is important —shorter placements (<6weeks) tend to be unpaid. Longer placements (>6 weeks) will usually be paid (at least the minimum wage). BPSA members recommend that those who participate in a summer programme also plan to have a decent summer holiday, particularly if it is the last before graduation.

What will you do?

If you have multiple offers, it is worth asking about the experience you can expect. In a busy pharmacy you might find yourself acting as little more than an extra pair of hands in the dispensary. In others, you will receive comprehensive mentoring, sit in on clinical services delivered by the pharmacist and, maybe, lead on some non-pharmacist services or serve on the counter. Some placements provide an activity workbook. Others will give you ring-fenced study time. Expect to spend 30–40 hours a week over continuous weeks in the pharmacy during your placement.

Making the most of it

To ensure that you make the most from your placement, think ahead about what you want to achieve, and discuss this with the branch pharmacist. Once you are in the pharmacy, be prepared to do as much as possible and use your initiative — if you think you are needed somewhere, move without being asked. Additionally, ask lots of questions, even if you believe you should already know the answer.

What if you don’t succeed this year?

First, ask for feedback on your unsuccessful application and use it to inform future applications for summer programmes or part-time work. Secondly, use your summer to do something different. Add more skills and experience to your CV, such as volunteering in a care home, being paid to work in retail, catering, or a call centre, or go travelling.

The independent employer’s perspective

Mimi Lau, Numark’s director of pharmacy services

The biggest fear for an owner or manager of an independent pharmacy is that taking on a student will be more trouble than it is worth. On your application, suggest ways in which you could be useful. The students who get the best jobs are the ones who show they have the right attitude.

Of course, pharmacy covers a broad range of career options so, as well as community and hospital pharmacy, there are also head office roles, journalism with the pharmacy trade press, manufacturing, pharmacy design, pharmacy IT, wholesaling, etc. Even if your first choice is to work in a traditional pharmacy environment, you can use placements and work experience as an opportunity to learn about the range of opportunities in the sector.

The multiple employer’s perspective

Victoria Moore, pre-registration and summer placement recruitment manager at The Co-operative Pharmacy, Part of the Bestway group

For 2015 we are increasing the number of summer programme places to 200 (from around 60). We also have 100 pre-registration placements available for 2016. Now we are part of the Bestway group, we plan to have more stores offering pharmacist training.

The new brand for our pharmacies will be announced during 2015 and we want to see individuals who can embrace change and the new brand, and who want to join us on that journey. We also like to see our students demonstrate some understanding of how the pharmacist’s role benefits the communities that we serve.

We share our placements equally between third-year students, and the other half to first- and second-year students. We choose stores that offer a range of services and a reasonable balance between workload and time to spend with the pharmacist. For third-year students we attempt to place them in a store with a pre-registration tutor, who will assess that student for a pre-registration placement. Many third-year students will complete a summer placement with their pre-registration placement already organised.

The students’ perspective

Nicole Underwood is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of East Anglia. She has completed two summer placements — one at an independent pharmacy between her first and second years, and one at Boots between her second and third years.

To get the independent placement I just called a local pharmacy that offers an interesting range of clinical services. It was a good experience — I did a lot of dispensing, got to grips with the role of standard operating procedures, and I got to sit in on warfarin clinics delivered on and off the premises.

The pharmacist told me that “community pharmacy is what you make it” and from the time I spent there I could see the huge impact the pharmacy has on people’s lives. The pharmacist’s enthusiasm and ideas for the profession made me think about the essential role that community pharmacies can play.

Gareth Harris is a relief manager at The Co-operative Pharmacy, part of the Bestway group. Gareth completed a summer placement in his third year at Cardiff University, which led to a pre-registration placement in Wales with the Co-op and, after relocation, permanent employment in Plymouth as relief manager.

My first placement with the Co-operative Pharmacy was in my third year, so I chose my placement with an eye on the number of pre-registration placements on offer and also the pre-registration pass rates being achieved.

Since this was also my first placement in community pharmacy, my experience and knowledge of the sector was limited. I think what was appealing about my application was the emphasis I placed on personal characteristics, such as determination, and also the team-work that comes from my sporting activities.

My first week was spent shadowing various team roles, and in week two I started doing tasks such as the controlled drug balance check, some supervised dispensing and filling dosette trays. I was also given a file of activities to check off when completed. By the end of week four I felt I was part of the team and I did not want to leave.

To make the most of your placement, my advice is: “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if they seem a bit stupid”. The placement is a great opportunity to fill any gaps in your knowledge before you take examinations or start pre-registration training. I would also say: “Have the confidence to get involved”. You do have at least a year of university behind you, and you will have more to offer than you think – and there will always be more experienced staff on hand to help you.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20067392

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