In this next instalment of our Meet the Professionals series, we met Jessica Dobbs, one of our recent MPharm graduate from who is currently working as a pre-registration pharmacist. She spoke to us about the challenges of returning to study after time out, working at one of the leading cancer research beacons in the country, and the value of proactivity and putting yourself out there…
I absolutely loved my course. Although it was a lot tougher than I thought, especially because I had a two-year gap before I started, first-year was more about getting used to being a student: managing your work, revision and finding the best way of learning. At first, I found these things quite difficult, but by the time I got to fourth-year I had cracked it; I knew how to do exams and, more importantly, I had learned how to enjoy it and I feel like I got a lot out of my last year – not only did I make a lot of friends but it set me up really well for what I’m doing now.
One the best things about the course were the placements: obviously, we wouldn’t have been able to do anything without everything beforehand, but all learning about working in a multidisciplinary team and how to even approach patients was done ‘on the job’.
Each placement was very different; at first, we were all understandably nervous when we realised that this was an actual living person in front of us! However, having the theory and being able to practice things on placement really helped and now I’m doing pre-registration, I feel a lot more confident and that I’m able to approach people and ask questions.
Another thing I really appreciate is that it always seems like we get a lot more practice-based learning here than at other universities. Moreover, the opportunity to do things like the interdisciplinary days are really useful too; you think you know what a nurse or a midwife does and how they fit around you, but when you’re in scenarios you realise how much more everyone does and it helps give you more context.
Now that I’ve properly started work, the knowledge I took from my course has helped me feel prepared and ready for my career ahead. At this stage, I’m basically just building upon the stuff from our pre-reg year, so there’s lots of consolidation rather than having to learn something from scratch, which gives you a good sense of progression from study into employment.
I am currently working as a pre-reg pharmacist at an independent company in The Christie Hospital, and I’m basically learning all about the handout process, counselling patients with new medication, as well dispensing all of the medicines for in-patients. There is also the peripheral side of things such as home medication, because obviously, not everyone is well enough to travel, so we have outreach clinics in local areas like Rochdale; and later in the year, I will be doing the ward rounds and more of what a traditional pre-reg would be doing in a hospital.
Being that The Christie is a specialist oncology facility, most of the medication we’re seeing is cancer-based and the majority of the treatment we see is chemotherapy, but we are still exposed to plenty the wider field. My day-to-day is split into two sides: I’m either working with the individuals in our pharmacy, screening the medications and checking everything before it is distributed, or I’m being contacted by the trust side of the pharmacy, who will often bring prescriptions to us for discharges. Every day is different but we are all working together regardless.
In terms of my plans for the future, I’m focusing on my current role and making sure I’m prepared for the exam. I’m kind of treating this year as a way of feeling out where I want to go: I might want to go back into the community or even just try out a different hospital, but I am really enjoying it here at The Christie for the moment.
The University of Manchester offers plenty of support way before graduation. Everyone who went through the Oriel system (an NHS service used for recruitment in healthcare positions) was all really pleased with the amount of communication you receive and in your final year itself, everything in can be properly geared towards what you will be doing once you finish.
My best piece of advice for other pharmacy students is to get as much experience as you can: look for opportunities, whether its summer placements or weekend jobs, get involved and keep an eye out online. The majority of jobs I’ve got have come off my own back and simply dropping someone an email, so be proactive and take the initiative – I applied for The Christie during my time out and after securing that job, I ended up being offered the pre-registration post that I hold now. So, the more you do, the more people you meet and the more you get on your CV, it’ll open up doors to your career in pharmacy.