With this year’s football World Cup in full swing, Saša Jankovic speaks to Paul Moloney, a consultant sports pharmacist at a premiership football club
Paul Moloney is lead pharmacist at VirginCare (Bath and north east Somerset and Wiltshire Children’s Services) – part of the quality and governance team made up of safeguarding and health and safety. Since 2017, he has also worked as a consultant sports pharmacist at a premiership football club, providing medicines management support, anti-doping advice and player care.
Why become a sports pharmacist?
‘I’ve always been passionate that a pharmacy degree, with the level of physiology/biology and biochemistry involved, could and should be more transferable to areas such as sports science and nutrition, rather than being ‘pigeon holed’ as a pharmacist. I also feel pharmacists can help sports doctors in their responsibility and duty of care to athletes as they do in healthcare settings.’
What made you want to start in the role?
‘I did my pre-registration year in hospital pharmacy, then moved into independent community pharmacy, where I built up experience, eventually purchasing my own pharmacy and limited company as managing director in Bradford On Avon. I subsequently sold my company, and after a couple of years in hospital pharmacy I moved into medicines management/optimisation in the community services sector.
‘However, I have spent the majority of my career looking for opportunities to become involved in sports, and I remember doing a presentation at university that focused mainly on anti-doping.
‘I am very passionate about sport and clean sport. After researching and looking for opportunities, my first step in this direction was becoming a UK anti-doping accredited advisor. This spurred me on to use recent high profile cases highlighted in Government reviews to help sports teams and organisations improve their governance around medicines and record keeping etc. In 2017, I flew to Montreal to interview for the therapeutic/medical manager position at The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) headquarters.
‘I got down to the last two candidates and although I wasn’t successful, the experience encouraged me to further pursue a role in high level sport. I have been working with elite athletes in premiership football for a full season now, and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience so far.’
How is it different from working in community pharmacy?
‘Sports pharmacy is a very different environment from working in community or hospital, mainly because you are dealing with very fit athletes. However, the transferable/consultation skills I have learnt in pharmacy have made the transition very achievable.
‘For example, a lot of the medicines management principles apply within the sport setting, such as providing a strong governance framework (policies, standard operating procedures (SOPs) etc), ensuring cost effective prescribing, adhering to NICE guidance, legal requirements around safe storage and education. The extra bits that are specific to sport are around players’ needs; for example, the requirement to comply with the World Anti-Doping Code and how meds can be transported to away games and abroad etc. safely and efficiently.’
Are any specific qualifications needed?
‘Sports pharmacists don’t have specific qualifications as such, but I would recommend the UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) courses, and they have excellent education material on their website. Aside from that, you also need a good dose of drive and enthusiasm to work in such a fast-paced and high pressure environment, but many pharmacists are used to that.’
What are the positives of the role?
‘The role is very interesting and throws up new challenges all the time. It also offers the chance to diversify further. With my governance background in health and social care, I’d like to transfer that to sports “player care” governance and so am always looking for new opportunities to gain different experiences.’
And any negative points?
‘The role of a sports pharmacist is very hard to establish as it isn’t yet on the multi-disciplinary team agenda (of doctors, physiotherapists, nutritionists, sports scientists, performance data analysts, podiatrists, therapists) of sports medical teams in most cases. However, with the use of musculoskeletal medicines and clubs looking after the health and wellbeing of optimum elite athletes, I believe there is certainly scope.’
Would you recommend it to other pharmacists?
‘Absolutely, although currently you will struggle to find full time positions.
I would recommend maybe volunteering your services as a medicines management advisor to local amateur clubs to gain some insight and experience and also look out for opportunities to volunteer at big sporting events in the athletes’ village.’
Saša Jankovic is a freelance journalist