As I approach the 10-year mark in my career as a pharmacist, I’ve been reflecting on the fact that I’ve spent the majority of that time in non-patient facing roles. But when the pandemic hit – that changed. As Covid-19 cases rose and lockdown commenced, my day-to-day activity in a head office role reduced, and this opened the door for a return to community pharmacy to support our branches.

Getting out of branch much earlier than I’d anticipated in my early career was driven by a thirst for a broader experience, taking steps through general practice, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), and then into commercial and operational roles with my present employer.  That journey has given me great enjoyment and an education that I am extremely grateful for. However, it also inevitably took me away from my community pharmacy starting point and left me with a ‘I’ll locum to keep my hand in’ plan, which never had enough urgency about it to make happen. 

Covid therefore provided an unexpected but refreshing opportunity to rediscover my love for community pharmacy, as I was rediscovering the simple things that first attracted me to the profession – although  I have to be clear that I missed the early ‘peak Covid’ panic-ordering that would have undoubtedly made my return to branch less than comfortable after a seven-year absence.

Something that hits you when you step back in branch after a while out is the unbelievable passion that the teams have for the patients they care for.  The personal connection and duty that pharmacy staff have for their locals is found everywhere you look.  From the patient who was holidaying for a week and having issues getting hold of his daughter’s script late on a Friday night (after a tough week dealing with A-level results aftermath I should add!), to supporting an elderly gentleman who was struggling to understand why his wife’s meds weren’t due for re-order at the same time. 

The personal encounters, which brought a smile to my face when witnessed after so long away from the dispensary, are things that could easily be overlooked and taken for granted and are viewed by the team as ‘just doing my job’. 

A memorable highlight that caught me off-guard early on was a chat I had with a patient who was struggling with his inhaler. His immediate relief once I’d explained how to correctly use the inhaler was a bit of a jolt for me. He had been struggling with it for a while and couldn’t understand why his breathing was not improving, so when a few days later he returned to thank me for the difference I’d made it was a nice moment. 

This simple encounter really took me back to my early days in branch and a feeling that I hadn’t had for some time.

While I took pleasure in some simple things that I had forgotten, my stint in pharmacy also brought into focus the contribution that pharmacy makes to our communities. Community pharmacy faces challenges and opportunities in the form of funding cuts, policy change and an online boom that Covid-19 has only accelerated. 

Against this backdrop we should really be paying attention to the impact of the potential loss of our community pharmacies and place collective effort in the quest for further patient value, which we could unlock through this great resource. Let’s hope that, in the face of pressures that threaten the future of our community pharmacies, we don’t lose access to the passionate teams of people who add so much to the lives of their local communities.