Sara Shirali, a newly qualified community pharmacist, says she is tired of having to justify her reasons for entering community pharmacy, and is concerned that pharmacist peers in other sectors may this as a less challenging or rewarding career choice

This year, when I qualified as a pharmacist, I made the decision to stay working in community pharmacy, where I had also completed my pre-registration training.

But since starting the MPharm I had felt conditioned to see community pharmacy as a ‘default’ career path by peers and sometimes even senior colleagues. That working in community pharmacy is the easy way out: no need to work up the bands; no need to apply those years of clinical knowledge, right?

Having to constantly justify my choice, role and expertise have quickly become more common than I thought it would be. Pharmacists are undervalued by the public; the last thing we need within the profession is to feel the need to compete against one another.

Although I feel my years of hard work are often overlooked by patients and customers, it can be even more frustrating when you experience this amongst your own profession.

Before completing my pre-registration year, I was guilty of these opinions too. During my time at university the prestige and competitiveness of hospital pharmacy was constantly mentioned, which initially influenced my decision to pursue a career in that sector. However, not everything went as planned, and I found myself doing my pre-registration year in a community pharmacy.

My pre-registration year was the first time that I truly valued the role of a community pharmacist. It was the first time I understood the complexity of how to run a pharmacy and the wide range of knowledge it would require. And it’s because of this that I made the decision to stay and ‘just’ be a community pharmacist.

When speaking to family members and non-pharmacist friends, I speak proudly about my day-to-day role, but I’ve found since qualification that my role is at times dismissed within the healthcare community, specifically when speaking to colleagues in different sectors.

It has become an assumption that anyone in community is ultimately settling, or going into it for higher locum pay…because, surely, nobody is just satisfied with just checking boxes all day?

I’ve heard time and time again that the pay cut would be worth the switch in the sector, or that I would struggle to progress if I did a diploma due to my lack of exposure to clinical scenarios. But I love community pharmacy because of the relationships I get to build with a range of patients. During the pandemic, patients relied on us for a number of things, from accessing their medication, over-the-counter issues, or even just a chat when they have felt lonely.

Success is not always measured by the number of qualifications you have, or how high you have managed to make it up the bands. Sometimes just knowing you’ve put someone’s mind at ease over a rash or a simple interaction can be enough.

Although there is no way of me knowing which sector I will ultimately end up in, I am tired of having to prove my intelligence and skillset.

All pharmacists are part of the same team; we are all exhausted, and I think appreciation needs to be shown for pharmacists in each and every sector. We all have acquired new skills in varying roles, but ultimately all share the same goal when it comes to improving patient’s health.