Gail Fleming is director of education and professional development at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).
Her previous roles include clinical lead for independent prescribing as part of the NHS pharmacy integration fund (PhIF) and Health Education England (HEE) pharmacy dean for London and South East.
She talks to Léa Legraien about her successes, achievements and love for the profession.
Q Why did you become a pharmacist?
A When I was at school I really enjoyed science and health-related subjects so I looked at a range of different fields, from medicine to pharmacy and physiotherapy.
I didn’t want to do medicine because I thought the programme would be too long. When I looked at pharmacy I really liked what was in the body and that exploratory side of something I didn’t know anything about. I also liked the fact that there would be patient contact as well as health and science.
Q What’s the key to your success?
A I’m never afraid to try something new. I’ve had many changes and steps in my career. I went into things where I thought, ‘I have not got enough experience’ but I was willing to take a jump and give these things a go.
I would say the second thing is to not be afraid of letting things go when it’s time to move on.
Q What are your biggest achievements?
A Seeing the positive impact I can have on people’s career is something I find really rewarding.
I’ve worked in pharmacy training and education for 20 odd years so I take a lot of pride in watching people I’ve trained become successful.
More recently, in 2017, I set up the national pre-registration pharmacist recruitment scheme, which was a big project that brought a lot of people together. Initially, many people thought that we couldn’t do it but in the end we all worked together to make it happen and that was good.
Q What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
A I don’t respond to things immediately but take a step back and reflect on them first.
When I was younger, I could be more impulsive but now there’s much more reason in my approach and that’s come with age.
Q Do you have any professional regrets?
A I think I was promoted very quickly when I first registered. At the time, I was very ambitious and thought that was great. But once I had moved up, I moved horizontally.
Looking back, my advice to someone else would be to not be so hasty because now I sometimes wish I had had a couple more years in those junior roles to get more of a grounding before going straight into positions with more responsibilities.
My lesson would be that there’s no need to rush – you have a long career.
Q What are the key qualities of a good leader?
A A good leader listens, is inclusive and able to help people see a vision for the future.
Q What advice would you give to women who want to be leaders?
A Believe in yourself, have the courage to do new things and be able to strike a balance between work and life.
Q What challenges have you faced along the way as a woman?
A I have three children and there are challenges when you have a young family. It’s about how you find that work and life balance and things that are right for you.
I’ve also worked in environments that have been quite male-dominated, so it’s about finding your place and being comfortable working in different groups.
Q What makes you happy at work?
A I like to be working in an environment that’s friendly and has a good team.
Also, coming to work and making a difference in what I do is a really important thing for me.
Q Do you think leadership training should be part of pharmacy education?
A It’s think leadership training is important all the way through your career and the type of training you need will differ at different times in your career.
But I agree that the importance of what qualities of a leader must have should be part of initial education.
Activities that encourage undergraduates to develop those skills are a really good thing but you need additional training and support throughout the whole course of your career.
I would strongly advocate mentoring. Having a good mentor can make a difference as well as doing traditional leadership programmes.
Q Do you think the sector needs more independent prescribers?
A What we should be doing when we look at the healthcare workforce is make the best use of the skills everyone can bring.
Pharmacists working as prescribers can improve access to medicines and care as well as the other professions. If you have more pharmacists that can prescribe, it opens up opportunities to think about different care pathways for patients and that’s a good thing.
But if you do train as a prescriber you need to be able to use those skills quite quickly or you become deskilled. So we need to be very clear in terms of how we make the best use of pharmacists with those skills and qualities.
Q How would you describe the current state of community pharmacy?
A Although it’s a difficult time for pharmacy and there are differences across the different countries in the UK, it’s an exciting time.
I appreciate the financial challenges in pharmacy at the moment but in the long-term there are opportunities arising through the development of different services.
Portfolio careers also enhance the opportunities to develop new skills and provide more clinically-enhanced services.
Q What changes would you like to see?
A In an ideal world, what I would want to see would be things that are easy for the patients and the public and an equitable service.
What we have just now, although there are lot of innovations, can be patchy sometimes so it would be great if we could have things rolled out and more accessible for patients.
If we are forward thinking, grab the opportunities that come our way and show what we can do then the future can look positive.