Claire Anderson was elected chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) English board in June.

With a career spanning community and  hospital pharmacy, education and academia, she talks to Costanza Pearce about her successes, challenges and love for the profession


Q What inspired you to become a pharmacist?

A I didn't want to do a straight-forward science degree. I had a strong sense of vocation because my father was an academic and my mother was a teacher when I was growing up.

I also had a grandfather who had been a community pharmacist and a very good family friend who was a pharmacist too. I was very inspired by watching him in his pharmacy in a small village in north Wales, where he had a wonderful relationship with his patients. That's what really inspired me to go into pharmacy.


Q What is the key to your success?

A Some of it [stems] from grasping opportunities. When I started off as a hospital pharmacist, I wasn't content with just staying in the dispensary, so I used to ask if I could go on ward rounds and shadow people and things like that. I think I've always been somebody who looks for opportunities and then I'd been surrounded by people and mentors who really supported me.

My first academic position was running continuing education for pharmacists in London and Oxford alongside a job in King’s College London. When I saw that job, I was working in a community pharmacy and doing training in a small chain of pharmacies. I don't know what made me think I could apply, but I did. And really that was the beginning of my successful academic career.

One of the other things that helped me to develop a lot has been my involvement with the International Pharmaceutical Federation, which I got involved in in the late nineties and held some leadership positions within. I think that’s given me a much bigger picture of the world.


Q What are your biggest achievements?

A When I went into the academic position, I set up a community pharmacy diploma at Kings, which was the first community pharmacy diploma. I’m very proud that I did that – a lot of those people [who took the diploma] went on to good things.


Q What challenges have you faced along the way?

A Academia, when I came into it, was very male dominated. I was interviewed by 10 men and that was a major hurdle, but I got the job and I loved it. At Kings and then at the University of Nottingham, I was on many committees where everybody else was a man. I was the first female to become a professor in the school of pharmacy at Nottingham.

But I guess it's not really been a problem. I think it's because the men that I’ve worked with on the whole – obviously not all – have been supportive of [me and] my promotions as well. I think I've been lucky.


Q Do you have any professional regrets?

A That's a difficult one. My father wanted me to buy a pharmacy. I don’t know if that’s a regret because I might not be sitting here today if I had. But perhaps I could have done it and owned a pharmacy, I don’t know.

Not doing my PhD full time and doing it while I was working as an academic was really hard and I would have loved to have been able to do it full time. That was a tough one, but I managed. So no, not really.


Q What is the most valuable lesson you've learned in your career?

A To always grasp opportunities when they come and not let them go by. And not to be afraid of asking for help as well. We can’t do it all and I think working in teams and using your team to the best is really important.


Q What are the key qualities of a good leader?

A I think a good leader is only as good as the people they’re leading. It's all about collegiality and teamwork as far as I'm concerned. I'm not an autocratic sort of leader, I’m somebody who really wants to bring people along with me.

I've seen too many leaders, both men and women, push people down and be threatened by the those coming up. But I really feel that you’ve got to have a good relationship with your peers and be that mentor.


Q What advice would you give to women who want to be leaders?

A Find a good mentor and don’t be afraid to put yourself forward.

As women, I think we’re notorious in that men are much more likely to put themselves forward for things earlier in their career than women do. In academia at least, they put themselves forward for promotion much earlier than women. Women want to be really sure they’re going to get it. I think we need to take more risks.

Go to events, network and meet people who are leaders and get that advice and that mentorship. I think that's invaluable.


Q What makes you happy at work?

A I think for me, it’s having happy students – my PhD students, the staff I work with and the undergraduates – that makes me really happy at work. Getting positive feedback from them is what really matters, and seeing them progress and grow and move on, is really, really special.

It’s very rewarding when the students get their results or PhD, it's a fantastic thing.


Q How will you champion community pharmacy at the RPS?

A I'm very passionate about it. My PhD work in the 1990s was about health promotion in community pharmacy in an area of North London, advocating for moving pharmacists out of the dispensary, doing health screenings, and all those things. Much of my research and teaching has been around community pharmacy ever since.

At Nottingham, we prepare our students for community pharmacy practice. They do a simulation of running a pharmacy where we have simulated patients coming in with simulated descriptions and cases. The students have to provide health screening and all of the things that are going on in a busy pharmacy, so they learn in a very realistic situation.

While of course we also want to support hospital pharmacists and primary care pharmacists at the RPS, we really want to provide support around the community pharmacy contract and for community pharmacists to engage with primary care networks (PCNs).


Q How would you describe the current state of pharmacy?

A I think there are wonderful opportunities for pharmacy right now and I think we have to embrace them. It's a time when we've moved into primary care in a big way. We pharmacists proved ourselves to be invaluable members of general practice and hospital pharmacy has long proved itself to be very much part of the [secondary care] team.

For community pharmacy, I think it's a very hard time with the cuts and the five-year contract, but it is a time with enormous opportunities. Things like the community pharmacist consultation service (CPCS) will help pharmacists to really establish their clinical skills, be known for that and be better integrated with primary care, which is a very good thing. If we get the implementation right, the uptake can increase, so it's vital that pharmacists are supported with that, as well as getting involved in PCNs.

I'm very aware of what it's actually like to be a pharmacist on the ground at this time and I know the stresses. But I think it's a time when we can really push the profession forward and I'm excited about that.