As a senior pharmacist at Whiteacres Medical Centre, Helen Kilminster was part of NHS England’s first wave of the GP-based clinical pharmacists pilot that launched in 2015.
Her other roles include prescribing lead for the Malvern locality in south Worcestershire and Practice Pharmacy Group (PPG) committee chair at the Primary Care Pharmacy Association (PCPA).
She talks to Léa Legraien about her successes, challenges and love for the profession.
Q Why did you become a pharmacist?
A My first ever job was at my local Boots pharmacy as a healthcare advisor. When the time came to apply to university, I was encouraged by a pharmacist I had worked with to opt for pharmacy.
I love both science and arts. Above all things, I knew I wanted to help people. It felt like the right path to take.
Q What motivated you to qualify as an independent prescriber?
A I wanted to do more for patients. There have been many situations in my career where I felt I could more to support doctor colleagues with prescribing and care management of long-term conditions.
However, good patient care isn’t all about prescribing the most appropriate medicines. It’s also about optimising and deprescribing medicines and applying evidence-based practice.
Q What is the key to your success?
A My work ethic and values. I’m passionate about what I believe in. I believe that pharmacy has an equal footing with other healthcare professions in driving change for sustainability in the NHS.
I work hard and rarely give up. I’m a hopeless optimist and will always try to find positives in everything I do and everyone I meet.
I would never see myself as successful but I hope to instill positivity in others and empower them to attain their goals. Any success isn’t just mine, but what we’ve achieved [collectively] through effective collaboration.
Q What are your biggest achievements?
A Becoming a parent. I never envisaged I would ever become a mother but now I have a beautiful son and daughter. I had complex pregnancies for both of them and we, unfortunately, experienced ill health in the early weeks and months of life.
It’s amazing to watch two little people grow and develop their own personalities.
Q What challenges have you faced along the way?
A There are so many challenges and barriers to name! These include people who don’t believe that pharmacists should be working or are needed in general practice, who don’t agree pharmacists should practice as advance clinical practitioners, who feel threatened by the opinions of a woman and who think I don’t understand or speak English.
Q What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
A Expect the unexpected and that failure isn’t the end. The change we want may not happen overnight but we have the power and control to change ourselves.
Also, we should never be afraid to ask for help when we need it. Our life experiences, good or bad, enrich our perspective for a bright future.
Q What makes you happy at work?
A Making a positive difference, however great or small, and knowing that I’m able to help and care for others.
Q Why are GP pharmacists an asset in helping tackle NHS pressure?
A The workload in general practice is immense but also varied. Pharmacists have both clinical and non-clinical skill sets. They introduce more diversity in the workforce skill mix.
The management of medicines is where pharmacists can add value. Over time, as confidence and trust develop, pharmacists are able to demonstrate their purpose, do more for their practice team, improve patient experience and extend access to healthcare.
Each practice has a unique way of working and different pressure points, such as the lack of workforce capacity and proactive management of long-term conditions and inefficient prescription processes. The greater the integration of pharmacists in practice, the wider the scope of opportunity.
Q You have a particular interest in palliative and end-of-life care. How can pharmacists be better involved in these areas?
A Pharmacists can work in any healthcare sector and be involved in palliative care. Palliative medicine ranges from optimising pain management to evaluating nutritional support.
It’s important to ensure holistic, personalised care. Palliative and end-of-life care are separate entities, however pharmacists can add a unique beneficial perspective in multidisciplinary teams to aid complex clinical decision-making.
They can offer help and support to families and carers with understanding the purpose of pharmaceutical care as the patient’s conditions change over time. The possibilities of the role of the pharmacist in palliative care are truly endless.
Fundamentally, the role is to ensure a quality of life and that the wishes of our vulnerable patients are respected at all times.
Q What constitutes a great leader?
A Great leaders put others first and empower and inspire them to be better.
Often, great leaders aren’t in senior roles but demonstrate their principles through their work and actions.
Q What advice would you give to women who want to be leaders?
A Use your emotional intelligence and past experiences to your advantage.
Recognise your limits but be prepared to develop and learn.
Remember to show empathy and compassion in your actions and sensitivity in your words.
Continually demonstrate integrity and humility.
Always believe that women can be leaders if we choose to be.
Q How do you juggle all your roles?
A Not very well – I’m human after all. Sometimes, I have moments where I feel totally overwhelmed and isolated and may have a good cry.
I try to be super organised and plan ahead but life is unpredictable. I do have an amazing network of supportive family, friends and colleagues. I really would be lost without them.
Priorities and delegation also help me cope. My memory is awful so I write notes all the time and also sketch note to help me explore new ideas and plan projects.
Q How would you describe the current state of community pharmacy?
A Pivotal. Our attitudes, decisions and actions will influence and challenge the direction of community pharmacy. Non-constructive arguments and debates are divisive to the profession. It’s important to understand all sectors of pharmacy and work collaboratively, instead of having silos.
Q What changes would you like to see?
A A change in mindsets, greater awareness in the importance of emotional intelligence, an openness to innovation and fairness to pharmacy teams and their activity in commissioned work streams.
Q What does the future hold for pharmacy?
A I hope for a more cohesive working model between pharmacy sectors and greater integration of pharmacy teams in the wider multidisciplinary network.
Technology will bring new challenges to the pharmacy profession. Advanced clinical practice pathways will evolve to the needs of our complex patients.
New pharmacy undergraduates will have a more vocational skill base and their training opportunities will be more extensive to gather invaluable experiences.
Pharmacy will be recognised as an essential healthcare discipline to further improve patient care in all sectors and clinical domains.