Reena Barai is the contractor at SG Barai Chemist in Sutton, South West London.

She is also a board member of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), an independent prescriber and a former pharmacist in general practice and hospital.

Léa Legraien talks to her about her successes, challenges and love for the profession.


Q Why did you become a pharmacist?


A My dad was a pharmacist and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

I grew up on the top floor of our pharmacy, [which has been in the family for almost 40 years], which I now own. I never wanted to be upstairs, but downstairs instead talking to customers. I just loved the interaction with people and the local community.


Q What is the key to your success?


A Customer service and care. We know all of our patients individually, probably because we have been in the community for so long. It’s a long-standing place where people are familiar with and can get good customer care.


Q What are your biggest achievements?


A In 2014, I got voted Britain’s Best Pharmacist [by the readers of Woman’s Weekly magazine].

I became an independent prescriber last year. I hadn’t been studying for a long time so it was good to go back studying and get that qualification.

Also, being recently elected onto the NPA board.


Q What encouraged you to become an independent prescriber?


A I think it’s the future for pharmacy. There’s a role for prescribing in community pharmacy that needs to be developed.

I wanted to make sure I got the qualifications under my belt to use this skill in the future. At the moment, there is a lack of use of it in pharmacy and that use needs to be created.


Q What challenges have you faced along the way?


A I think it’s hard for all of us as our modern lives are busy. If you have a young family especially, there are a lot of balls that need juggling. My challenges in life are no different to anyone else’s.

What I’ve realised is that the barriers there are because of our gender are often self created. It is possible to do two things and not let your gender be the barrier.


Q What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt?


A Believing in myself.


Q What are the key qualities of a good leader?


A Empathy, being open to ideas and suggestions and continuously learning.


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


A Don’t let your gender stop you. Create a support network so that you can juggle all the balls.

Learn to be resilient. You’ll be challenged and you’ll have to challenge in leadership roles and have the strength to be able to do that.

There are too many women in community pharmacy who don’t think leadership is something they can or should be involved in. We just don’t see ourselves as leaders when we look up and see male leaders everywhere. Is it something we don’t aspire to because we don’t have role models?


Q What makes you happy at work?


A Everything, I love pharmacy and my job!

My team and I all get on and it’s a really nice atmosphere. We do provide an efficient service so the fact that our patients appreciate us makes me feel very happy at work.


Q How do you advocate the profession within the NPA?


A I will talk about pharmacy and women in pharmacy to anyone who is willing to listen. I’m quite happy to stand up, write and talk about it.


Q How do GP and hospital pharmacists can help tackle pressure in the NHS?


A The ultimate goal for us pharmacists is to support patients. Any healthcare professional who sees that you’re patient-centred should appreciate the fact that the job we do is to support people to make the most of their medicines as well as colleagues, such as GPs and nurses, to optimise prescribing, for example.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt any barriers with any GPs, GP pharmacists or hospital colleagues. It’s all about collaborative working. I do think that the new generation of GPs and nurses value the input pharmacists are having in hospitals, GP practices and the community. Things are changing.

Within hospital, I became a pharmacist specialist in cardiology and special care baby unit, whereas in the community I have to be more of a generalist.

I enjoy working in the community more because I like the variety of the day, having knowledge on lots of different things and the constant contact with patients. In hospital you just see patients for a little while but in community you get a continuity of care.


Q How would you describe the current state of community pharmacy?


A I think it’s a time of change ahead. Morale is particularly low at the moment in community pharmacy because of the funding cuts but I have faith and resilience in the sector to pull through and create a new path for pharmacy in the future.

I would like to see a use of independent prescribing in pharmacy, more services provided nationally and investment in the prevention agenda. I would also like to see an expansion of the role of healthy living pharmacies (HLP).


Q Are you confident about the future for pharmacy?


A We’re pretty good at dealing with change, highs and lows. I am confident that the sector will survive. The future may look different for pharmacy but I do think that there’s a role for pharmacists.