Superintendent pharmacist Olutayo Arikawe is currently doing her PHD in pharmacy at the University of Wolverhampton, which focuses on developing services to support people living with mental health conditions.

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


Q Why did you become a pharmacist?


A I’ve always been passionate about caring for people. I didn’t want to be a doctor as there were a few things I would rather not examine.

Pharmacy gives me a broader scope of life. There are many branches of the profession to choose from, including community, hospital, academia and industry.


Q What is the key to your success?


A My belief in God, passion for pharmacy and dedication to my community. I want to make a positive difference in the lives of people I come across.

I take up any opportunity to develop and push myself out of my comfort zone to be more confident in what I do.


Q What are your biggest achievements?


A My biggest achievement is turning around the businesses I have managed. The first pharmacy I managed became the best pharmacy within LloydsPharmacy [branches] at that time. I led Murrays Healthcare in Stourbridge, Dudley to become the first healthy living pharmacy (HLP).

My present pharmacy, The Priory Community Pharmacy in Dudley, has consistently delivered great services to support the community.


Q What challenges have you faced along the way?


A I have faced many challenges. After graduating from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, I rapidly moved up the career ladder.

I decided to move to Britain for a new challenge in 2005, which was a risk. I had to start all over again by going to Aston University to do the overseas pharmacist assessment program (OSPAP), [a one-year postgraduate diploma that ensures those who qualified overseas receive the appropriate education and training for UK practice and entry to pre-registration training], then a pre-registration program.

It was hard to understand the lecturers. I had to summon courage and ask Dr Hannah Batchelor [a senior lecturer in pharmaceutics, formulation and drug delivery at the University of Birmingham] to help me with pharmaceutics, as I felt I was going to fail.

I wasn’t very good at calculations but my husband is a great tutor and loves calculating.

I have faced different challenges in my working life. For example, I got my present job five years after initially applying for it. I wasn’t even called for an interview the first time.

After the death of my mum last year, I almost lost my zest for life and passion to achieve anything else. It took a while, but I let go by telling myself to move on and not get stuck in what is outside my field of influence. I have no power to bring her back but I have the ability to keep making her proud of me.


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


A Whatever the heart can conceive, a woman can achieve.


Q How can pharmacists support people with mental health conditions?


A Mental health has become a very important public health issue for the NHS and globally. The effect of mental health issues on the individual’s quality of life cannot be ignored.

Mental health medications are increasingly being dispensed by pharmacies, with many patients taking antipsychotics and antidepressants.

Pharmacy teams have the most contact with patients, as they are easily accessible and well placed in the community. Pharmacists could potentially have a role in supporting people with dementia and other mental health conditions to manage their medications and condition, as well as supporting their carers and family.

We have a great role to play in raising mental health awareness and a greater role in the early identification of people who are likely to suffer from mental health problems.


Q What are the key qualities of a good leader?


A Honesty, integrity, passion and humility are the key qualities I admire in a leader. A leader must be passionate enough to inspire others to deliver the [company] vision.


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


A Believe in yourself even when nobody else does. Don’t wait until you have mastered a skill to say yes to an opportunity – you can learn on the job. Be true to yourself and ask for help, such as a coach or a mentor, when required.

Most importantly, don’t forget to help others when you get to the top. Pay it forward.


Q What makes you happy at work?


A Happy staff and happy customers. I love seeing the difference pharmacists can make to the quality of life of their patients.


Q How would you describe the current state of pharmacy?


A Pharmacy is exciting and challenging at the same time. At the moment, managing the funding cuts and stock shortages is quite challenging but I’m hoping there will be light at the end of the tunnel.


Q What changes would you like to see?


A I would like to see a more business-directed and patient-friendly pharmacy contract, more national services and less bureaucracy in delivery.

I’m happy that more services are now requiring self-declaration of competence (DoC) rather than having to attend all the training provided by each service commissioner.


Q What does the future hold for pharmacy?


A It’s expedient that pharmacists think outside the box to build their business. We need to look at a different way of working. Many people are ordering prescriptions online and we need to start looking at what the consumer behavior will be in the next few years and modify our business plan to fit into the future.

Pharmacists will achieve a lot by collaborating with each other rather, as there is strength in collaboration.