Good relationships are key to practice: An interview with medication safety expert Anna Bischler

Anna is the Medication Safety Officer at East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust. Her speciality is medication safety, and she has previously worked within the National Patient Safety Agency. She continues to share her passion for medication safety as Co-chair for the Medication Safety & Quality Group of the UKCPA. She was interviewed by Sarah Carter for Rx Magazine.

What made you realise that you wanted to become a pharmacist?

As a child I was fascinated by how a tablet in your mouth would help a pain elsewhere in the body. I wanted to understand how that worked. 

Can you describe your career path? 

I started as a preregistration pharmacist at Guys & St Thomas’ NHS Trust before heading to Chelsea & Westminster hospital for my residency. Providing a residency service to a teaching hospital was a very steep learning curve, but the experience was invaluable. After a year, I became the chief resident which I really enjoyed as it was so rewarding to support newly qualified staff and lead a team in providing such a demanding and important service. 

I started my clinical speciality in Surgery, Intensive Care and Anaesthetics, which was very enjoyable. I fully integrated into the ward team and really enjoyed working so closely with other professions. At this point I was convinced that my future career was in Intensive Care but an opportunity to cover a clinical governance post surprised me and changed my career path. I found the new role incredibly challenging but so rewarding that I haven’t looked back. My earlier years on the wards working so closely with other professions has been the most valuable experience. In order to implement large-scale change affecting the practice of others it is essential to have good relationships across all the health professions.  

What challenges have you faced so far in your career?

When I first started the Clinical Governance Lead role it was terrifying as I felt totally out of my depth – a classic case of imposter syndrome. I received an email from Gillian Cavell, a fellow Medication Safety Pharmacist who invited me to meet her and a few other local pharmacists for a coffee. This network was a lifeline and was exactly what I needed to find my feet in the new role. To be able to share our experiences and challenges was both inspiring and motivating. This soon led to a post within the Medication Safety Team at the NPSA, which is undoubtedly a highlight of my career.

To be able to say that I have helped change a process that prevents harm to patients is incredibly rewarding.  

What key elements of your career do you think prepared you for your current post?

My career has seen me travel through many varied specialities and roles and I think this has provided me with good insight into the very complex systems that make up the NHS. The experience of working at a national level in my role at the NPSA gave me the opportunity to see the challenges that face NHS leaders and how working collaboratively and innovatively can bring large-scale improvement.    

Is there a constant thread that runs through your career?

I think the desire to improve patient care runs through my whole career but how I deliver it has changed. In the early years, I enjoyed direct individual patient care but as my career has developed, especially after working at a national level at the NPSA, I get most satisfaction from being able to influence or deliver system changes and to be in a position to share best practice so it can be replicated across the whole of the NHS. 

What keeps you motivated in your job?

I enjoy my role as Medication Safety Officer (MSO) because it gives me the opportunity to lead changes in a complex system, which ultimately improves care for our patients. As the expert in medication safety and driven by quality improvement, MSOs are in the ideal position to develop and implement medication safety initiatives. I enjoy the opportunity to influence other professions to promote safer medication practices as well as being a person to turn to when there are medication safety challenges in a system. To be able to say that I have helped change a process that prevents harm to patients is incredibly rewarding. 

What is your next professional challenge?

I am currently working in a hospital that has recently merged with another hospital. This has brought about a huge amount of change and new challenges, almost daily. Working through the merger means that we have been open to new ways of working and it has inspired the whole team to think about how we can improve practices and work flexibly. I have also just completed the CPPE Chief Pharmacist Development Programme, which has made me reflect on what kind of pharmacist I aspire to be and how to become an effective leader.  

How else are you involved in the development of other pharmacists?

My new role as co-Chair of the UKCPA Medicines Safety & Quality Group with Naomi Burns is exciting and rewarding. We delivered a UKCPA Medicines Safety masterclass earlier this year, which was both educational and a great chance to meet up with fellow pharmacists with a common interest. Chatting to our colleagues during coffee and lunch was as beneficial and valuable as the workshops and presentations. One of my favourite roles in the committee has been to help adjudicate the UKCPA Patient Safety Award. It is inspiring to see such a wealth of safety initiatives happening across the country, and to be able to reward, share and praise that work is so important. We are striving to make the online forum an active and welcoming place to share ideas and to lead innovation, some of which can be showcased through the UKCPA Patient Safety Award. The forums provide an opportunity to chat with each other and share problems and solutions, which is invaluable in practice and prevents individuals from working alone or reinventing the wheel. We inspire each other with stories of achievements and support each other when we need advice or guidance.  

Who or what inspires you?

The NHS inspires me. We are lucky to have an amazing and unique service and I’m constantly inspired by the caring and compassionate staff who work tirelessly to provide such outstanding healthcare. 

Tell us something people don’t know about you.

I’m an avid skier! I took a break from my pharmacy career for a year after I finished my residency job and went to Val D’Isere to work as a ski rep. When I went I could barely ski but when I left I was addicted.


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