How I realised my passions: Interview with Dr Ruth Bednall, UKCPA Chair

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

As a child I often accompanied my father – a GP – when he stopped to chat with the local community pharmacist. Whilst they were putting the world to rights, I was counting Smarties with a tablet triangle! I learnt that practicing medicine is a calling – you never stop being a doctor – and I knew that I didn’t have that calling. But I wanted to be involved in healthcare, so pharmacy seemed to be the obvious choice. Plus, I already had some skills practiced!

How did you get where you are today?

I followed the path to community pharmacy, which was my intended destination. But I found that the large store setting didn’t deliver the ‘centre of the community’ role that I wanted, and increasingly, I saw the healthcare part of my role diminishing as the retail element took over. I considered applying for the newly established pharmaceutical adviser roles but didn’t believe I had the right skill set and so I set out to develop that by first moving to hospital practice. 

I was fortunate to be recruited to Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Trust as a resident pharmacist where I progressed from basic grade to Medicine Division Lead Pharmacist via orthopaedics, HIV and acute admissions. The transition from community to hospital practice was very nerve wracking: I arrived feeling very much like a second-class citizen. However, it quickly became apparent that I didn’t have fewerskills, I had different ones. That realisation has helped me to look for different skills within a team and to not be afraid to recruit people from different backgrounds.

A family relocation took me to the Midlands and I returned from maternity leave with my second child into the role of Education and Training Pharmacist at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire in Stoke on Trent. The following year I started a job share with my colleague Vicky Simcock and between us we have delivered the clinical service to the Medical Division for the last 10 years. This is a situation that I realise I am privileged to have found. Whilst our styles and approaches are different, we are complementary, and our principles are completely aligned. We have both achieved a true work life balance, knowing that if one of us was in a tight spot the other would pick up the slack.

When I started my DPharm studies the opportunity came up to take on the role of Principal Pharmacist, Clinical Services at the newly established University Hospitals of North Midlands. I have now been in post for three years and am fortunate to work in a dynamic, growing department, with some exceptional clinical practitioners.

What challenges have you faced so far in your career?

I have worked part time for much of my career – this is a privilege but also a challenge.  It takes much longer to build rapport and relationships when your working hours don’t align with others, and credibility is harder to establish. However, I have persevered and recognise that with the support of good managers I have been able to achieve a work-life balance that is the dream of many.

Studying for a DPharm whilst working and running a family home was a self-inflicted challenge. I became very good a compartmentalising work, study and family and using small chunks of time effectively. I think I must have the only DPharm thesis which was mostly written in a car park outside a children’s ballet class!

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

I have a breadth of clinical and managerial practice which allows me to understand the full landscape within which the service I lead must fit. My time in education and training has given me a passion for the development of a workforce – the life blood of any service. My DPharm studies have developed my desire to prove the value of the service I deliver and to want to transform and evaluate what we do for the benefit of our patients.

What constant thread runs through your career?

When I reflect on my career, the common thread is people. People as the patients we serve and a desire to deliver them best possible care – this is the core of all pharmacists’ practice. But I extend that to the people who deliver that care and so pharmacy workforce has become the theme of my career through my research at MSc and DPharm level and in my practice.

Tell us about your new role at UKCPA

I’ve been a UKCPA memberfor over 20 years, and I recently took up the role of Chair, having been a member of the General Committee for six years previously. The best thing about UKCPA is the sense of community: the organisation provides the most fabulous network and a way of connecting with the best pharmacists in the country. Through this network we can all learn, share practice and experience, and ultimately grow professionally and personally.

Who or what inspires you?

Life inspires me. It is so precious, and we never know how much of it we have. I want to make the most of it and make my contribution the best I can – for my family, friends, colleagues and patients.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing the profession today?

I believe the biggest challenge we face as a profession is the rapid extension of practice that we are being encouraged to embrace. There are many exciting new roles being developed, which I believe pharmacists are more than able to fill, but I have concerns that in filling those new roles we leave gaps in core services. Whilst equipping pharmacists to extend their practice, we must ensure that our technician and other non-registered support colleagues are appropriately upskilled to ensure that the safe and effective use of medicines does not fail due to lack of available resource. The key will be in developing a connected training programme which delivers new skill sets, whilst ensuring service continuity in all sectors by building existing roles into the training programme for the new ones. This cannot be done in isolation and the key will be aligning the various workstreams into a coherent strategy which will deliver for all aspects of the profession.

Tell us something people don’t know about you.

I recently experienced my first ever ballet lesson. It was very enjoyable, but I don’t think Darcy Bussell has anything to fear!


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