Kitchen porter to Lead Clinical Pharmacist: Interview with David Gibson

David Gibson is Lead Clinical Pharmacist at Darlington Memorial Hospital at County Durham and Darlington Foundation Trust. He us currently on a part-time secondment to Health Education England. He was interviewed by Sarah Carter for Rx Magazine

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

I had applied to medical school but this choice never felt quite right. I was talking with a friend who had chosen pharmacy and this conversation stands out as being pivotal. I suddenly realised that pharmacy was a better fit so I changed my application – one of the best decisions of my life.

What challenges have you faced so far in your career and how did you overcome them?

Throughout my time at school and university I often struggled with written tasks. I was frequently called lazy and criticised for not working to my potential. I also struggled with the basics of dispensing, making silly mistakes that I could not understand. These challenges often led me to lose confidence and I became frustrated with not being able to achieve the high standards I set myself. I was lucky enough to have excellent educational supervisors as a pre-registration and foundation pharmacist who built my confidence by supporting me with tips and techniques to ensure I could dispense and check prescriptions safely. During my clinical diploma my educational supervisor asked me a question that changed both my career path and my life: Have you ever been tested for a diagnosis of dyslexia? 

With the positive diagnosis came a significant change in my confidence as a pharmacist. I was able to put strategies into place to mitigate the dyslexia, my exam performance improved dramatically and my confidence to work as a pharmacist grew. 

What have been your key career points so far?

Whilst at school and through university I had multiple jobs including kitchen porter, waiter, shop assistant and climbing instructor. The common theme through all these experiences was the need to communicate. Working as a climbing instructor, coaxing and coaching petrified children up a cliff face in the Lake District, was probably the greatest test of my communication skills. Without these early formative experiences, I don’t think I would be in the position I am today.

Throughout my career I have had numerous excellent mentors to support my development, including many pharmacists but also several medics and nurses. I have learnt a great deal from peers who have supported my development, including moral and emotional support during difficult times. Peers and mentors have led me to understand that it is easy to view life through your own lens and have inspired me to consider how situations may be viewed from the perspective of patients, other professions or the best evidence base. 

Working as a climbing instructor, coaxing and coaching petrified children up a cliff face in the Lake District, was probably the greatest test of my communication skills.

Most of my time has been spent as an acute admission’s medical pharmacist. This area of practice appealed to me because I was able to make a tangible difference working as part of a multidisciplinary team. I enjoy being a generalist and the high pace of acute admissions suits me. I registered as a prescriber in 2007 and found that there was a common misleading message about pharmacists’ competence to prescribe for acutely ill patients. I wrote a letter to the Pharmaceutical journal expressing this opinion and was then invited to contribute a regular column reflecting upon my experience as a prescriber. 

Throughout my career I have always believed that a key role of pharmacy is to improve the services we provide. I have been involved in and led numerous local and regional projects to improve pharmacy services, ranging from clinical projects involving thromboprophylaxis or substance misuse to system improvements relating to management of alcohol withdrawal. I have supported work to improve the supervision of trainee pharmacist prescribers and investigated the use of prioritisation practices to improve patient care. 

In 2012 I was lucky enough to win the UKCPA Patient Safety award for improving prescribing practices of oxygen for acutely ill patients. I am passionate about the importance of sharing learning so that we can improve care for all patients, regardless of geography or care environment.

In the last 10 years I have moved into management and leadership roles. I found I was often seeing challenges within the system but as a frontline clinician it was difficult to affect change. I am a strong believer in compassionate leadership as an alternative to the top down solutions that the NHS has employed traditionally. I believe that trusted, empowered pharmacy staff are more motivated and creative. This approach will allow us to face the challenges of delivering healthcare into the future. 

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

In the last 12 months I have been working part time on secondment with Health Education England, developing options for foundation pharmacist training. The profession is in a pivotal stage of its progression as new and exciting roles are developed. Integral to this are ensuring that everyone has the skills, knowledge and behaviours to fulfil these roles. It is important that we can fulfil the potential of the profession whilst ensuring that existing pharmacy services are maintained to a high standard. One of the key enablers to support this change is a building a culture of learning within pharmacy involving those with expertise supporting others to develop and improve their competence as practitioners.

What is the best thing about being part of UKCPA?

I have been involved with UKCPA for over 15 years. As my career has developed UKCPA has provided numerous benefits which have aided my professional development. I have met role models and experts who have inspired my own career path. UKCPA has revealed a larger world of pharmacy which has encouraged me to strive for excellence. I have seen the quality of clinical work and research that others have produced, and I aspire to achieve this. Despite the challenges I have faced through my career I have always felt that there is expertise within UKCPA that can assist with finding solutions. 

How else are you involved in UKCPA?

I have been a member of the UKCPA General Committee for over four years and am now a Director. UKCPA promotes the role of expertise in clinical pharmacy practice but also provides the mentoring and support for the experts of the future. In my role as Education Lead, I am working on new ways for UKCPA to deliver on this goal.

Tell us something people don’t know about you?

Outside of work I am a keen fell runner. I think it is essential to have a healthy balance in life and will get my running shoes on whenever I can. Running allows me to see more of the world and I also appreciate the mental health benefits. The biggest running challenge I have undertaken was to run the length of Hadrians Wall (78 miles) in under 15 hours, fuelled by tea and cake. 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the UKCPA or its members. We encourage readers to follow links and references to primary research papers and guidance.

Competing interest statement: 

The author declares: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.


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