Seeking greater remuneration and a different working life, some community pharmacists find themselves considering the leap to hospitals. So what do they need to know?
Transitioning from community to hospital pharmacy might seem like a daunting leap into the unknown, but it offers early career pharmacists (ECPs) a great opportunity to experience a variety of different roles that will help them quickly discover their niche.
‘I know it’s not easy for everyone to give another area of pharmacy a crack,’ said pharmacist Taren Gill, who made the switch to Orange District Health Service in 2014.
‘But I would encourage ECPs to take lots of different roles early on to see what they like and what they don’t like.’
Hospital pharmacy is delivered in two different sectors in Australia – public and private hospitals, and Michelle Lynch, PSA Board Member and National Hospital Pharmacy Manager at Ramsay Health Care, has a background in both.
She said while the application in standards and consistency in public and private hospitals differed wildly a couple of decades ago, they’re becoming more and more similar over time.
That said, differences still exist.
‘The public hospitals, which are generally where you’d do your internship, have 600-plus beds. So they offer a great learning environment for pharmacists to find their niche,’ Ms Lynch said.
Public hospitals have an internal pharmacy department that delivers the pharmacy services to patients as part of the hospital’s infrastructure.
Private hospitals are generally serviced by an outsourced third-party provider that is contracted to deliver pharmacy services. Otherwise private hospitals own and operate their in-house pharmacy departments.
What hospital pharmacy entails
A typical day in a hospital pharmacy is multi-faceted and divided into two main parts – technical and clinical, Ms Lynch said.
Activities can include ensuring medication is supplied to the relevant parts of the wards, performing clinical pharmacy activities in the wards, ensuring the appropriateness and safety of medications prescribed, and interacting with ward nursing and medical staff to discuss patient needs.
It can also include discharge counselling, participation in quality activities, management meetings, and governance processes, she said.
Ms Gill said the first shift of the morning in the dispensary is often very busy because that’s when overnight charts from the wards have been faxed through.
‘In hospital pharmacy, you run your own race. You really need to prioritise and manage your time appropriately, especially because your patient may not be standing in front of you. They’re likely in a bed somewhere,’ she said.
Hospital pharmacy as a career
Ms Lynch said hospital pharmacy can sometimes be perceived as a more appealing career option because it provides the opportunity to be directly part of a multi-disciplinary healthcare team.
Ms Gill added that there is also very good professional development in the hospital system.
‘Pay can be better in the public sector too. That’s not a lie. We know that remuneration is a big issue in community pharmacy at the moment,’ she said.
Ms Gill said hospital pharmacy might also be ideal for parents with young children, as it offers public holidays and set rosters.
‘When you work in a team of many pharmacists, if your child is sick and you have to call in sick, you can,’ Ms Gill said.
Aspiring hospital pharmacists
When Ms Lynch is hiring, she looks for a pharmacist who has passion for patient care and is a great communicator.
‘Gone are the days when the pharmacist can be in the background, in the shadows. They need to engage with patients, engage with other health professionals such as nurses and medical staff,’ Ms Lynch said.
Ms Gill said when she was hiring in the hospital pharmacy setting she looked for pharmacists who possessed plenty of enthusiasm.
‘I am after pharmacists who were looking to quality-improve situations and add value. And someone who’s going to fit into the existing team is really important,’ Ms Gill said.
How to maximise your chances
Ms Lynch said entry can be competitive in both public and private hospitals.
‘Public hospital pharmacy positions are government funded and the availability of these is obviously then dependent on funding,’ she said.
‘Private hospital pharmacy positions are dependent on the service model engaged and the acuity, and the patient cohort at the private hospital.’
To increase your chances of landing a hospital pharmacy position, PSA Project Pharmacist Himali Kaniyal says PSA offers a range of resources, including a mentoring program and a broad range of CPD resources– including in depth clinical content and a resources hub (see Case study 2).
‘You can have a mentor as a guide to support you with your career. And PSA’s suite of clinical CPD materials to help you update your clinical knowledge,’ she said.
To further boost your efforts, Ms Lynch recommended first talking to peers and mentors who already work in the hospital pharmacy space.
‘Develop an understanding of the hospital pharmacy work environment and attend relevant seminars or workshops,’ she said.
Ms Gill pointed out that hospital pharmacy has a much more formal application process than community pharmacy.
‘So you need to communicate very clearly in your interview,’ Ms Gill said. ‘When you’re asked a question, always give real-life examples to demonstrate how you handled a situation.’
Also, make sure you address everything in the question, added Ms Gill, especially as the questions can be lengthy.
‘You can actually take a pen and paper in with you to write down the key points in the question. Don’t be afraid to stop and ask them to repeat a part,’ Ms Gill said.
If you’re located in a country town, Ms Gill recommended making sure that the hospital pharmacy director knows who you are.
‘Get to know them and understand a bit more about the department. Then seek roles in community pharmacy positions that may help you,’ she said.
‘Then, when a position comes up, if it’s in a country town, the director will probably give you a call.’
Ms Gill said rural hospital pharmacies could be a great place to get a foot in the door – or to even fast-track your career.
For example, Ms Gill landed her first role as deputy director of Orange District Health Service (see Case study 1).
‘Rural hospitals can also offer lifestyle benefits and can be a friendlier workplace,’ Ms Gill said.
Hone your niche
If it all sounds a bit daunting, rest assured that the fundamentals of being a pharmacist apply across all areas of practice – whether that be community or hospital, Ms Lynch said.
‘People shouldn’t be afraid. If they want to learn what a hospital pharmacy environment is like, then ask questions, see if you can do some work experience, and talk to people who work in that environment,’ she said.
‘There is scope and opportunity to develop different expertise in various clinical areas depending on the hospital.’
Case study 1: Making the switch
When pharmacist Taren Gill made the leap into hospital pharmacy four years ago, she couldn’t help but notice a bit of an Us vs Them mentality.
She had just landed the highly coveted role of deputy director at Orange District Health Service, and had the task of proving her credentials.
‘The culture was a little bit difficult at first, if I’m being completely honest. There was a bit of “oh, she’s a community pharmacist, what does she know?”’ recalled Ms Gill.
‘But I gained the respect of my team eventually.’
That’s because, as Ms Gill put it, ‘any good pharmacist out there should not be worried about their clinical skills when going into hospital pharmacy’.
‘My advice to anyone wanting to transition is just to have confidence in your own clinical ability. We’re all doing our continuing education,’ she said.
Last year she returned to community pharmacy and she now happily owns and operates her own community pharmacy in Maryborough, Victoria.
That said, Ms Gill is very glad she made the initial switch, as it assisted in the development of her career.
‘It gave me four years to make myself feel really confident in managerial positions. It was a great experience and I learned so much,’ she said.
‘It’s definitely made me a better clinician and eliminated wondering “what if?”.’
Case study 2: How PSA can help
PSA offers a wide range of programs that can help you land a highly competitive hospital pharmacy gig, said PSA Project Pharmacist Himali Kaniyal.
For starters, PSA’s Mentoring Program matches mentors with mentees and provides six months of complimentary access to Mentoring Support Services through the Mentoring Education and Resources Hub (MERHub).
The MERHub includes e-learning modules, fact sheets, mentoring conversation maps, tools, templates and global resource links.
Next, said Ms Kaniyal, PSA provides you with a broad range of clinical CPD resources to help you update your clinical knowledge.
CPD is an ongoing, cyclical program of quality improvement that will help enhance your competencies in current and future roles.
Ms Kaniyal added that PSA further supports its members by providing an Advancing Practice Resource Hub with tools and templates to assist members.
‘Utilising these resources can help strengthen your application,’ she said.
Finally, there’s the Career Essentials Program, said Ms Kaniyal.
‘This program can support you to improve on your non-clinical skills in areas such as collaboration,’ she said.
For more career pathways, visit psa.org.au/careerpathways
For tailored workforce solutions, see psa.org.au/programs-for-pharmacists
Build your skills with PSA Short Courses at psa.org.au/psashortcourses