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To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge.

September 16, 2008

When I thought about doing Pharmacy for the first time, I thought it would be something like ‘Medicine Man’. I had visions of myself in khaki, cutting swathes of priceless medicinal plants and extracting a miraculous cure for the sake of humanity. The actual experience of pharmacy school was quite different. I suddenly found myself panicking when someone mentioned the word ’emulsion’ and ‘compound’ in the same sentence. My calculator became my best friend and countless hours were spent in the library. Second year was similar, but one thing was different- I realized that the power of Pharmacy lay in the people- I loved the concept of the mind influencing the body to such an extent so as to render some drugs almost inefficient, and the mind being able to support a body wasting away. This might sound overly dramatic, but I realized for the first time that a really good pharmacist can mean the difference between feeling comfortable with and accepting your condition and viewing yourself as some sort of freak of nature. I’ve had experiences of this on both sides of the consulting desk, being deaf, so I understand the feelings that go through a patient as they approach the health care provider in front of them. Will they understand what I mean? Will they shrug off my concerns? Will I go away feeling anxious about this as opposed to confident and well educated about what I’m going through?’ 
   It was with these thoughts in the back of my mind that I started my summer placement on Monday. It began with a trip up to Dublin as I hauled my jetlagged body (I’d just come back from America two days before!) onto the train on Sunday night. Come Monday morning at 10.30am, I found myself standing outside Cassidy’s Hotel at the top of O’Connell St, clutching a piece of paper and wearing all black.  In the lobby of the hotel, I found a crowd of student-aged people standing in line to give their name to someone. I eavesdropped. 
  ‘How long does this presentation go on for?’ 
    ‘Till half five, I think’ 
      ‘Half five??’  
 ‘Don’t worry’, the other one replied, ‘It goes quickly and the afternoon is interesting. I did this last year as well.’ 
    Once we’d given our names to the woman, we went up to the Lir suite- possibly not the best choice of suite, given that the Children of Lir were condemned to lives of mourning their change from humans into white creatures…. 
What followed was a series of human resource managers enthusing about Boots the company, discussing their spread throughout the world and their company motivations and worldview. We were rearranged into smaller groups and asked to get to know the others in the group better. I ended up with an Irish dancer and a Galwegian studying in Aberdeen. A coffee break ensued, with a variety of coffees and herbal teas were provided, along with small chocolate bars.  I talked to a friend of mine from college (hi Alan!) who reassured me that you settle in very quickly and after the first couple of weeks, any concerns you have will quickly fall away. I’ve found that to be the case even after my first week. 
 Back into the presentation room, we were given customer role-play games in which we had to approach a customer (one of the others in the group) and deal with them while making an effort to not make eye contact, for example, or to speak in a surly voice, all to experience what a negative customer approach would be like. There was quite a bit of ham acting and laughing going on, but we all understood the concept behind it and vowed to stand correctly, use appropriate eye contact, tone of voice and so on.  
We took a break for lunch, which was a sandwich buffet with dessert and which proved to be a good way to get to know the others on the training program. 
 Following this, some discussion on what was expected of us during our eight weeks and how our progress would be monitored via our tutor in the college. We had to do a project, which was discussed in some detail and our weekly reports were explained and examples given to show what the ideal Boots student should be doing- that is, being self motivated, being willing to step outside our comfort zone and provide an experience which is ‘par excellence’ for the customer/patient. 
The day done, we all dispersed with our hefty packs (the size of a suitcase, with workbooks, handbook, a diary, a OTC reference manual and a very nifty pen). On the train home, I flipped through the handbook to familiarize myself with what was expected and, for the first time, felt pangs of nervousness in anticipation for the day after, my first real day at Boots. 
 Come Tuesday at 9am, I was shaking the hand of the store manager in Boots Westport, who immediately put me at my ease and through my paces, as she went through the Health and Safety equipment and training. There are two handbooks and something like 20 leaflets that you need to read through and sign- things like how to lift heavy items, how to deal with fire safety, who the fire marshall is and so on. There’s also a fire safety video that you need to watch and with some relief I passed the test at the end and could don my uniform. Thus the first morning in the Boots store passed and I still hadn’t set foot in the dispensary yet.  But, wait!  There was a moment of joy as I was talking to the store manager in her office and she reached up to get a large package with my name on it- what could this be? I opened it, scattering powdery material all over my pants-  it was a camera!  That’s how I learned of my responsibility (not without its perks, I admit) of a Boots Blogger.  I had to worry about this, of course. 
  ‘Oh dear,’ I thought. I recalled writing a flowery essay, dressed up with enthusiastic points and promising to make Boots the gravitational centre of the earth for students, or something to that effect.  Would I be able to deliver? Would they take the camera away from me? Would I end up in a Russian gulag? If you don’t hear from me next week, feel free to assume the worst…. 
 That afternoon was my first afternoon in the dispensary. Patricia, the head honcho pharmacist, had a very professional and friendly demeanour and assured me that if I felt uncomfortable at any point, there were plenty of people I could ask for help. Well, that was great. Like a puppy on the leash, let out bit by bit as your confidence grows, so is the Boots trainee, not let out beyond your depth.  

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L-R: Rowena and Patricia, (pharmacists) and Laura, the other SSP08 pharmacy student. 

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Patricia, Rowena, myself and Caroline, the store manager. 
  So, I spent the day getting to know the OTC products by putting away the stock- it comes in three times a week and, for a student pharmacist, knowing the locations of the different products and their availability in the store is necessary. If someone comes in asking for Canesten powder, you don’t want your customer to age visibly while you’re standing in front of a display hemming and hawing and saying that you ‘saw it here a few minutes ago.’   I also talked to Patricia as the day grew to a close and was excited to find that we shared an interest in French and Spanish cinema and, more relevantly, in herbal and alternative medicine. 
 I went into the summer program wanting to find out more about Herbal medicine and I mentioned this. Imagine my joy, then, when she announced that she, too, was very interested in that area and in fact travelled around the country giving lectures on that topic!  Over the past week, she has been bringing in literature- magazines, reference books and Boots Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements manuals, which I’ve been picking up whenever necessary and I’ve also been listening to her while recommending natural methods of health care to customers.

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  At home after my first day! 

   The second morning was spent in a similar way, putting away products. I was still a bit too shy to approach customers just yet, but I was taking note of the way the business was run and how the staff approached patients, and in the afternoon I went around the OTC products with the Boots manual to see what exactly I could find there- which products did they have? I approached one of the experienced healthcare assistants and asked her questions about the difference between brands, what was most popular, what was most recommended and what alternatives were available? The second day went fast. I’d met the other pharmacist as well, Rowena, newly graduated and from the same university as myself. I took to her quickly. By now it was Wednesday and the week was half over! 
 Thursday, I had a slightly different approach. I wanted to find out more about the medicines in the dispensary, so I took the BNF together with the scripts and went through them all, finding their locations in the pull-out trays and reading up on their properties. In this way I found out what was most commonly prescribed and decided to research more into those topics- antibiotics, statins, rheumatic & arthritic medicines, beta blockers….this, combined with stocktaking and scanning in new products, took up the whole day. It was a day well spent, though, as I came away feeling like I knew my way around the place much better. I’d approached customers. I observed that thrush products were very popular (if that’s the right way to put it), so I listened to Patricia talking to a patient about the different products available and making recommendations, so I felt much more comfortable going through a new patient about thrush products and in addition to this I looked it up both in the BNF and the OTC manual. That’s how you learn, after all. I was on until 7pm today, which meant I watched the store close-down, mostly taking place from a central computer in the back store. 
  One other thing happened on Thursday- I learned how to use the tills. This meant I went from a general behind the scenes dogsbody to a front-line pharmacy student, battling on both sides with customers coming from the front and the BNF from behind….I exaggerate, but manning (or womanning) the tills means you get a LOT more people coming up to you asking for Nurofen Plus. Have you taken it before? No? What are you taking it for? Are you taking any other medication? How long have you had those headaches for? Blood coming out of your eyes? Let me get the pharmacist for you…. 
 This was also the Day of the Waspsting Boy.  I was standing behind the counter during a relatively quiet period, reading up on different cough medicines, when an acute screaming filled the store and a little boy showing evidence of too many visits to McDonald’s pounded his way up to the pharmacy counter. The pharmacists looked out from the dispensary as the little boy hauled up a leg onto the counter and pointed to a random spot on it. I couldn’t understand him from the sobbing and neither could the pharmacists, until the boy’s mother ran up towards us and told us he’d had a wasp sting. The little boy was hysterical and wouldn’t let people near him, so it was difficult to treat him. I watched as the boy was taken aside and treated with a spray and an antihistamine. He begrudgingly took a lollipop, but the screaming continued for the next thirty minutes until he limped out, sobbing, of the store. It was a dramatic break in a quiet day. We do get a few people coming in with first-line problems like this.  
 Yesterday was Friday, the end of the beginning. I was much more confident now than I was at the beginning of the week, I’d made progress on my project and developed more flair with the tills and with customers. I was still rather slow in recommending products, particularly more obscure ones, so I resolved to spend more time in that area. A woman from SMA baby nutrition came in during the morning to give a presentation, which took about an hour for each batch of people, three by three. I didn’t have much previous knowledge about baby nutrition, what they needed and what the different feeds contained. Of particular interest to us in the pharmacy was Wysoy, for lactose intolerant and galactosaemic babies and another one for premature or slowly growing babies. I made up a display in the pharmacy of the different products so  the team could familiarize themselves with the different options available, together with the accompanying literature 
  Pharmacies tend to have a lot of new mothers coming in, so getting familiar with baby products is useful for future reference.

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  My tutor, Rowena (left) and myself- getting to know the dispensary
Friday was also my last day and the day for the weekly review. It went well and I identified areas I wanted to work on, that is, to become much more comfortable with the products and to put the knowledge I’d gleaned from the past two years in university to use.  For this, I need to do a lot more background reading on the OTC products and listen to the others’ recommendations more.  
 I was also introduced to the pharmacy dispensary computer and helped double check the pharmacist’s pill counts, while manning the tills and approaching the customers. As the clock hands reached six, I left the pharmacy for the weekend, tired but with the knowledge that I’d been on a steep learning curve since Monday and that I’d successfully made my way through the first week of SPP08. 
Well, that’s it for this week- I hope you enjoyed reading this week’s blog and that it gave you a bit of insight as to what it’s like (if you’re a student thinking about doing it) or that it made you feel better about yourself (if you’re into your second year doing this) or that it resonates with yourself (if you’re doing it, like me, for the first time). 

One Comment leave one →
  1. Denver Brignoni permalink
    February 12, 2013 4:03 am

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