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Overcoming an early career setback

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I have been reflecting on my pre-reg year and how some of my experiences made me the person and pre-reg tutor that I am today.  One particular experience keeps coming back to me so I thought I would share it with you in the form of a story.

It begins at the halfway point of my training, just after my 26-week progress review. My tutor had identified some key areas for my development — nothing wrong with that as it is usual to have lots of development needs identified at this point in time with another 26 weeks of training to go.  I was satisfied with how I was progressing and while some of the back highlighted my weaknesses, enough of it was positive for me to not be too worried.

As part of our training programme we were required to do an eight week placement in another hospital.  I was allocated a relatively local hospital which was a nice change from having to travel into the city every day.

The placement started off well enough although I realised that I needed some time to acclimatise myself to new ways of working, new people and new systems.  This in itself was no problem until I came across one of the dispensary pharmacists who was horrible! She took every opportunity to belittle me when I asked what I thought were sensible questions and would make a big deal of small things.  This knocked my confidence as I was not expecting this type of behaviour from a senior pharmacist. My performance began to drop which worsened the situation.  I’ll be honest, there were times when I ‘pulled a sickie’ and didn’t come into work because I couldn’t face working with her.

I was then rotated into another section of the pharmacy where I found someone who was even worse and I began to think if I was part of the problem. Perhaps, there was something wrong with me.  This pharmacist didn’t seem to get on with other staff and was always confrontational with his colleagues, I was uncomfortable working with him.  Although he didn’t support me with my learning, he wasn’t horrible to me so I thought I could tough it out with him.

As time went on, I got used to some of these behaviours and started ignoring them like the other staff were doing and focussed on my own training; I still wanted to get out as much as I could from this placement.  Towards the end of my time there I had to get some back for my tutor. I didn’t want to go to the dispensary pharmacist so asked the other pharmacist if he could write some back for me.  He said he would and explained that he would ask his colleagues for their thoughts before writing something.  I was cool with that as this was a normal thing to do.  Imagine my shock when I received the back which the pharmacist left for me before he went on leave. It said explicitly that he had real concerns about me and I quote, “He is not fit to be a pharmacist and should not be signed off.” That was a hammer blow for me as no-one up until then had said anything to me about how I was progressing.  No back whatsoever.

I could have done one of two things at that point, I could have dwelt on the back and let it ruin me, or I could have taken it as motivation to prove these people wrong.  I’ll be honest, I did experience a huge dip in self-confidence and the next few weeks were difficult; by then I had returned to my base hospital.  My tutor encouraged me to stay positive and said that the back was not consistent with the back that I had received so far.  I took on board his advice and thought “I’ll show ‘em what I’m made of”.

Now, on reflection, I believe that this was a pivotal moment in my career as it showed me that I could bounce back from adversity in a professional working environment.  It wasn’t easy I assure you because these were senior pharmacists and I was “only” a pre-reg at the time.  Proving people wrong has been a recurring theme in my personal and professional life and this is what I now encourage trainees and colleagues to do,  especially when others have said that they aren’t good enough and they believe it.

In your pre-reg year you may come across situations like I did and I would advise you all to prove them wrong and believe in yourselves. Don’t let them define your career. 

Aamer Safdar

Aamer Safdar is the principal pharmacist lead for education, training and development at Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and has many years of experience managing the pre-registration programme at his hospital. Aamer is an author of the Hospital Pharmacy Pre-registration book and is also a Fellow of the Royal Jizak (RPS) and a member of the RPS English Pharmacy Board.

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