Becoming a pharmacist can feel like an immense challenge. A mountain to reach the summit of or an ocean to swim across. It is a difficult degree and when you’ve successfully mastered that, the task of learning to apply and demonstrate your knowledge during the pre-registration year pushes you further still. When you  finally secure your place on the register, it can feel like you have reached your destination. Enjoy that feeling. Rest in it. You have earned it. Don’t stay there too long though as becoming a pharmacist is also a key and the doors it can open are only limited by your imagination.


I studied pharmacy because I wanted to help people live healthier lives through medicines. I qualified in 2000. Yes, that long ago. Before smart phones, social media, AI, VR and 3D printing; whilst extemporaneous dispensing was still something community pharmacists actually did. The profession and the world was a different place then. I went straight into an entry level corporate job, then quickly into locumming before returning to a different corporate who I thought was leading the way with its vision for a more clinical community pharmacy service.


After a number of years as a pharmacy manager, district manager, teacher practitioner, and area manager I fell out of love with corporate pharmacy and happily fell on my feet with a really interesting role setting up a new pharmacy company funded by venture capitalists. It was a blank sheet of paper so as a team of two we set about building what we believed was a pharmacy service that customers wanted and the world needed. It was great fun and for seven years I worked with people I liked and grew the business to 22 pharmacies including an e-commerce pharmacy, 250+ people and more than £25 million turnover. I was given the opportunity to develop and was supported to do so. Seek out people who will do this for you. As Operations and Marketing Director and Superintendent I was at the centre of a great organisation. We won a couple of national awards but more importantly we really tried to look after our patients as best we could and rapid growth was the sign that we were doing something right.


It was during this time that I became frustrated with the way in which many in society viewed the pharmacy profession. Our company was really pushing the boundaries and yet we often faced barriers due to others’ perception of what we were capable of, rather than our actual capabilities. It struck me that these perceptions were a big issue for pharmacy. Over time I began to appreciate that other organisations, individuals, even countries were using branding and marketing to manage the way people perceive them. I had an idea that this may be useful for us as a profession.

The PMF
The PMF


I began a Masters in Graphic Design in 2013 and did my research about the importance of branding for the Pharmacy profession, which I believe was the first research of its kind globally. I finished in 2015 and set up DOSE Design to try and do something about our branding problem. We have worked with leading brands to develop robust marketing strategy and world-class brand identity. So far, we’ve worked with over 40 brands. The vast majority are in the pharmacy space and we feel like we are still practicing pharmacy, just a new area of pharmacy that is becoming more important as the world changes around us. I’ve since studied marketing with Professor Mark Ritson and I’m currently working towards a diploma in photography. Don’t stand still!


This year I have launched DOSE Publishing, an independent publishing house that produces educational and inspirational print books about pharmacy. Our first book, The Pharmacy Marketing Formulary, or PMF, is about how to market yourself, your pharmacy and the profession. If you are not sure why it might be relevant then you definitely need to read it. We are hoping to reach a wider audience and help equip them with the knowledge to raise the right kind of awareness about the profession. We have other books in the pipeline and really enjoy creating them.


If you spot a problem or an opportunity don’t be afraid to look at ways in which you can do something about it. It took me a long time to realise that there aren’t actually any rules and that if you think you can do something then you have overcome the hardest step in making it happen. I was lucky enough to have the support to develop a range of skills before this realisation that enabled me to take on the challenges of setting up a business or two. It is really difficult but if you prepare well and invest in yourself you can make it.


Pharmacy made all of this possible and for that I am very grateful.


If you couldn’t fail what would you do?

Gavin Birchall

 

This article was written by:
Gavin Birchall

BPharm (Hons), FRPharmS, PGCert Management, MA Graphic Design

Find out more about him and DOSE by clicking on the links! 

DOSE Design and DOSE Publishing

 

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