Insight: Employability

Gautam Paul

Why pharmacy?
Why did I choose to enter the profession of pharmacy? It will sound like a cliché answer, but I knew I wanted to go into a healthcare related role, and I enjoyed the science subjects. My brother was studying pharmacy when I was completing my A-levels, and he seemed to enjoy it, so I looked into it a bit further (undertook some work experience at a community and hospital pharmacy) and then decided that is what I wanted to do. My pre-registration training was in hospital and I stayed in hospital for the first few years of practice.

A passion for education, training and development
I enjoy helping and supporting people and always have done. As an undergraduate, pre-registration trainee and as a newly qualified pharmacist, I was involved with the BPSA either as a representative for my School of Pharmacy or on the Executive Committee. Why did I do it? Well, again it was about helping others with their professional journey to becoming a pharmacist. I was passionate about talking to peers about how they could aspire to their career goals. As a pre-registration trainee and as a pharmacist, I was fortunate to have opportunities where I was involved in the education and training of patients (cardiac rehabilitation talks), healthcare professionals (injectable medicines training for nurses and pharmacists) and students (undergraduate placements). It was around the early years of my career, I decided that I wanted to specialise in education and training. 

I was fortunate to obtain a role as a hospital teacher-practitioner after completing my clinical diploma, and the role provided an opportunity to practice the education and training skills that I had developed. For some people, they are natural “teachers”. For me the art of teaching was a journey, one that I am still on. There is a myriad of considerations to be made, and its not always easy. But for me, I love it and try and give 100% (not always easy). My role at the hospital involved education and training; I led hospital placements, was a pre-registration tutor, was a diploma tutor, line managed pharmacy students who work at the hospital and led on the induction of pharmacy staff. 

Over the years, I gradually shifted the focus of my role to academia, where I now spend four and a half days at the university and half a day at the hospital. At the university, I am responsible for leading a 4th year module (using problem-based learning to develop skills to benefit patient care), being a pre-registration facilitator (for our 5-year integrated MPharm programme), and the academic lead for placements as well as undertaking a part-time PhD. I am also fortunate to be a question writer for the GPhC Registration Assessment. This role (along with my pre-registration tutor/facilitator experience) has helped me consider the requirements to be able to register as a pharmacist and align this with my teaching. At the hospital, I work on the wards, supporting ward-based pharmacy services, and delivering on the medicines optimisation agenda. I love the patient interaction and doing whatever I can to help them, which isn’t solely about medicines. A benefit of being patient-facing is that I can use these experiences when teaching, ensuring that it reflects real-life practice. My passion for education is ultimately linked to delivering patient care, ensuring that future pharmacists are equipped with the knowledge, skills and values to do the best, and be the best for patients. 

Career development of others
My responsibilities within the hospital required me to lead on or support the recruitment and selection of undergraduate pharmacy students, pre-registration trainees or newly qualified (foundation) pharmacists. When reflecting on these situations, I started to consider the preparation for recruitment and selection made by applicants, the ways in which they were successful and the areas in which they needed to improve. Using these experiences, I developed and delivered interactive sessions on writing CVs, covering letters and application forms; preparing for interview and undertaking interviews (including mock interviews). The sessions were successful, so I continued to arrange them with the valuable support and insight of colleagues within the School of Pharmacy, from the university careers team and colleagues from other sectors of pharmacy. 

PhD……”a very long journey”
At the time of delivering these career development sessions, I knew I had to start my PhD. My PhD is part-time, which in terms of time this means that I have six years to complete it. Alongside this, I have my other teaching responsibilities therefore time management, organisation and discipline are imperative for success. When I started my research, I was given valuable pieces of advice by colleagues including, “choose an area (of research) that you are passionate about, so you can immerse yourself in it”. This is very true, and I would say the same to anyone else who is considering undertaking a PhD. After giving this some considerable thought, it was obvious (to me) that my research would focus on career development and preparation for working (with an emphasis on pharmacy). After some initial reading and discussion with others (speak to others when thinking about a PhD, their insight is very helpful), I encountered a term, “employability”. It is this term that is basis of my research, and what I will discuss next.

Employability…”a word with many meanings” 
A few of the initial questions that came to mind when thinking about employability were:

What is ‘employability’?
What is the relevance of the term?
The relevance of the term to pharmacy?
The literature reveals that it is a term that is defined in different ways, dependent on an individual’s perspective (employer, graduate, academic institution) and the various drivers that impact on them. Building on from this, I think that the definition is also influenced by an individual’s background and their belief system. The most widely reported and accepted definition is that employability is, “a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes – that makes graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy.” (Pegg et al., 2012). 

Based on this definition, it made wonder:

What are these “sets of achievements” and what is their relevance to pharmacy?
What are the needs to the pharmacy (and wider healthcare) workforce?
With research, it was imperative to look at what other work is being undertaken by others, to ensure my work was not a duplication, but also to ensure there was a place for my work. I noted that organisations were developing and producing frameworks (Royal Pharmaceutical Society – Foundation and Advanced Practice Frameworks, Health Education England – Professional Attributes Framework), so I wanted to my research to not only ‘feed’ into these pieces of work but also be of use to the pharmacy profession. After some more thinking (a PhD requires you to take time to think), and considering the work of others, and my own interest in helping others to secure employment, the research question that I proposed was, “what does a day-one pharmacist look like?” i.e. what are we (the profession) looking for in a day-one (onto the GPhC register) pharmacist, in the context of employability?

Once I had set my research question, I then considered the aim and impact of the research:

Aim: Explore the concept of employability for “newly qualified pharmacists (day-one)”, with a view to determining the “employability characteristics” required for newly qualified pharmacists. 


Support review of existing curriculum for undergraduate and pre-registration training
Informing workforce development for the profession

To date, I have undertaken interviews with the following groups because they are important participants in discussions on employability:

  • Employers (of newly qualified pharmacists)
  • Pharmacy organisations and other relevant stakeholders
  • Newly qualified pharmacists

The initial findings from the interviews are thought-provoking. However, I have not completed the analysis so I will save the results for another time.

Reflections and top tips for achieving success in employment
So based on my experience to date, I would like to share the following pieces of advice:

  • You need to know yourself to be able to “sell” yourself to an employer – know your strengths and areas for development
  • Write down the relevant knowledge, skills, values and attributes that you possess, consider HOW you demonstrate these and WHAT you need to do to strengthen them. You may wish to do this in the form of a ‘mind map’
  • Do your research: Find out what type of employee the employer is looking for. Read person-specifications, job descriptions and any other organisation information. Contact an employer to find out more (and don’t forget to make a good impression)
  • Your CV, covering letter, application form needs to match what the employer is looking for, otherwise an interview is highly unlikely. You need to demonstrate to an employer that YOU are what they are looking for. Therefore, you will have several versions of your CV!
  • Ask your personal tutor to review CVs. In addition, speak to your university Careers and Employability Service. This can take time, so make sure you plan your time and prepare in advance
  • Practice interview questions in advance – try doing this with someone you do not know well, they are more likely to be objective
  • Interviews are objective processes – so when you answer a question, make sure that you can evidence the information you give e.g. talking about a situation where you demonstrated a skill or attribute
  • Interviews are two-way processes – you need to find out enough information to make sure that the job is right for you, so make sure you ask some sensible questions
  • Hobbies and extra-curricular activities – employers want to see that there is more to you than ‘pharmacy’, that you stand out and are different.
  • Healthcare recruitment (including pharmacy) is values driven – make sure you can demonstrate NHS values
  • Finally, believe in YOU. Have the belief in yourself, that you can do it!


Wishing you the best of luck for your careers,

Gautam Paul



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