Insight: NMC x Ruth Wakeman

I’m a pharmacist, and I’m currently working for the world’s largest healthcare regulator.  This often comes as a surprise as my role is at the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the UK regulator for nearly 700,000 nurses, midwives and nursing associates.  However, like many pharmacists, I started my pharmacy career working as a relief pharmacist for a well-known community pharmacy multiple.

After a few years working in community pharmacy, including a couple of management roles, I joined the National Pharmacy Association as part of their information team.  This role involved answering enquiries on all aspects of community pharmacy. My community pharmacy experience was very useful here as I knew exactly how it felt to be dealing with a complicated urgent query whilst a queue of patients waited for my attention.  At the NPA I had my first experience of policy work, responding to public consultations from the government and others on a range of healthcare issues. I also wrote information leaflets and guidance which helped to develop my writing skills.

My next role was at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, leading the RPS professional support team who provide information, advice and guidance to pharmacists working in all care settings.  The RPS has a strong policy role and is often consulted by government and other healthcare organisations for a view on all aspects of pharmacy and medicines. Some of our work involved working closely with other healthcare professions; I found it interesting to see how many similarities there are across the professions and how we all face similar challenges and issues.  I began to think how much I would enjoy a role working with other professions and was delighted to join the NMC in my new role last year.

At NMC, I’m Deputy Director for Education and Standards and I work with a team who develop professional standards for nurses, midwives and nursing associates, ensuring that they have the knowledge and skills that they need to deliver excellent care. My role requires a knowledge of healthcare, experience of managing teams and an understanding of what it means to be a regulated healthcare professional.  Of course, any issue related to medicines usually comes my way!

I would thoroughly recommend a role in healthcare policy for any pharmacist who has a wide interest in healthcare generally, enjoys researching, reading and learning and has good writing and communication skills.  There are lots of different policy roles including roles in healthcare regulators, professional bodies and royal colleges, charities and local and national NHS organisations. Websites like Guardian jobs are a great place to start, a quick search under “policy” will bring up lots of examples.  

These roles don’t require you to be a healthcare professional but the skills and knowledge we develop as pharmacists will often match the role requirements.  Pharmacists have a lot of transferable skills that enable us to undertake policy roles. We tend to have a good eye for detail and are able to read, understand and communicate complicated information to different audiences and we are used to juggling multiple priorities.  Most pharmacists also have the opportunity to develop management skills very early on in their careers, as well as gaining experience in training and developing others.

My top tips for anyone considering a policy role would be:

  • Do your research – look at the roles available and make sure you are up to date on current government policy and topical issues
  • Match your skills – look at the skills they are seeking and consider how any experience you have gained demonstrates these skills
  • Think about the gaps - consider how you can gain other skills. For example, can you get involved in local committees and meetings with other healthcare professionals?
  • Get some interview experience – many pharmacists have had much less interview experience than other graduates who may have had 50 plus interviews before their first role
  • Be prepared to start in a junior role – many people working in policy start off in a graduate entry role, opportunities will soon develop if you can show that you are good at what you do
  • Consider some further training – there are some interesting courses available

Good luck!

This article was written by Ruth Wakeman

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