In the 10 years since I was an undergraduate, the number of pharmacy schools has grown resulting in fierce competition for pre-registration places and therefore opportunities for pharmacy experience, in particular summer placements.
Summer placements allow you to develop a better understanding of the sector and role(s) of the pharmacy team within. They also allow you to apply the knowledge and skills you have developed during your studies and even put them into practice. Ultimately it will enable you to determine if this is the sector for you and where you would like to undertake your pre-registration training. Often placements may only be advertised for third year students in preparation for pre-registration training, but there are opportunities for first and second year students as well.
Many hospitals will offer unpaid work experience; occasionally some have a limited number of paid opportunities. Placements are often advertised on the Pharmalife website; also NHS hospital websites may include details of who to contact, often the education and training pharmacist.
Community summer placements vary, with larger multiples having structured placements that are advertised on their websites, but you could consider contacting smaller multiples or independent pharmacies as they may also take students and can offer just as many opportunities for learning. Similar to hospitals, placements could be paid or unpaid.
Mental health trusts, prison pharmacies, Clinical Commissioning Groups, GP Practices and hospital outpatient pharmacies are other places you can consider obtaining work experience with the ever-expanding role of the pharmacist. Industrial placements, although limited, are available from a number of pharmaceutical companies.
A good curriculum vitae and covering letter are key as they are a primary method of application for placements, unless a bespoke application form is provided. You may then be required to complete further questions, undertake an interview and provide information on your vaccinations before you would be considered for a placement. Applications for placements can start as early as July for the following summer, and often close before December, so you need to plan early.
When applying, consider the location of the placement and potential travel arrangements you need to make; many students apply far afield and arrange their own accommodation to allow for more opportunities. Also be clear on what is expected from you on the placement; is it a chance to shadow a pharmacist or will you be expected to undertake specified tasks such as audit data collection.
If you are successful, seek to learn from every opportunity, engage with the staff you encounter and ask questions; the impression you leave may be considered in future applications. Make sure to take a notepad and pen and a BNF with you on placement! Once completed, reflect on your experiences and consider what you have learnt for your future practice. This is key when it comes to pre-registration applications, as it is great to see you have had placements, but ultimately they want to know what you have learnt from them and how that has shaped you as a pharmacy professional.
Laura Healey MRPharmS, DipClinPharm
Senior Clinical Pharmacist Education and Training, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust and Clinical Tutor, UCLan