I am a qualified pharmacist, working in primary care. I also happen to be autistic and live with anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, conditions like these have stigmas attached within the pharmacy profession and beyond, but that’s exactly why I’m talking about it.
Uni Life - Learning isn’t always fun
University is often described as the best time of your life, but this wasn’t my experience. In an environment dominated by independence and social interaction, I became increasingly withdrawn, dreading any interactive group activities. I eventually referred myself to the student psychological services but, after 9 months, I received an email informing me my case was being closed because the academic year had ended. Fortunately, I was eventually diagnosed with autism just before my final year. As much as I hoped the diagnosis would improve things, and some adjustments were made, I only just managed to drag myself to the end of my degree.
My Pre-Registration Year
Following graduation I started my pre-registration year, split between community and general practice. The first 3 months were relative bliss; I made steady progress in the organised and focussed ‘GP land’. I was even comfortable revealing my diagnosis to my employers. Then it came to an end. I was thrust into the busy, chaotic, pressured community pharmacy placement.
My community tutor had a hardline approach. I was publicly criticised, undermined and even threatened with not being signed off. I’m not ashamed to say I was actively suicidal; I was irritable, drained and cried in the toilets (and I am NOT a crier). By this point, my parents had noticed something was very wrong and took action. The company’s Educational Lead was particularly helpful in getting adjustments implemented. However, when I returned to the GP practice, the atmosphere had changed. My GP tutor seemed more critical and less open than before. When I finally got formal feedback from my tutor, it was second-hand, and my mood started to drop again.
Then the pandemic hit and I was deployed to a different community pharmacy branch. It was the fresh start I desperately needed. The pharmacy team were so supportive and accommodating and I thrived despite the external pressure of a frontline healthcare role in a pandemic. I was able to qualify and start my career because of that team.
Disability - It’s not all negative
Living with autism is not easy. I struggle with chaos, social interaction and rapidly processing information. In addition, the difficulties of disability can be compounded by peoples’ reactions. But there are positives too. My neurodivergence can provide me with a different perspective and some insight into my patients’ difficulties. My autism can make my communication more direct, and this is balanced out by my anxiety, making me think more carefully before I speak. My depression can give me a calmer demeanour and deeper emotional understanding. The positives of disability can be harnessed in healthcare professionals.
Lessons From My Experience
I’m now in a much better place. I’ve been working across a couple of general practices in supportive environments that have allowed me to continue to flourish. I hope sharing my story will make others think about disability (including hidden ones) differently and show more compassion. I hope early career mentors and tutors will place an emphasis on positive support rather than enforcing the status quo. Most of all, I hope trainees who are in the position I was, can find comfort knowing it can get better and learn to let others know when they’re struggling.
Can you be a good pharmacist with a disability? Yes, you most definitely can.
We have published this blog anonymously to enable the writer to tell their story.