Pharmacy, disability and me

By Anita Cawley FRPharmS, Chief Governance Officer Aptus Clinical and Vice Chair, Pharmacist Support

Being born with cerebral palsy posed many challenges but my disability was never going to define me.

My interest in pharmacy

My disability meant regular interactions with healthcare professionals from a young age, and my use of medicines sparked my interest in pharmacy. My parents pushed for my integration into mainstream secondary education, and I embraced the opportunity wholeheartedly. Early on, I set my sights on being a pharmacist.

Overcoming barriers

My years in special education had taught me that everyone has a gift that should be celebrated. My gift was academic ability to study for A’ levels and a degree. I used my medical connections to get introductions into the world of pharmacy and approached the pharmacy regulator for advice, back in the eighties. They expressed major reservations regarding my physical limitations impairing my ability to register and practice. Undeterred, I gained my degree and fought hard to win a joint industry pre-registration place which gave me my all-important registration in 1992.

Career Path

From then my career took several twists and turns working in industry, gaining a Masters with a research post in the NHS, and becoming a locum community pharmacist after the birth of my son.

Community pharmacy

Community pharmacy was, and remains, physically demanding. The dispensaries are often cramped, accessed by steps and you dispense several hundred items a day, often with minimal breaks. You have to dash between the counter and dispensary, with only ladders to access high shelves. Even with the best employer, if any one of these elements was a problem, there was little room for adjustments.

Back to industry

I went back to my first love, the pharmaceutical industry. After a happy 12-year period with AstraZeneca, I set up a niche contract clinical research organisation with two colleagues. I also took up a post as a trustee with Pharmacist Support where I subsequently became Vice Chair and Chair. This fantastic charity provides a range of free and confidential services to those in the profession who are experiencing difficult circumstances.

2022 marks my 30th year as a member of the RPS. Whilst I’m no longer registered with the GPhC, I still work in the pharmaceutical industry. I look back over the last 30 years with pride and wouldn’t change a thing.

The future

The pharmacy profession is very different one to the one I joined 30 years ago, but in some ways, little has changed, and some things have got harder. Today, I might not get a rejection from an employer citing disability, but that doesn’t mean those barriers don’t still exist. There’s still a long way to go, but I’m confident that if we all work together, we can challenge and change the profession for the better.