Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Supporting patient care on the front line during the pandemic - Reflections from pharmacy students at Cardiff University

by Rebecca Penney and Holly Breeze-Jones, pre-registration students

As third year pharmacy students, we have been proud to stand alongside the pharmacy profession and to support patient care during a time of unprecedented challenge. Here we share our experience and insight into dealing with the pressures of the COVID19 pandemic and to highlight the importance of putting education and training into practice. 

Positives of working through a pandemic

One thing that has really stuck out for us during these hard and unprecedented times is the level of patience and understanding shown by the vast majority of the public, which pharmacy teams have hugely appreciated. With a massive increase in script volume, prescriptions can take up to a week to dispense rather than the usual 48-hour rule of thumb, which understandably could cause distress for patients.

It has filled us with pride to hear patients taking the time to thank the pharmacy teams for their hard work and highlighting that pharmacy staff are undoubtedly key workers. Additionally, the teamwork shown between members of staff has been phenomenal, which has made us feel immensely proud to work in community pharmacies. With staff members being left no option but to shield for their own safety, or the safety of their family, staff levels have been reduced at the busiest time ever faced.

Staff have been working extra hours and days to ensure that patient centered care is met to the highest standards, as well as being there to support each other in such a stressful and demanding environment. These positives have allowed us to reflect on our experiences and taught us invaluable life lessons that we will carry with us as we develop into the next generation of pharmacists.

Challenges faced whilst working during a pandemic

Doctors surgeries reduced face-to-face contact with the general public whilst visitors to community pharmacy greatly increased, with demand for minor ailment consultations and healthcare advice increasing dramatically and many people requested 2 or 3 months’ worth of their medication. Stock was regularly depleted with high-demand regularly out of stock, phone lines saturated and queues never-ending. It was touching to see how patients were finally seeing value of high street access to healthcare services, particularly with many using the common ailment service as it was easier to see a pharmacist than a doctor.

But at the same time, it was stressful. We were managing an increased workload, and everything was taking longer than usual due to the challenges faced. But we were also desperate to provide the best care possible. It felt like we were working under pressure, from both ourselves and patients, and fueled by adrenaline.

Patients were understandably very scared, and we did our best to comfort them. But we also had the fear of catching COVID ourselves and bringing it home to family members who were vulnerable or also frontline workers, especially as it took a while for PPE to become available for pharmacies. However, working through these difficulties has shown us that we’re capable of a lot more than we thought and made us more prepared for the future.

Putting teaching into practice - how our studies at university have helped.

As future pharmacists, we are taught to uphold the 9 standards for pharmacy professionals, with the core standard being person centered care. During this pandemic we have been able to really see this being put into practice every single day with pharmacists being placed in new and challenging situations in which they always try to resolve issues with the best interest of the patient at heart.

Another significant and important part of our training is communication. We have never felt so grateful for the masterclasses and workshops we’ve had at Cardiff University that prepared us so well. For example, with ourselves and patients wearing facemasks for PPE we have had to rely on non-verbal communication and body language to pick up on patient’s reactions and needs. Just simply knowing to ask leading questions to further understand their worry, showing empathy and really responding to their concerns has meant we can help patients with more than just providing them with medication.

It's been a crazy few months, with many challenges faced, problems solved, and lessons learnt, and we, like many other pharmacy students across the country helping on the front line find ourselves more resilient, strong and adaptable as a result of our experiences.


For more cross-sector experience insights, click here.


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