Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Your community pharmacy journey

By Jonathan Burton, Community Pharmacist, Stirling

My name is Jonathan Burton and I’m a community pharmacist based in Stirling. I studied at Cardiff and after doing my pre-registration training in Bristol I qualified in 1999. Shortly after this, I had a (rather random!) opportunity to start a pharmacy business in Scotland with a close pharmacist friend. We moved up North and the rest, as they say, is history.

We now have an independent group of pharmacies across the whole of Scotland and for many years I was our Superintendent Pharmacist, but around five years ago I decided I wanted to concentrate wholly on my patient-facing practice and develop my skills as an independent prescriber, so I now work exclusively at just one of our pharmacies.

My pharmacy serves a predominantly university student population and my day to day work is very varied. We provide all the regular community pharmacy services such as dispensing, stop smoking services, minor ailments and emergency contraception. During the university semesters, we have a high demand for our consultation based services, particularly the newer Pharmacy First consults which enable us to assess and treat UTIs, skin infections and more. People like the fact we are very accessible and they appreciate the professional & friendly service we offer, this is a key strength of community pharmacy.

Teaching is a big part of my job. I’m a pre-registration tutor, I supervise MPharm students on placements and doing final year practice-based projects and I also mentor pharmacists who are doing prescribing training and undertaking practical experience with me ahead of running their own clinics. I find these roles very rewarding and inevitably I learn just as much as the students and pharmacists I supervise & teach, it keeps me on my toes for sure!

As an independent prescriber, I decided to focus on extending my traditional ‘minor ailments’ work to cover a wider range of common clinical conditions. NHS Education for Scotland provides access to clinical skills learning opportunities (online and face to face) and I now use my IP and clinical skills to run a walk-in common conditions clinic from my pharmacy.

I mainly deal with ear, nose & throat, chest, eye and dermatology presentations, so lots of looking in people’s throats, using an Otoscope for ear examinations and close examination of a wide range of skin problems. Conditions that I routinely assess & treat include tonsillitis, middle & external ear infections, cellulitis, shingles and infected eczema. It’s interesting & challenging work and sits very well alongside our other services.

As I deal with a relatively young population I see a slightly different mix of chronic conditions, so instead of lots of diabetes and heart disease, I see lots of asthma, GI and mental health issues instead. Having a large overseas student population means we quite often have to assist patients and their GPs in sourcing medicines that are equivalent or suitable alternatives to medication originally prescribed abroad.

I’ve developed a strong interest in helping patients who have both newly diagnosed and ongoing mental health issues, particularly depression and anxiety, both very prevalent in the student population I deal with. I’ll always offer to talk through people’s medications and check how they are doing, some patients also require help with self-harm injuries or perhaps need their medication closely monitored due to risk of overdose.

Another interesting part of my job is helping the transgender community, many of whom we dispense prescription hormone treatments for, I try to get to know each person and their name and pronoun preferences and ensure they know the pharmacy is a safe space for them and they can come to me for advice.

You never stop learning as a pharmacist and one of the best ways to learn is to talk to your patients, they will often teach you more about living with a condition or what it’s like to take a medicine than you ever could from reading a textbook (the BNF is still handy though!).

The key piece of advice I’d give to any pre-reg wanting to be the best pharmacist they can possibly be would be ‘talk to your patients’. We’re all usually very busy, and it’s hard, but make this one of your red lines. If a patient is receiving medication for the first time, always offer advice, in private if appropriate. Get to know patients who are taking long term treatments, check how they are doing. Let people know that you are there to answer their questions and that you care.

It’s important to show empathy and appreciate that patients are often not feeling well, or upset, or just a little overwhelmed, especially if they’ve just received a diagnosis they perhaps weren’t expecting. You have the knowledge & skills to help them, and it’s no use if you keep all that to yourself!

It actually took me a few years to figure out that bringing a ‘can do’ and caring attitude to the job is what really makes it worthwhile, you start getting more back in return and it puts the joy back into it. Community pharmacy is tough, most professions are in their own ways, but it can be so rewarding.

Good luck on your journey!

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