Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Living and practising with dyslexia

By Charlotte Milburn, Pharmacy student.

‘I’m not sure how that would work, a dyslexic pharmacist!’ As you can imagine, I was surprised when my manager said this to me during a summer placement.  

I’ve always been conscious of my learning difficulties, especially as I spent my school years without any adjustments. After an unconventional route to higher education, university was the place where I got an official diagnosis, I needed to prove I could excel.

Making adjustments

I’ve always been upfront about having a learning difficulty and never really think of it as an issue. While other students or staff have made comments about how nice it is to have adjustments for an assessment without fully understanding my need for them, I had never experienced people speaking negatively about pharmacists with learning difficulties. Until the pandemic, interestingly.

That statement from a manager occurred during the summer of 2020 when thoughts of a vaccine were still up in the air, and I had just finished my 2nd-year exams online and at home. For me, the switch to online learning as an MPharm student highlighted how ill-equipped university education is to support disabled students.

Equality is not equity

Due to a change to open-book online exams, there was discussion that students didn’t need adjustments for these types of exams and if give everyone some extra time, then the needs of everyone would be taken care of. But equality is not equity. To ensure everyone can perform at their best, different people will need different support. Luckily, on highlighting this my school was receptive and adjustments for disabled students were put back in place. However, I did have to actively advocate for myself and other students and highlight a perspective that the school hadn’t previously considered.

Embrace diversity

I do think there are still some people that view disability adjustments as making the assessment easier or even cheating, and question if someone is fit for practice if they can’t do it the same way as everyone else. But I would argue that we don’t want healthcare professionals who do everything the same way, that the profession would miss out by not embracing a diverse perspective. Yes, I may have some specific challenges due to my neurodivergence that I compensate for, but I’m also detail orientated and methodical in how I approach my practice, which I would say lends itself well to the profession.

Advocate for yourself

While there is still a way to go to ensure students and people within the profession with disabilities, are supported and included, I think we are moving in the right direction mainly due to those people speaking up and promoting change. My main takeaway is don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself.  When considering the question ‘how would a dyslexic pharmacist work?’, I can tell you the answer is just as well as anyone else.

Read more I&D blogs.

We want to encourage voices that express the diversity of lived experiences in the profession as part of our inclusion and diversity work. If you’d like to share your story, contact [email protected] or get involved through our ABCD group.