Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Undertaking a Strategic Leadership Role in Primary Care

By Anne Thomson, Chair of the RPS Primary Care Expert Advisory Group

Why I made the move into primary care

I started my pharmacy career in hospital pharmacy, before working at the interface in a rehabilitation team, and then onto primary care.  My decision to move into primary care in 2007 was driven by a desire to utilise all my knowledge and skills by practising as a generalist, working shoulder to shoulder with the other members of the practice team.  Qualifying as an independent prescriber in 2009 was a great way to give me the autonomy as a clinician I had always craved, supported by GP mentorship.  I spent a number of years supporting prescribing improvements and patient care in key areas such as pain management, hypnotics, anxiolytics, and antimicrobials. Being able to spend time with patients to listen and review what matters to them is a hugely rewarding part of the role.  What could be better than someone saying you have given them their life back by supporting them to come off benzodiazepines? With more than 80% of care being delivered in primary care, it is such a dynamic and meaningful place to work.

Building connections and becoming a leader

Over the years I have progressed into primary care service leadership, and in my current role work across six Health and Social Care Partnerships (HSCP) in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to provide care to 1.3 million people. I work with teams to support delivery of clinical services which aim to be person centred, safe and effective. With recent investment in primary care and a revised General Medical Services contract in Scotland there has been large increase in the scale and scope of our services.  Our teams are integral to the day-to-day care within General Practice, focusing on supporting high risk patients and medicines alongside effective prescription management.  This builds on the traditional prescribing improvement/advisor role that many of us started out doing. I would describe it as an exciting but challenging time, and we continue to work with others to evolve our delivery models and skill mix.

At national level, I am supported by my colleagues on the Scottish Practice Pharmacy and Prescribing Advisor Network (SP3A) where we take a once for all approach to sharing best practice around prescribing and pharmacy in primary care.  Taking on chair of the RPS Primary Care Expert Advisory Group last year has been a great way to make even wider connections across the other nations. I love meeting new people, and building networks is key in helping me improve services whilst developing my confidence as a leader.

Advice for moving into leadership roles

For anyone interested in moving into a strategic leadership post in primary care, there won’t always necessarily be a clear description of how to get there, so self-drive and being open to taking opportunities are key.  The more people and organisations you can work with, the more rounded you will become, and start to see beyond boundaries. Mentorship and coaching can be powerful development tools, which I only really discovered later in my career. The RPS mentoring platform is a useful place to look for a mentor or to gain experience of mentoring others.

Leadership development doesn’t necessarily mean having to do a business degree/ formal qualification. I have done training on different aspects of leadership throughout my career and used reflective feedback regularly to deepen my self-awareness. It is great to see over the years leadership development become normalised as a key practice pillar across the development continuum, which reinforces that we can all be leaders.

I look forward to continuing our professional journey and seeing where it takes us.

Check out our Independent Prescribing resources.  

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