The recent inaugural appel career event heard a keynote speech from fip ceo Catherine Duggan with advice for trainee pharmacists, trainers and others working in the profession

The first ever career event hosted by APPEL (Affiliation for Pharmacy Practice Experiential Learning) took place on 19 October and featured a number of speakers and panel discussions on topics relevant to trainee pharmacists, trainers and the profession in general. The event, which was held on a virtual platform, also highlighted the various career paths for aspiring pharmacists and featured exhibition booths for industry and placement providers to network and build their talent pipeline.

APPEL is a unique collaboration between University College Cork, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Trinity College Dublin, and provides a single point of contact for trainers, training establishments, and students for all placement activities.

All presentations were followed by interactive Q&A sessions where speakers could take questions from students, trainers and other pharmacists regarding any aspect of their talk and offer advice or anecdotes based on their personal experience. The keynote address was delivered by Dr Catherine Duggan, Chief Executive Officer at the International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) and former Director of Professional Development at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. The talk and Q&A session were chaired by Ms Joanne Kissane, PSI President, and Director and National Coordinator at APPEL.

“I love new initiatives and I will champion something that I can see a real spark in,” Dr Duggan told the meeting. “Earlier in my career, I perhaps didn’t understand that there will always be a critic in the room,” she said. “Maybe these people are not detractors by nature, but are trying to help you see all sides of the initiative you are proposing. You also need to understand the difference between the objective detractor in the room — the person offering you objective criticism or challenge — versus someone who has a personal issue with you,” said Dr Duggan, who is an Irish national and is from an Irish family.

“Despite being extrovert and confident, there have been points earlier in my career when I was confused by unwanted criticism, always taking it as if I had not explained something sufficiently well,” she told the conference. “I always took it personally, as opposed to thinking, ‘I’ve received an objective critique — that’s fine and it’s not personal’. Or, when it is personal, you need to escalate that and not allow it to do you any harm.

If I could go back and tell myself those things, then I may have been a little happier in some of the initiatives I was leading, and also, I may have been more successful in those areas as well.

“When you look back, it’s interesting how hard we can be on ourselves sometimes, rather than sometimes deflecting things or seeking support and help, and I would like to share with others the ability to do that.”

Mentorship

Ms Kissane postulated that this might be a particularly Irish trait and raised the importance of mentorship, including how Dr Duggan’s mentors had influenced her. “Some of the mentors I have had I have sought, and some of them I had by accident,” said Dr Duggan. “If I could offer advice, it would be to take the opportunity of a casual chat with someone in a networking opportunity to maybe identify an area of mutual passion or mutual agreement, and then ask for some advice at another point. All of mine have been solid gold,” she said. “Some of them have been very different in terms of my career trajectory and perhaps I have understood a little better by watching how they acted, or seeing how they advised me. But I would also say, you need to take the opportunity to make a mentor, or find a coach.”

There is a difference between mentorship and coaching, she pointed out. Coaching is proactive, offering tips and advice on how to do something better, whilst mentorship can be a process to learn to understand oneself better and how to cope with situations better. “You wouldn’t want to attach yourself to one type of mentor in your career; you take them where you can find them,” she said. “Mentors aren’t for life — you can weave your way through various mentors.

The thing to do is to be open to advice… that might start the most amazing relationship with that individual and you might look back 20 years later and think, ‘that person really supported me then’. Most people are really kind and they will offer you their ear, and their advice.”

Ms Kissane also raised the issue of top tips for pharmacy students on their journey to becoming autonomous healthcare professionals. “I have learned more from my failures or tricky challenges than I have from
my successes, unless the success has been won after some very hard work and challenges,” said Dr Duggan. “Not getting my A-levels the first time around really taught me humility, and I have no problem understanding that I might not get it right first time. The opposite of success isn’t failure — it’s an opportunity to try again.

“When I started my PhD in 1993, there weren’t really any funds to support pharmacy practise research,” she continued. “I was really passionate about this piece of research; I did my pre-reg in hospital and we were offered an opportunity to work in the community, and I saw the same patients coming out, but no-one was sharing communications across the interface, and that’s what stirred me to start my PhD,” Dr Duggan explained.

“There were no funds, so I got a tiny grant in 1994 but I had to work parttime. I would originally do one week on and one week off working in a community pharmacy, but after a while I probably did two or three days a week, either working or doing the PhD on alternate weeks.

The other time was spent seeking grants or working in various jobs and while this approach may have seemed uncoordinated, it stood her in good stead for professional practise. “That looked at the time to be a real higgledy-piggledy, non-strategic bit of a mess, or a ‘supper of leftovers’ with no real career plan to it. But actually, it gave me a real appreciation for the scope of my profession,” she explained. “I gained experience in three or four different sectors— I had to learn how to multi-task, I had to learn about doing that on top of research, which can be very demanding, as a PhD can grind you down.

I also learned that I had to work really hard for what I wanted, and those are real-life experiences… the narrative of your CV can be woven into the story of your professional journey, so don’t be afraid of finding yourself in a situation that may not make sense right now, but in a couple of years’ time, you can weave that narrative to make sense.”

Another piece of advice, she added, is to take the opportunities when they present themselves, even without feeling fully prepared for them, she told the conference. “For pharmacists, that is a real step into the unknown,” said Dr Duggan. “We like to be 110 per cent ready, with 100 per cent on all of our test scores, as we are perfectionists and risk-averse.

For example, me going for the FIP CEO role when there was no previous CEO who was a female, and I hadn’t had
a previous CEO role… I would say, take your opportunities when they present themselves, even if you may not feel like you are completely ready.”

Mid – Career Pharmacists

Ms Kissane asked Dr Duggan if she had any guidance for mid-career pharmacists who may feel like they need to diversify to change their careers, but may be reluctant to do so for various reasons, including lack of self confidence. “It’s no disrespect at all to our students, but mid-career can possibly be even tougher,” Dr Duggan commented.

“In mid-career, there are other things that will have happened in your life, other commitments and other responsibilities, and to take a side-step or an upward step can seem really daunting at that time. “But in our profession, with so many sectors and areas of practice and specialties, we should never close doors off,” said Dr Duggan. “If you do make a change, if you take a different route, never be scared to make a u-turn. The road taken can provide so many opportunities ahead that even a u-turn feels like success… maybe you choose a secondment into a different position for a period of time,” she explained.

“If you are really worried about stepping out of your career due to financial or professional worries, maybe take on some mentorship or non-executive roles that don’t overburden you with extra duties and jobs, but give you that extra little spark.

“I also think we have to learn to revel in the moment,” she continued. “The pandemic has really given us a moment — 19 months of moments — to perhaps pause and consider some of the simpler things in life. So we should try to think about taking the good from the situation we’re in and the jobs we have, and to think perhaps about what you want to be doing in five years.”