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Peer Support: The Next Step – Your Say

By Irish Pharmacist - 01st Sep 2022

Irish Pharmacist

Writing For Irish Pharmacist, The Iiop Outlines The Vital Role Of Peer Support And Its Importance For Professional Development.

Peer Support is a cornerstone of the Irish Institute of Pharmacy (IIOP). From the introduction of a new Continuing Professional Development (CPD) system, to coping during Covid, the activities of the peer support network have evolved as the challenges facing the profession have changed. Here we describe the journey so far, and invite you to shape the next step for peer support in Irish pharmacy. 

At its simplest, peer support happens when people use their own experiences to help each other. More specifically, peer support can been described as “people drawing on shared personal experience to provide knowledge, social interaction, emotional assistance or practical help to each other, often in a way that is mutually beneficial”. (Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, 2013). The approach is widely used in healthcare, both among patients to support management of their health and illness, and among healthcare professionals to support professional practice. 

The IIOP Peer Support Pharmacist (PSP) Network was established in 2014 to support pharmacists as they adapted to the new CPD system. Terms which are now part of our common professional parlance (such as Practice Review, ePortfolios and ePortfolio Review) were unfamiliar to many when first introduced. The PSP Network was made up of pharmacists who responded to a profession-wide invitation to join a network which would assist colleagues in learning about, and adapting to, this new approach to CPD. The resultant group of pharmacists understood the realities of pharmacy practice and helped to shape the work of the IIOP by providing insights and feedback from their own experiences and that of their colleagues. 

They also understood how the CPD system was evolving, with many involved in the development of the various processes. This meant they were well positioned to provide accurate information and practical support to other pharmacists. 

ENGAGEMENT 

Engagement rates of over 96 per cent have been consistently achieved within our CPD system, and this is considered high by national and international standards. Whilst there are many potential reasons for such positive engagement, there is no doubt that the peer support pharmacists played a crucial role. The PSP network hosted events across the country, providing an opportunity for colleagues to discuss, debate and understand the new concept of CPD. The IIOP supported the network by providing training in areas such as facilitation, interpersonal dynamics, and behaviour change. However, the most valuable part of involvement appeared to be the opportunity to meet other pharmacists. PSPs consistently reported feeling more connected to the profession as a result of their involvement in the network, and were energised by the opportunity to meet colleagues, both at the training days they attended and the evening events that they hosted. 

Pharmacists undertaking new roles and projects in practice are increasingly contacting the IIOP

As the concept of CPD became more established, pharmacists were increasingly contacting the IIOP to find out how they could become involved in the peer support network. People saw it as a way of becoming more connected to the profession without a massive input of time. 

In 2018, the IIOP issued a second call inviting pharmacists to be involved. The numbers of applications doubled from the previous call and the resultant group continued the work of supporting pharmacists in understanding the unfolding CPD landscape, which now included Practice Review. Simultaneously, IIOP increasingly sought the guidance of network members across its various activities, with pharmacists contributing to different IIOP projects, ensuring that our work was grounded in practice. 

COVID 

The next significant contribution of the PSP Network was in March 2020, with the onset of Covid. The IIOP recognised that the professional development needs of pharmacists were rapidly changing in response to the unfolding pandemic, and we sought guidance from the network on how best to meet those needs. The PSPs advised that pharmacists needed access to information as it emerged, and needed a forum for connection to combat professional isolation. They identified that stress levels among practitioners were rising and they raised concerns about burnout. Working groups were established (again seeking expressions of interest from the profession), resulting in new CPD offerings, including the IIOP webinar series, the IIOP mentoring programme, the Resilient Pharmacist podcast, and the IIOP Covid-Hub. The numbers of pharmacists accessing these resources indicated that they met a need among practitioners, once again demonstrating the value of the PSP Network in guiding the work of the IIOP. 

Since then, new constructs of Peer Support are naturally emerging within the IIOP in different ways. Participants in the Effective Representation Programme have formed a network to provide peer support for pharmacists working on multidisciplinary committees within the HSE. The Pharmacy Antimicrobial Stewardship Network (PAMS-net), which was recently launched, enables pharmacists to share knowledge, information, learning and experience in antimicrobial stewardship. Pharmacists undertaking new roles and projects in practice are increasingly contacting the IIOP, seeking ways of connecting with pharmacists in similar areas so that they can learn from existing practice. Coincidentally, a recent quality review of the IIOP services identified the PSP network as a valuable resource within the profession and recommended that the work and structure of the group be reviewed, in light of the profession’s evolving needs. Therefore, it seems timely to review our model of peer support. 

PEER SUPPORT EVENT 

Our experience in the IIOP over the past eight years has shown us that peer support is not an academic or theoretical concept, but rather, an authentic and lived experience of connection among colleagues. 

Therefore, we propose a process of authentic collaboration with the profession as we consider how peer support should evolve over the coming years in the IIOP. There are lots of challenges within pharmacy currently, and neither the IIOP nor a peer support approach can magically provide solutions. However, peer support is one strategy that can help reduce feelings of isolation and increase a sense of collective impact in our professional practice. This will play a part, however small, in progressing our professional agenda. 

If you want to contribute positively to the profession, but don’t know where to start, join us on 14 October by attending the IIOP Peer Support event. An invitation has been sent directly to all pharmacists on the PSI register with registration details, or you can register directly at iiop.ie/content/peer-support-event-14-october-2022. At this event, you will a) learn about the wide range of peer support projects, networks and opportunities in the IIOP; b) meet and network with like-minded pharmacist colleagues; and c) tell us how you think the IIOP should facilitate peer support for pharmacists over the coming years. 

We look forward to being guided by you.

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