By Amira Guirguis

When I re-entered Higher Education as a mature student to be trained as a pharmacist, I was told Pharmacy is global passport degree. But is it?

I was trained to be compassionate, to have empathy, to communicate with my patients as partners and try to overcome any barriers to share the decision-making with them.

My journey so far was a lot of ups and downs, but the most satisfying parts were mostly related to making a difference to my patients and my students.

As the MPharm Programme Director at Swansea University Medical School, my main concern was to work with the MPharm team to ensure we design and develop a curriculum that provides what it takes to become a scientist practitioner, integrate the science into practice, empower our students to manage risks, be confident and competent, and make decisions that are centred around patients.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world unpredictably, I found myself bringing together the scientist practionner in me, and started to think about vulnerable patients and how we can consolidate our efforts to ensure continuity of care.

Since completing my PhD and specialising in the area of Substance Misuse, my main concern were people who use drugs (PWUD), particularly those who require frequent supervised consumption of opioid substitution therapy (OST) and those who have respiratory problems. Thinking back about how services leaped to protect those patients and adapted to ensure continuity of treatment, there were a number of hiccups to deal with unpredictable response to these changes. For example, services have created risk assessed flexibilities to enable stable patients to collect up to two-week supply of methadone, an OST, to avoid frequent visits to services and pharmacies. But unfortunately, there were sadly cases of overdoses, deaths, and diversion of these medicines into the black illicit market. I collaborated with key stakeholders to educate, train and raise awareness about how we can meet the needs of those patients and improve their health outcomes.

As I have done, most pharmacists in the country have. They worked so hard, overcoming staff shortages and sometimes staff loss over Covid-19. They had to work in environments where there were struggles to save patients who didn’t make it due to Covid-19. They found themselves in a survival mode, not trying to survive themselves, but carrying their patients with them to the shore.

And today, I felt so proud and honoured to contribute to the national vaccination programme. I found myself bringing back those “Cs” being confident, competent, compassionate and communicated well with my patients, overcoming language barriers, fears, disabilities, and also myths around vaccination, and making a difference into those patients’ lives.

I won’t forget those patients I had to reassure that they cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine, those patients who said that this is the first time they see a lot of people in one place as they were shielding for months, those patients who lost loved ones and were recalling these moments. I won’t forget those patients who said “oh, are you done? It doesn’t hurt! I thought the injection was painful!”. I won’t forget those patients who gave me the thumbs up when I was consenting them to take the vaccine. It was an incredible day. We worked together as a team, the doctors, the pharmacists, the nurses and many students and ushers. We had one aim “let’s vaccinate the nation, let’s get our normal lives back!”

I left the hospital today and was thinking, is Pharmacy a global passport degree? Yes, I think it is!