Interview: Marc Donovan from Boots UK

Boots UK’s chief pharmacist, Marc Donovan, believes pharmacists must accelerate the development of their clinical skills by proactively identifying where the gaps in their knowledge lie. A new digital network that allows all members of the pharmacy team to personalise, plan and record their learning can help them do just that.

The challenges facing community pharmacy have never seemed greater or more daunting. Pharmacists and their support teams are caught between the horns of a dilemma: how to expand their role and service offer – as the Government demands – at a time of threatened funding cuts, political uncertainty, and ministers’ desire for reform.

Yet this means the need for ongoing self-development, life-long learning and regular training for the entire pharmacy team becomes more, not less, important, according to Boots UK’s chief pharmacist, Marc Donovan.

Now is not the time to be pulling back from training and education in pharmacy, no matter how severe the financial environment, he believes. Pharmacists and their support staff must equip themselves with the skills and knowledge needed to adapt to the demands being placed upon them and exploit opportunities.

“The profession is changing rapidly and what we will be asked to do in the future will be very different to what we do now. Then there are the rising expectations placed upon us by Government, the NHS and our patients. We must do a better job of understanding what our learning and development needs are at any given time,” he says.

Clinical escalator

Marc uses the analogy of a “clinical escalator” to describe the changing educational requirements of pharmacists depending on their level of practice.

“At Boots UK we have three grades of pharmacist: foundation, advanced and specialist practitioner. To move our pharmacists higher up the clinical escalator so they can provide more advanced services means we need to support them with new professional development solutions at the appropriate time. A flexibility in approach is key.”

The same applies to Boots’ pharmacy support teams, he says. “It is essential that everyone is walking up the clinical escalator and aspiring to operate at the highest level possible to provide great care for patients. To stay at the same level is actually to go backwards.”

At the same time, Marc recognises that pharmacists want autonomy in how they choose to meet their own learning needs. “It is not a case of head office telling them what to do – far from it. We want our pharmacists to be agile enough to take control of their clinical and skills development by identifying where the gaps in their knowledge lie. We can’t do this for them – but we can provide them with the platform for filling in those gaps.”

The Pharmacy Network

The UK’s largest pharmacy chain is delighted to have teamed up with Communications International Group (CIG), publisher of Pharmacy Magazine, to launch Boots Unscripted Learning Extra. Part of The Pharmacy Network, a learning content system developed and operated by CIG, the new resource will extend and enhance the continuing professional development and other learning opportunities available to Boots’ pharmacist, dispensary and healthcare teams.

The Pharmacy Network consists of an extensive learning library of over 1,000 regularly updated CPD modules, articles and educational content, which can be tailored to an individual’s personal requirements, interests and specialities. It can be accessed from any PC, tablet or mobile device.

Boots UK pharmacists, pre-registration trainees and, from January 2016, healthcare and pharmacy advisors, can access the network via the company’s internal systems.

Once registered, users can access a personal learning log to record their learning and how they have applied it in practice in line with GPhC requirements, and there is an option to print completion certificates. This record is fully transferrable and accessible as a person moves through their pharmacy career. Pharmacists and managers can also keep a record of the learning carried out by their teams.

Personalised learning

“Unscripted Learning Extra will allow our pharmacy teams to personalise their learning, which is very important,” says Marc. “Obviously, there are certain statutory landmarks that have to be achieved – for example, a NVQ level 2 in pharmacy services skills or a medicines counter assistant qualification. But, in general, I would never advocate a one-size-fits-all approach to training. People’s individual learning needs will always differ.”

It is the flexibility that Unscripted Learning Extra provides that Marc says is particularly appealing. “An easily accessible, high quality digital learning platform, that sits alongside our existing training programmes and allows pharmacists and their teams to top up their knowledge in the areas that are relevant to them, is a very powerful tool.”

It also highlights the value of partnership, he says. “We are delighted to be working with CIG on this exciting venture. Historically, Boots UK has always developed its own training programmes and will continue to do so in the future. However, this platform provides additional learning solutions and educational content for our pharmacy teams that we have not explored previously.”

Marc is adamant that he is not interested in training for training’s sake. To him, it is about improving the quality and capability of his pharmacy teams and helping them to add the value that improves the lives of patients.

Keeping knowledge fresh and up to date, and applying this learning in practice while developing new clinical, communication and management skills, is what will underpin pharmacy’s future, he believes.

“The NHS is going through a period of great change and we know that pharmacy can do more. This is why we are investing in our people through activities such as Unscripted Learning Extra, to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge they need to deliver the highest levels of care for our patients and customers.”

We must do a better job of understanding what our learning and development needs are at any given time

People profile: Marc Donovan

Marc started his pharmacy career with Boots in 1996 as a pre-registration pharmacist. He is now the company’s chief pharmacist and is also a board member of Community Pharmacy Wales.

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