Self-organised community pharmacy placements

Karen Anne Gunnell with Ian Smith & Carole Blackshaw

School of Pharmacy and Bioengineering, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences

CDF Framework: Employability and Civic Engagement

Project Summary

The General Pharmaceutical Council requires the MPharm degree curriculum to include practical experience of working with patients, carers and other healthcare professionals (GPhC, 2011). This has been traditionally achieved by universities arranging placements for students in community pharmacies. These have been prescriptive in nature, with universities dictating when and where students must attend. This requires a lot of administration and responsibility on the part of the university, whilst requiring little of the student. Add to this that a number of students already undertake part time work in pharmacies, either during the vacation or during term time.

The School of Pharmacy and Bioengineering at Keele looked a method that would put the emphasis on students to arrange placements, thus enhancing key graduate attributes. The school requires MPharm students to complete 18 hours gaining work experience in a community pharmacy at level 5 and 6 hours at level 6.

The school introduced a system of allowing students to organise their own placement, allowing flexibility to undertake experience any where in the UK, at any time between June and March. Students were free to use their regular / vacation employment or summer placements to contribute to these hours, as long as they had employer permission. This allows students who have part time work to use this as credit on their course. It also allows flexibility in timing and location of experience, which is beneficial for mature students, students with caring responsibilities or disabilities. The need to approach employers themselves allowed students to develop further graduate attributes and freed up staff to help those students who were struggling to find a place.

Students were required to notify the school at least 2 weeks before the start of the placement so staff could quality assure that the location was suitable. Quality assurance was done remotely, by following the guidance set out by the General Pharmaceutical Council for the standards for pre-registration pharmacist placements. Students were also required to complete a workbook of activities (to standardise their experience) and an evaluation form, both of which needed to be submitted at the end of the placement, they were also expected to receive an average score of 2.5 out of 5 (for level 5) and 3 out of 5 (for level 6) in a number of competencies, as assessed by the responsible pharmacist on their placement.

The competencies they needed to achieve included:

  • Professionalism
  • Communication skills
  • Practical Skills
  • Problem Solving Ability

In order to pass the placement activity students are required to: 

  • Fully complete the requisite number of hours of community pharmacy activity
  • Fully complete all of the activities within the workbook
  • Achieve an average score of 2.5 or 3.5 or greater (depending on stage of study) on feedback form(s) as assessed by pharmacy supervisor(s).

This work aims to enhance students' employability skills by getting them to work with patients, carers and other healthcare professionals. This is a mandatory requirement from the General Pharmaceutical Council in order to accredit MPharm degrees. It sought to further enhance their skills requiring them to organise their own placement / work experience opportunity.

Work experience has consistently evaluated well within the MPharm course. Further evaluation was undertaken during the 2018-19 academic year to understand if students felt that it increased their employability skills. Students were asked to rate their agreement on whether the self-organisation of placements helped them to demonstrate or improve their ability in nine different attributes: a. self-confidence b. communication skills c. initiative d. personal motivation e. time management f. writing skills g. IT skills h. networking skills i. professionalism

The participants agreed or strongly agreed that self-organising community placements helped them to demonstrate or improve 7 of the 9 attributes. The attributes that were not improved were writing or IT skills, which can be explained by the fact that most students organised their placements either in person or via the telephone.

This process was commended by the MPharm programme's External Examiner, who praised its innovation.

“The nature of some placements being self-organised by students reflects forward thinking practice – the team who have developed this should be commended. The package of learning associated with the placements is excellent.” MPharm External Examiner.

This work was submitted to the 2019 Pharmacy Education conference and abstracts were published in Pharmacy Education (Pharmacy Education, 2019; 19 (1) 250 - 279)

Self-organised placements are transferable across faculties as this is a good way of students to develop employability skills. If work book activities and competencies are kept generic then they are transferable to any workplace. If students self-organise then it reduces the administrative burden of placements, whilst enhancing student skills. However, support is needed to help students whom English may not be a first language or international students who do not necessarily know what businesses are in the UK. There is a need to carefully develop a clear quality assurance policy to ensure that the placements are effective.

General Pharmaceutical Council, 2020. Future Pharmacists. Standards For The Initial Education And Training Of Pharmacists. [ebook] London: GPhC, p.19. Available at: [Accessed 11 June 2020].

Pharmacy Education (Pharmacy Education, 2019; 19 (1) 250 - 279)