Cancer pharmacy: an evolving field.
Specialist pharmacist Lizzie Provis reveals how she has found the perfect career for her.
What was your first contact with pharmacy as a profession?
I was interested in science and healthcare and had explored careers in speech therapy, dietetics and optometry before discovering pharmacy.
I arranged work experience at a community pharmacy in my village. This was a small independent store dispensing around 4,000 items each week. I enjoyed learning more about medicines, such as side effects, counselling points and interactions. It is funny to look back now and remember how fascinated I was when I learnt why aspirin must be taken with food.
By the end of the week I had decided that this was the perfect career for me with a great mix of interacting with people and science.
Have you undertaken any postgraduate qualifications that are specific to what you do now?
I did a postgraduate diploma at Cardiff University, which gave me an excellent grounding in clinical pharmacy.
I am now undertaking a practice certificate in independent prescribing and specialising in myeloproliferative neoplasms. These are a group of pre-malignant haematological conditions that are controlled with treatments such as hydroxycarbamide and the new JAK2 inhibitors.
What is your current role and how did you get there?
In my current role as a specialist cancer pharmacist I rotate every six months to different areas of oncology and haematology pharmacy, including aseptics, the chemotherapy day unit, oncology and haematology clinics, a palliative care hospice and an inpatient ward.
I am currently on a haematology clinic rotation and also spend part of the week in the myeloproliferative neoplasms clinic as part of my independent prescribing qualification.
I first became interested in cancer pharmacy when I was doing my foundation training at the University Hospital of Wales where I worked on a bone marrow transplant ward and in the aseptic unit for one of my rotations. At first I was not too keen on working in aseptics, but I loved my time on the wards and eventually began to enjoy aseptics too.
Although I initially thought that screening chemotherapy prescriptions was scary, I liked how it was a niche for pharmacy — no other healthcare professional can provide that service.
On finishing my diploma I was ready to move back to London and, having decided previously that I wanted to go into cancer pharmacy, I jumped at the chance to apply for a job as an oncology pharmacist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust where I had undertaken my preregistration training. It was easy to settle back in and this allowed me to focus on developing my clinical skills.
This was a fantastic job and involved working on the cancer ward, training junior pharmacists and doctors, participating in palliative care multidisciplinary team meetings and co-ordinating cancer drug fund and individual funding request applications.
After a year I moved to my current role at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. The rotational nature of the job appealed to me; I had missed haematology and this job allows me to be involved in different specialisms within cancer pharmacy.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The main reason I enjoy working as a cancer pharmacist is because it is a rapidly developing specialism. New molecular targets and treatments are being developed constantly and this is set to continue for many years.
Working in an evolving clinical landscape means keeping up to date can be challenging, but it also makes the job interesting. I believe this is unique to cancer because it is currently the fastest growing clinical field in terms of drug development.
What is the best piece of advice you have for other pharmacists?
Speak up: if you want something, ask for it; if you disagree with something, tell someone; and, most importantly, if you have an idea, share it.
In a world without pharmacy, what career would you pursue?
I would love to make sports montages — the clips that are shown at the end of sports events when all the highlights are set to music. However, being neither creative nor technologically savvy, I think I should stick with pharmacy.
About the author
Lizzie Provis, DipClinPharm,
MRPharmS, is a specialist cancer pharmacist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
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