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“Only training or exposure, open-mindedness and empathy will help grow mindsets about the LGBTQ+ community.”

Paul is a UK-registered pharmacist with 11 years of experience working in both the hospital and community sectors. He is incredibly passionate about the profession, particularly managing a team and leading change, and is excited about the potential future of pharmacy, especially in leading change in inclusion and diversity. Paul has recently moved to British Columbia in Canada with the aim of continuing his career in pharmacy there. We caught up with Paul to see how the ongoing pandemic has affected his role as a pharmacist and understand his views on supporting our LGBTQ+ pharmacy family.

 

How has your day-to-day life changed since the COVID-19 outbreak and how are you coping with the changes?

There haven’t been any mandatory lockdowns in British Columbia (BC). The behaviour of the BC population is very different to that of the UK as the people within BC are very compliant with the new COVID rules and guidance, and therefore there haven’t been any significant waves of hospitalisations when compared to the UK. There has been social distancing and mask wearing in public places, some restrictions on social gathering, but life in general has simply continued.

However, COVID-19 has been a challenge for me. I lost my job and wasn’t able to secure a further training placement, and PEBC (Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada) exams are bi-annual which adds a further complication to securing a training placement. Consequently, as a family, we may need to return back to the UK. It is quite difficult to remain positive during this time, particularly knowing that I can provide a lot of support and experience but I am unable to. This can sometimes be frustrating and waring. I have certainly developed my patience and feel the easiest way to deal with the frustrations is to break them down into smaller challenges. Having small accomplishments or quick wins helps to alleviate some of the frustration.

Have you learnt any new skills or realised new strengths?

I have learned to reconsider my abilities and seek employment in different ways. The pandemic has presented us with more online opportunities which I believe could and should be extended to those in pharmacy. For example, remote pharmacist opportunities from the UK is another avenue I am pursuing. I have been identifying what transferable skills I have as a pharmacist which could be well placed in other potential roles such as healthcare management, policy development or in pharmacy operations.

In your experience as part of the LGBTQ+ community, what are the challenges facing pharmacy?

From being a member of the LGBTQ+ community I personally haven’t experienced any difficulties. However, I have experienced some challenges whilst practicing as a pharmacist working with members of the LGBTQ+ community.

I have needed to have conversations with patients where prescriptions are addressed as “Mr” or “Miss” when the patient has or was transitioning to another sex and hormone medications were being prescribed. The need to discretely ask the patient if a mistake had been made on their prescription wasn’t only uncomfortable, but I felt it wasn’t right that they had to declare their “status”. I’ve also felt a little out of my depth understanding what dose I ought to supply to a patient, considering they’re undergoing a period of transition.

There can also be difficulties within pharmacy teams surrounding inclusion and diversity. Regrettably, I have witnessed pharmacy team members laughing and pointing at transsexual patients and customers. Of course, this is not only unprofessional, but it would also isolate LGBTQ+ colleagues.

Considering these challenges, how could the pharmacy sector support the LGBTQ+ family?

In my experience as a pharmacist, there needs to be a better system on prescriptions so that the ‘status’ of the patient is better understood by the healthcare professional.

For pharmacy teams, mandatory inclusion training could give staff the tools and knowledge to better support the LGBTQ+ community, whether it be members of their own team or the general public. Supporting the LGBTQ+ community can come from what may seem even the smallest changes but have a big impact. For example using the terminology “they” or “them” rather than “he” or “she”. Not all LGBTQ+ people outwardly present as part of the community and so, you may not recognise the subtleties or potential insecurities.

Diversity is going to continue increasing in our modern society. Only training or exposure, open-mindedness and empathy will help grow mindsets about the LGBTQ+ community.

Do you have any advice to help others to support LGBTQ+ colleagues?

From my experiences, it’s important to consider there are many from the LGBTQ+ community who do not outwardly present as part of this community or discuss their personal lives at work. Be mindful about what conversations are happening in your teams and what tone they’re taking. The subtle nature of homophobia is quite present in society and although a conversation may be innocent or come from a place of learning, some may feel differently about that. This is why I advocate for structured, well-considered training which can provide safe and open discussions, particularly when the whole team is working on the same training. It would be a shared experience. Stonewall is a recognised charity with 30 years of experience working with LGBTQ communities and has some great resources that may be accessed for free.

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