August 25, 2014, by James Smith
A Summer of Adventure; Working on the BNF
At the end of each academic year at university, my fellow students and I face the beautiful prospect of 3 months of ‘me-time’. Although on paper this looks like 3 months off timetable where exciting plans can be made and you can be on a new adventure every week, it has its drawbacks as well. Moving back home and losing that sense of independence is one such drawback. As is the realisation that your student loan is running low and all those adventures you had planned won’t pay for themselves. Finally, 3 months can be a long and boring time if plans are not made or fall through, especially with a lack of premiership football on TV!
In previous summers I have found myself working a community pharmacy placement for most of the summer, with the occasional shorter spell in hospitals and pharma companies, before jetting off to some sunny destination, like Malaga (Spain) or Cardiff (yes, Cardiff)… but this summer has been a totally new and exciting experience for me. I have been working on the pharmacist’s bible: the BNF.
So how did I get this opportunity? Well around March time, I came across a tweet on my news feed, which stated that the BNF team were looking for a team of interns to help them out over summer. Immediately, without any hesitation, I clicked on the link and decided to apply there and then; it was an exciting and unique opportunity and I didn’t want to miss out! I spent a few minutes tidying up my CV and some time writing a cover letter as to why I was suited, before sending it off a mere half an hour after finding the opportunity. The following week I received an email inviting me to interview at the RPS headquarters in Lambeth.
The interview took place on a bright and crisp April morning. It comprised of 2 parts; a brief computer exercise (to test computer skills and knowledge of information in the BNF) and an interview with 2 members of the BNF team. I sat the computer test first. It was tough and by the end my confidence had dropped quite dramatically; I thought I knew the BNF so well, having used it weekly in workshops for 3 years, but alas I was shown that there was more to it than I had ever realised. When time was up, I was immediately ushered away from the computer and into the interview room. By now I had little hope of gaining a place. The interview was again tough, with numerous tricky questions asked. My poor, scarred memory has erased details of all the questions, bar one, which I like to refer to as the killer of all questions: what would you change about the BNF? As a lowly student, who has been taught from day 1 that the BNF will be my closest ally throughout my career, I felt like I was betraying a close friend. As my criticisms (no matter how polite and constructive) came tumbling out, I held back the tears as I brutally backstabbed my ally and friend, the BNF. Ok, I may be exagerrating, but hopefully I have painted the picture that it was tough to criticise such a helpful book with such a high reputation. I left the interview shaking but overall felt that the interview may have redeemed my poor test performance. Fortunately, I was right and the next day I received a call offering me a place. I was ecstatic.
A career in publications is probably one that not many pharmacy students have ever considered, but it is incredibly important; producing books and reference tools that pharmacists, doctors and other healthcare professionals would be lost without. This past summer, I worked at the Pharmaceutical Press, the publications arm of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, who produce a majority of these resources. The placement was based at the RPS headquarters in London, which leads me to my only complaint about my summer: commuting.
I live in a lovely, quiet village just outside Maidstone in Kent. Surrounded by beautiful countryside and only 10 minutes away from the centre of town, it truly is a fantastic location. However, living at home this past summer meant commuting into London on a daily basis (about an hour and a half trip). Being on a train at 7AM packed full of people in suits (all of whom look as tired and annoyed as you feel) is a prospect that no human wants to be faced with. Furthermore, after working all day, you don’t want to have to jump on a train home with the same grumpy people, who look even more agitated and fed up 10 hours later. That aside, commuting has led to me reading on a daily basis and I can safely say I know the words to a majority of songs by Queen, the Rolling Stones and Radiohead; the ultimate Karaoke preparation!
With the one negative out the way, it’s time to focus on all the positives of my experience. Firstly, the work itself has been challenging but both rewarding and fun. The aim of my internship was to work with the BNF team and a few other interns to standardise the BNF and improve the formatting, allowing it to be well suited for digitalisation. In other words, our job was to help turn the BNF from a standard Ford Fiesta into a Ferrari; making the BNF more sexy and streamlined. This involved a number of projects, both individual and team based, in order to achieve this common objective. It was the perfect placement for improving both time and task management, which are vital skills for a pharmacist in any sector.
From day one, the permanent workers were friendly and delightful to work with. They organised welcome drinks and other social
outings throughout my time there, helping our integration into the team. They showed the ultimate patience with all of us interns, as we got to grips with the tasks we were assigned and, as time went on, they rewarded us with more and more responsibilities and trust. Considering this was the first internship the Pharmaceutical Press has run, an air of caution was to be expected on their part. I discovered that they are understandably protective over the BNF and their work; as a mother bear is protective over her cub. But the programme ran smoothly from the off and anyone would think that it had been run for 10 years or more. As a demonstration of their kindness and trust, the BNF team have even offered to put all of the intern’s names into the first edition of the BNF that releases the work we have done. To a geeky pharmacy student like me, having my name in the front of the BNF is a dream come true.
When I took up the offer of the placement, I wondered whether not being in a direct clinical setting would affect my clinical skills. But that was not been the case. My knowledge of drugs, doses and indications improved drastically, with doses for the likes of warfarin, infliximab and collagenase available at the tip of my tongue. My people and communication skills also grew and developed. To work on such a big project, with so many different factions working on different areas with so many people, communication is key to ensure everyone is on the same wavelength and pulling in the same direction. All in all, the skills I developed and adapted during this placement can be applied in a clinical setting and in any other professional setting, and those very same skills allowed me to obtain my pre-reg for next year.
Further to all the BNF-related work, other sectors of the RPS and Pharmpress team visited and gave my fellow interns and I talks about what they do. This has included talks from Stockley’s interactions, the Pharmaceutical Journal, the RPS support team and Mr Howard Duff, who holds the rather fetching title of Director of England. From all these talks and presentations I learnt an awful lot about the role of the RPS and an insight into how they achieve their objectives.
In summary, the working on the BNF was a fantastic opportunity and the best placement I have ever had the fortune to undertake. All pharmacy students nationwide, whatever their interests, should consider applying to any future summer placements that the BNF and Pharmaceutical Press teams may hold; the skills that you will develop will be valued in so many sectors and your clinical knowledge will rocket. The people have been friendly and welcoming. The work has been challenging and rewarding. The insight and experience has been priceless.