November 17, 2014, by James Smith
How to be a Champion (an RPS Student Champion)- My Experience
Last year, I took the opportunity to get involved in an exciting pilot scheme being run by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS). This scheme was named the RPS student champion programme and it’s aims were simple; to reach out to students and inform them what the RPS can offer them. The programme was trialed out at 5 schools of pharmacy nationwide to see whether it could be successful. The schools participating were Nottingham, Aston, UCL, Bradford and Huddersfield, each providing 2 champions each, with Dr Mahendra Patel of Huddersfield university at the helm, steering the ship onward. The scheme was sold as a chance to represent our profession and promote the work of our professional body. Having little idea as to what the RPS did and what they could offer me as a student, it is fair to say that I was keen to get involved to find out more. At the time, it’s existence was the extent of my knowledge. Firstly, I had to get selected for the scheme by my school of pharmacy. Professor Claire Anderson emailed out to all the 2nd and 3rd year groups at Nottingham (some 300+ students) outlining the aims of the programme and asking for those interested to email her with a short 200 word explanation as to why you should be picked. I responded quickly with: “I would like to put my name forward to be an RPS champion. I believe that I would be suited to the role as I am a dedicated student, committed to the pharmacy profession and I can deliver a lecture to a room full of people with relative comfort. I am enthusiastic with strong professional skills, including meeting deadlines and putting 100% effort into every project. I feel I would be a strong and positive representative for the RPS and for the school of pharmacy”
(Tip to future applicants: spew out as many desirable attributes as possible… 1 every 5 words seems to work).
I believe it is very ‘British’ to feel uncomfortable to write such a self-promoting abstract; I like to think we live in a society where confidence mixed with some degree of humility and modesty are valued. However, in this scenario I felt I had to go all guns blazing with the self-promotion in order to stand a chance of being selected against other very worthy candidates, like the pharmacy (and far less wealthy) version of Kanye West (well renowned for making arrogant comments such as: “My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live”). Alas, somehow the ‘Kanye’ approach worked; I got lucky and Professor Anderson picked me as one of the champions, alongside a second year student called Elizabeth.
The next step was for Elizabeth and I to receive our training at the current RPS HQ in Lambeth. Having no idea who each other were, we travelled down separately and met for the first time alongside the other student champions. It was a fantastic morning for many reasons. The first was that it was great to meet pharmacy students from other schools of pharmacy and to share our varying pharmacy and learning experiences all together. The second was down to the training team (and our RPS contacts) Georgina McWeeney, Julia Kettlewell and, of course, Dr Mahendra Patel. They sat us all down in a conference room and outlined their vision for the scheme. We also had an inspirational pep talk about the pharmacy profession from one Dr Catherine Duggan. Her words, mannerisms and clear passion left me in awe. I knew immediately that one day I wanted to be in her position, representing the profession and leading from the forefront. The third reason was that we actually contributed to the design and format of the programme. As lowly students, I think we are guilty far too often of being told to do something and just following orders without any critical thought or analysis. But in this scheme, we were asked for our opinions on how we thought we could improve the logistics of the programme and how we could get our message across to our peers clearly and with the biggest possible impact. To list all the contributions and adjustments we made would require it’s own dedicated blog, but everyone contributed fantastically and soon we had a final pilot scheme that we all agreed stood the best chance of being successful!
The final outline for the programme was that we would give our peers at university a lecture about the resources the RPS offers students, whilst touching on why we should be proud of our profession and what the RPS can do for us after graduation. The resources we would focus on included accessing online support resources (e.g. the MEP), access to a selection of books through medicinescomplete (including the BNF), Local Practice forum (LPF) meetings, the Pharmaceutical Journal online (encouraging students to download the app), the RPS library, the products of the Pharmaceutical Press and the online student discussion groups (designed so pharmacy students could share experiences and take part in discussions with other pharmacy students nationwide). I had no idea about the wealth of resources available to me and I was certain my peers were as clueless as I had been. On top of this, we promoted the work of the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA), encouraging students to attend BPSA events and conferences. Prior to the session, students would be asked to fill out an online pre-lecture questionaire to see what they knew about resources available to them. Immediately after the session, they filled in another online questionaire about what they had learnt and assessing our performance. Finally, 4 weeks later they were given a final questionaire to fill out to see whether they had started using the resources we had taught them about. The idea of the questionaires was that it would allow us to qualitatively assess whether the programme had served it’s purpose (and whether we had done a good enough job). Elizabeth and I would then have to fill out a report (1 side of A4 in length) assessing how the programme had gone from our perspectives. I left the training day feeling inspired and positive, although I knew this was going be a challenge. Being a student myself, I know how difficult we can be to organise… and getting students to fill out 1 questionaire out of their own volition (let alone 3) was going to be just as challenging as getting a pig to fly.
Elizabeth and I got cracking almost immediately with the planning of our session. It was great to be working with someone with the same vision for the programme as I; along with the determination to make it work! The very next week we met up and started working out when we could run the session and, with the help of Professor Anderson, went about booking a date and a venue for our lecture. We decided that we would give our lecture to both 2nd and 3rd years at the same time, allowing us to get across our message to more than just one year group. We also magicked the session into everyone’s timetable; a sneaky trick that Houdini himself would’ve been proud of.
The following week we received the slideshow that the RPS wished for us to deliver and we decided to play around with it a little bit, to make it more relatable and directed at Nottingham students. For example, we added to the slides the date and topic of the next LPF meeting in Nottingham, in order to encourage our peers to the event. We then sent out emails with the first pre-lecture questionaire attached to both year groups and relentlessly practised the delivery of our lecture.
The day of the lecture came and both Elizabeth and I were ready to rock the lecture theatre. We dressed up in our professional attire (all suited and booted) and prepared ourselves to represent the body that represents our beloved profession. There was a decent turn out, with around 50% from both year groups, which was around 150 students (this may seem a bit low, but getting any student to an optional lecture is an achievement to be proud of!). The head of school, Professor Clive Roberts came along to introduce us and watch us, along with Georgina from the RPS. Soon we were up in front of the mic, teaching our peers about the work and resources of the RPS. I have to be honest, it was a strange phenomenon to be standing up in front of 150+ people, whilst occasionally catching sight of the odd smirking faces of friends trying not to laugh at you. The lecture started well and as it went on I feel that both Elizabeth and I grew in confidence, which resulted in us truly sliding into the lecturer role. I even felt the power go to my head and by the end I was resisting the urge to set an extra nasty assignment. By the end of the lecture, my throat was hoarse and arms were tired from ‘throwing shapes with my hands,’ as one friend kindly described it (‘you looked like you were in an 80’s disco’ was how another ‘friend’ portrayed it). I left the lecture theatre feeling a mixture of relief and optimism about what we had done. Now all we had to do was send out the final questionaires, answer any questions from our peers and complete our critical appraisal reports on the scheme! Once these were completed, our active roles as RPS student champions had come to end.
Fast forward a few months and we received emails inviting us to the RPS once again; this time to receive certificates in front of the RPS board for our work and contributions to pharmacy. Presentation day was a proud day for me (although on receiving the certificate I managed to fight the impulse to give the board an oscar-style speech, thanking everyone under the sun before breaking down into a weeping mess on the floor). At the meeting, we were also informed that the scheme had been considered a great success and had been rolled out to all bar 2 schools of pharmacy in the country. The scheme means that the RPS will now continue to directly interact with students nationwide, ensuring that the resources they provide are not wasted and are used frequently to provide maximum benefit. This will hopefully have the effect of students (myself included) realising the importance of the RPS as our professional body from an early stage and be the beginning of a long and healthy relationship with the RPS, as we set off on our personal journeys along the yellow brick road of pharmacy.
In summary, the experience was fantastic and I would recommend any student to go for it and take part. For me, seeing the programme go nationwide in all bar 2 schools of pharmacy feels like a massive team achievement. It was a lot of hard work and dedication, both for us champions and the programme coordinators, but it all paid off. I was incredibly proud to represent my university on a national scheme, but even prouder to represent my professional body in my local environment. I felt that we succeeded in raising awareness about the work of the RPS and how this can benefit students. I can only hope that future student champions will continue to do the same.