This time last year, I was busy moving house to my new STP training location. Needless to say, I was excited about joining the program and to meet my training department. Not even the extra shots of vaccinations I had to get were going to dampen my spirits. This was to be my first job in the NHS and that itself has always been one of my biggest motivations for applying for the STP. I wanted to develop my scientific knowledge and experience and apply them to benefit patients directly.
STP – Clinical Pharmaceutical Science
Clinical Pharmaceutical Science (CPS) is a less-well known specialism but we play a crucial role in Technical Pharmacy Services and Radiopharmacies. We are not a patient-facing service, but we employ aseptic manufacturing techniques to prepare products (chemotherapy or radiopharmaceuticals) in specially designed cleanrooms for patient administration. Our year group is a small cohort of seven trainees across England.
I began my 1st year with the best intentions: I compiled all my 190-odd competencies into one spreadsheet as an attempt at being organised. I knew I’d have to be organised as I had my 1-year old at home to make matters… interesting. At my Trust’s Aseptic Production Unit, I started to familiarise myself with cleanrooms, aseptic techniques, microbiological monitoring, and quality systems. I realised that many of my colleagues were unaware of what the STP entailed but nevertheless have been more than supportive in my requests for shadowing and learning. I hope the specialism continues to grow in the future and inspire more trainees to work in Pharmacy Technical Services.
The University Study Weeks
In a nutshell, my 1st year has been a real learning curve. I found the first few months of STP to be challenging, especially the initial university modules that required specialist knowledge in aseptics and quality assurance. Now, towards the end of my 1st year, having gained more work experience in my rotations, I am much more confident and comfortable. I certainly enjoyed my study weeks at University and the academic study will be invaluable for my training and practise beyond. Our WhatsApp group has kept us all connected whilst being away from University and has been a great source of support (and entertainment) when tackling assignments.
The Coronavirus Pandemic
Unfortunately, the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic were inescapable. At the peak of lockdown, all but the most urgent cancer treatments and diagnosis scans were deferred and this meant that many Nuclear Medicine scans were cancelled and routine workload at the Radiopharmacy was reduced. Similarly, at the aseptic unit, prescription requests for chemotherapy were also low but there was a growing demand for ready-to-administer medication for coronavirus patients such as morphine, midazolam, and noradrenaline.
I was re-assigned from Radiopharmacy to my Aseptics rotation straightaway. I assisted the QA and Production teams in various ways: in researching solution stability for drugs, by writing standard operating procedures for the new processes, by preparing the new drug products etc. The challenges we faced cannot be under-estimated: demand from clinical ward fluctuated on an hourly and daily basis, national quality guidance was being updated daily, raw materials were becoming difficult to source, and social distancing had to be carefully considered. And most importantly, within the short time frame we had, a safe and quality-assured batch manufacturing process was implemented. This was another learning point for me as I admitted to myself that I am uneasy about making decisions and plans on-the-go, and with very little information to hand. This is a valuable skill for any Clinical Scientist and I realised that I need to work harder at honing this.
I felt privileged to have been able to contribute to the batch production (CIVAS) service and was able to learn a great deal that I might not have had the chance to otherwise. By preparing large batches of infusion bags and syringes for the nurses on the front-line, we were able to save them time and reduce their workload. It was inspiring to see colleagues going above and beyond to provide help where it was needed. I found it to be a very fulfilling and rewarding experience to be able to play my part in treating Coronavirus patients.
Personally, the lockdown months were a stressful and worrying time for me. I was also concerned at COVID-19’s seemingly disproportionate effects on ethnic minorities. The physical and social restrictions can be challenging for families and relationships and I realised how acutely we relied on our support systems for our mental health and wellbeing.
Despite the ongoing overshadowing presence of the coronavirus pandemic, I’m looking forward to continuing my training as planned and building on my 1st year progress. Our University classes have been moved to online learning and I am a little unsure as to how effective distance-learning will be but I must make the most of the tools that have been offered. All placement visits are on hold and there is some uncertainty as to how I will complete my rotations. But for the immediate future, I am focusing on my Radiopharmacy training. Suffice to say, the STP has been nothing like I imagined, but I couldn’t have asked for more and I have enjoyed every minute.