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Suzanne’s innovative training prescription boosts access to pharmacy technician apprenticeships

#ScotAppWeek24 Apprenticeships

College lecturer Suzanne Thompson has revolutionised the training of pharmacy apprentices opening up more opportunities for budding young technicians across Scotland. 

Pharmacy technicians are registered professionals, responsible for managing services, giving advice and information and supervising and checking other members of staff. They work across the NHS in hospitals, GP surgeries and community pharmacies.  

When the specifications for the job changed in 2017, Suzanne immediately saw the need for a new qualification that met the new requirements and allowed apprentices to study remotely.  

Suzanne wears a pale orange top and black cardigan, she stands between 2 racks of medicine at an NHS pharmacy.

After consulting employers she developed the first Diploma in Pharmacy Services for technical apprentices, delivered via West College in Greenock where Suzanne works as a Quality Enhancement Lecturer. 

The qualification is for people who are already working in a pharmacy in a training position and the studying can be done at college or online. This means that, for the first time, the apprenticeship is accessible to people all across Scotland. 

Suzanne’s experience working as a pharmacy services manager in the NHS showed her that college-based learning was difficult for employers and excluded anyone not living in the central belt.  

Suzanne’s plan was for an apprenticeship that worked for employers as well as apprentices and that opened up pharmacy technician opportunities to people all over the country. 

Suzanne, from West College Scotland, explained: “Having been an employer in the past I knew of difficulties in the process of training staff. I developed a hybrid approach where the apprentices don’t have to come into campus, the sessions are online, including access to one-to-one sessions and tutor support.  

“Employers can struggle to release all their training staff on the same day - this way the employer can choose the study day.” 

Added Suzanne: “One of the other things I wanted to ensure was that the qualifications were demand-led. So, before I started I asked employers: is this what you need?” 

Planning and development was well underway in 2020 when the  pandemic hit so, the first intake of apprentices could go ahead with their remote learning. 

They completed their apprenticeships and registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council in October 2022. And, because it was the first time pharmacy technicians had a qualification at a higher level, they also graduated.  

Suzanne keeps in touch with their progress. She said: “I can see the careers of former apprentices already developing. In the past it would take pharmacy technicians a few years to move up to the next band. Now our apprentices have this qualification and fantastic professional behaviours, they are quickly developing their skills and moving on.” 

Several of Suzanne’s former apprentices are already training the next cohort of apprentices. Suzanne said: “They are so keen and enthusiastic that they want to become apprenticeship assessors themselves.” 

Suzanne’s innovation means that individuals across the country are now taking the apprenticeship. Her achievements have led her to become a finalist in the Scottish Apprenticeship Awards within the Apprentice Instructor of the Year category. 

Suzanne Thompson 2

She said: “We now have apprentices from every health board in Scotland. Before, they either couldn’t access this kind of training or they had to do distance learning which was based on the England system and not very suitable.” 

Sandra Spence from West College has nothing but praise for her colleague, who has worked with science Modern Apprentices at the college for 16 years. She said: “Everything about the new apprenticeship approach was devised by Suzanne. She has driven it forward, the structure and framework as well as the subject context. 

“She has taken her knowledge of what makes successful learners from her time in the college sector and combined that with passion for pharmacy. 

 “Suzanne knows the type of learner, the job they deal with and has devised this apprenticeship model that gives our apprentices the knowledge and the skills they need in the workplace. 

Sandra ended: “Suzanne’s innovative approach to teaching has had a massively positive impact on apprentices.” 

We now have apprentices from every health board in Scotland.
Suzanne wears a pale orange top and black cardigan, she stands between 2 racks of medicine at an NHS pharmacy.

Suzanne Thompson

Scottish Apprenticeship Awards nominee

NHS Lead Technician Education and Training, Fiona Ross said, “Suzanne has been invaluable in helping design and deliver a new training delivery model for our pre-registration student pharmacy technicians.  

“Suzanne has shown leadership in the profession being the first educational provider nationally to deliver the new qualification, providing flexibility and accessibility to remote and rural health boards.  

“The knowledge and passion Suzanne has in her work shines through which in turn inspires and motivates all of her students and peers.” 

Find out more

The winner of the Apprentice Instructor of the Year category will be revealed during Scottish Apprenticeship Week, which takes place from 4 to 8 March.

Go to the events web page