When Shenu Barclay wondered how to celebrate 45 years of community pharmacy work, his friends suggested he “throw a big party.” Instead, she wanted to mark this milestone by doing “good deeds”. So, she chose to participate in a series of fundraising activities, all themed around the number 45, to help various causes – from homelessness and hunger to refugees and cancer patients.
Prioritizing the needs of others is typical of how this Coventry-based locum pharmacist lives life – which always is to the fullest. During Shenu’s 45-year pharmacy, she has saved lives, been detained at gunpoint, and served celebrities with drugs. She auditioned for television programs Blind date and What is my line?
She has received accolades in pharmacy and has been celebrated by her professional peers. And during that time, Shenu has accumulated a wealth of knowledge and skills – enriching a career she loves, but didn’t choose.
“My sisters decided on my career”
Born in Eldoret, a small village in Kenya in 1952, Shenu wanted to be a secretary when she was growing up. But her family had other plans for her.
“In Asian culture at the time, a person’s future career was determined by the elders of the family,” she told C + D. “My three sisters were teachers – they used to guide and coach people in their careers – and they decided that I should be a pharmacist. “
Shenu admits that at that time, she “didn’t know what it meant to be a pharmacist.”
“But then I learned more about it and it seemed like a fascinating career. That’s how I chose pharmacy.
In 1972, she chose to do a degree in pharmacy at Brighton Polytechnic – her home country didn’t offer that option – and she liked the idea of being close to London. Initially, one of her sisters stayed with her “to help me settle in, because I was the baby of the family,” she explains.
“It was difficult at first, being away from my family, and England was so cold after Kenya. But then I made new friends and finally got used to the Western way of life, ”she says.
After graduating as a pharmacist in 1976, Shenu continued to work where she had completed her pre-registration training – Boots Pharmacy at Piccadilly Circus in London. “We used to have a lot of famous people visiting the drugstore, from Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger to Labor politician Tony Benn, and a few Arab princesses. So it was a sort of star-studded start to a career,” she says.
In 1977 she decided to try locuming, wanting to “experience working in different parts of London”. She also tried pharmacy management for three years, but decided to return to substitute work because she preferred the variety. “No day is the same and I love engaging with different communities,” she says. Working in a variety of fields means she sometimes has the opportunity to use her language skills – she speaks three Asian languages, as well as an African language and basic French.
“If a gun is pointed at you, you must be reasonable”
Some areas in which she has worked have high crime rates. While in London, she remembers being detained at gunpoint while a gang stole controlled drugs from the pharmacy. “A man in a balaclava was pointing a gun at me, yelling at me to open the closet where the drugs were.
“I didn’t resist because if a gun is pointed at you, you have to be reasonable. After the gang took the drugs and left, I called the police. The doctor at the next office offered me some tranquilizers, but I said, ‘No, I will recover at my own pace.’
Another traumatic incident – one that forced her to leave her home in the city after living there for 30 years – was the 2005 terrorist attack in London. “I will never forget that day,” Shenu recalls. “I narrowly missed my trip on the London bus that was bombed outside the headquarters of the British Medical Association. My mom and sister lived in Coventry so I decided to move there.
Since then she has worked in several pharmacies in Coventry and surrounding areas, in rural villages in Oxfordshire, Cheltenham and Northamptonshire. She became particularly attached to her patients, and them to her.
“Once, when it was a lot of heavy snow, I couldn’t take a train to Cheltenham, so I took a cab to work. All of my clients were delighted that I made the effort to fill their prescriptions, despite the terrible weather. And they remember I’m the lady from Coventry who went the extra mile. It’s a very grateful community, ”she says.
Patient appreciation is one of the many rewards of a career in pharmacy, she says. “It’s also rewarding when I diagnose conditions accurately, report to the GP or emergency departments, and get feedback that the doctor agrees with my judgment,” says Shenu.
She remembers a client “insisting that I give her a bottle of cough mixture for her cough.” Shenu insisted on asking a few more questions and found that the patient also suffered from shortness of breath and was a smoker. “I told him it could be chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and he should see a doctor.
“Later the patient told me that his doctor had sent him to the hospital to test for lung damage and that I saved his life.”
Shenu’s commitment to patient care was officially recognized with the Feet First Pharmacy Prize, an invitation to the NHS anniversary garden party at Buckingham Palace and by reaching the semi-finals of the ‘I Love my Pharmacist ”in 2015.
Her hobby as a passionate “buddy” – she participates in around 45 to 50 competitions a year – has also earned her numerous awards, including a few from C + D. “Since the start of my career, I have participated in various competitions. I’ve won numerous awards over the years, including bottles of champagne, a photoshoot, and a night out in London’s West End chatting with celebrities.
Attend the evolution of pharmacy and fight against COVID
During his 45 years in pharmacy, Shenu has witnessed many changes in the practice of pharmacy. Digital technology has had a “dramatic” impact on the profession, she believes. “When I started in pharmacy, we were dealing with handwritten prescriptions. Now, electronic prescribing saves time and improves accuracy.
Early in her career, she says the goal of pharmacy was to “give medicine to patients and say, ‘Take this now.’ But now we have patient-centered care, we work in partnership with the patient, and it’s a shared decision-making process ”.
Pharmacists now have a “major role in promoting public health,” she says, such as supporting patients with weight problems or smoking cessation, and she sees the future of pharmacy by focusing on “l empowerment of people to take care of their health.”.
Shenu envisions pharmacists playing a “leading role” in primary care networks. And she predicts that they will increasingly offer remote consultations to patients by phone or video – an approach that has become more common since the pandemic.
Working during the pandemic has been “extremely difficult,” says Shenu. “The workload increased dramatically with the scripts, and patients, pharmacists and delivery drivers had to isolate themselves.
“This has led to working behind closed doors to catch the workload, changing bargaining hours, and using agency drivers and volunteer ‘community champions’ to support patients.”
Shenu found the pandemic difficult on a personal level, having developed a lengthy COVID, and now has to deal with the resulting fatigue, “but I accept it as a part of life,” she says.
45 years helping others
Recognizing the struggles of others during the pandemic, she chose her 45th year of pharmacy to give to others rather than to celebrate herself. “It seemed cruel to throw a party when people were in pain,” she said.
This year, she donated to the Race for Life event in Cheltenham – in multiples of 45 – donated 45 designer dresses to her local cancer charity shop and fed 45 people in need of food. She also completed 45 hours of continuing professional development and – in multiples of 45 – donated funds to help Afghan refugees.
Helping others is important to Shenu – “I have a social conscience,” she says – and that includes supporting her fellow pharmacists, “who are going through a tough time with drug store closings.”
Working in isolation is also a problem for the pharmacy, she believes. “We cannot work in silos. We need to work as equal partners with doctors and nurses, rather than competitively. “
The profession must also “constantly update our training, because things change quickly, and when customers want answers, we have to have that knowledge at hand,” she says.
His advice for the next generation of pharmacists is to “don’t be afraid” to recognize any new successful service. “If you have something to shout, share it with others. Share it with C + D. Talk about the pros and cons of your job so that others can learn from you.
“Pharmacists need to better promote themselves and show what they’re doing. We must take every possible opportunity to show how capable we are. “
She also urges pharmacists to make the most of “every opportunity that comes their way”. “If you’re lucky enough to become a prescriber or pharmacist with a special interest, then go for it, because you’ll be sorry if you don’t,” she advises.
After 45 years in pharmacy, Shenu has no regrets. She plans to continue living fully. “I want to keep my brain and body active for as long as possible. There will come a time when I will retire. But not yet, ”she says.
“Right now I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished over the past 45 years. I am happy with what I did.
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