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Where Are You Now?

Matthew Aitken

Matthew Aiken

MPharm Pharmacy 2018

Matthew Aiken had wanted to be a doctor for as long as he could remember, but when he didn’t quite achieve the A-level science grades he needed at Durham Sixth Form, he decided to look for alternative opportunities in healthcare.

Pharmacy seemed like the next natural step for him, given his desire to work within the healthcare profession. When he was offered a place at all four universities he’d applied for across the UK, he was in no doubt the University of Sunderland was the place to study, given its reputation for pharmacy.

“The MPharm course was perfect, mixing academic studies with placements,” Matthew says. “I never saw myself working in an office, I wanted every day to be different and this course has certainly provided that. The role of a pharmacist is changing dramatically and the clinical teaching on the course massively reflects this.”

While Matthew threw himself into his studies, he admits struggling with a difficult module in the third year. However, having to resit the module turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Matthew as he says it helped him grow as a person.

“That was probably life’s first big setback for me, but made me realise what I needed to do. I also spent the time to work in healthcare centre, dealing with patients from all walks of life, so it certainly gave me perspective. We were dealing with 30,000 pharmacy items a month, it was intense but gave me huge experience. I was also given the opportunity to deal with patient enquiries by myself, which was a great confidence boost. We dealt with such a wide variety of people from overcoming communication barriers with stroke patients to dealing with those who have severe mental health issues.

“I truly felt I’d found my calling in life at this point, failing that module helped me learn things about myself I wouldn’t have learned. It made me much more rounded.

“I also understood why the lecturers and the course was so intense and challenging, it prepares you for the world of work, you need to be ready for the challenges of modern healthcare.”

Despite not coming from a family of healthcare professionals, Matthew says his parents have supported him all the way. He credits trips with his mum to a nursing home where she was a carer, when he was younger, in helping him gain an understanding of people’s health needs and challenges.

“I think I have always been able to talk to people and think that’s really helped me in my career, especially during the placements at community pharmacies and in clinical hospital settings.

“Also the patient session at university were so helpful.” Matthew recalls one lady who attended a session who revealed that her mum had died, her son had killed himself and her sister had died of cancer and within six months her second son killed himself.

“Some of the students struggled with these tough case studies and did not know what to say, she was left utterly on her own, but when she told you that story – that’s when I just start talking,” explained Matthew. “I think that’s where my strengths come into play, I’m a good talker and can put people at ease. This job is more than just about prescribing medicines - you’re dealing with people’s lives, it’s crucial to be able to communicate with them.”

Matthew spent spent a year doing his pre-registration at Well pharmacy in Sunderland, just a stones throw from the University as well as helping do some teaching at the university once a week in the dispensing classes which he absolutely loved.

Matthew said: "Towards the end of my pre-reg I had decided that I wanted to move straight into a management position which at the time not all big companies offered to newly qualified pharmacists so I started on a job search. I was offered a number of managerial roles, one with the company I had done my pre-reg with.

"It was very tempting to stay with Well as they were an excellent company however on qualification I began my journey with Blue House Pharmacy which I’m still currently managing. I absolutely love it, we are one of the busiest pharmacies in the north east, dispensing on average 25,000 items a month. Management was hard at first, especially in such a busy store with a large team however I stand by my decision to go into management immediately as it is a job role I enjoy."

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