Primacy of the preceptor

The intern year is a pivotal time in a pharmacist’s career and choosing a preceptor is an important component that requires some thought. Factors that commonly influence the choice of preceptor include convenience to where the intern lives and /or whether there has been a prior relationship with the pharmacy. As Pharmacy Council members, we often see early career pharmacists who have not had an inspiring and/or educational experience during their intern year with unfortunate consequences. A preceptor can shape your career so you need to choose wisely. Preceptors who do not have a high personal professional standard themselves may pass on very little knowledge, or (even worse) poor processes, which creates enormous difficulties. A wise choice of preceptor may result in significantly less trauma in your professional life.

Your preceptor can, and should, shape your professional career. It is important for preceptors to be present and curious regarding a prospective intern’s career and aspirations, and for this to be evident prior to the intern’s start date. A strong focus on governance and oversight of the pharmacy is an excellent foundation for a pharmacy business. A preceptor who can pass on best practice in this regard plays a vital role in modelling what is required to be an effective pharmacist in charge or pharmacy proprietor.

The Pharmacy Board of Australia Guidelines (Pharmacy Board of Australia - Internships) state:

The approved preceptor is responsible for the overall supervision and development of the intern. On a day-to-day basis, the approved preceptor may personally supervise the intern at the approved site, or may delegate the supervision to another suitably-qualified pharmacist at the site.

The preceptor should be present at the approved training site on a regular basis. Pharmacists who do not regularly practise at the site are advised not to apply for approval as a preceptor. This role is best undertaken by pharmacists who can meet the preceptor requirements outlined in the Board’s 'Registration standard: Supervised practice arrangements' and deliver the onsite training program in accordance with this guide.

Interns are reminded that whilst preceptors are required to be very present, engagement with the intern year and pharmacy team is highly important and crucial to ensuring the ongoing intern/preceptor relationship is productive and robust.

A good preceptor will want to shape the future leaders of the industry. Some preceptors may strive to provide a “whole pharmacy experience” as their employee moves from student to intern pharmacist. Some students may have an opportunity to learn managerial skills prior to graduation. This can introduce themes such as the importance of excellent standard operating procedures, clear communication, comprehensive documentation and teamwork. This exposure is invaluable when teamed with university learnings. Applying the plethora of rules and regulations that pharmacists are required to work under is a key learning requirement as an intern, fully registered pharmacists, and a life-long learner. If pharmacy students have the opportunity to work in these kinds of environments, they are encouraged to participate.

Regular meetings and “check ins” are an important part of the relationship between preceptor and intern. This can ensure the intern is comfortable with the progression of their hands-on education and any matters of concern can be raised and addressed promptly. Likewise, the preceptor can provide expert knowledge and guidance and timely feedback on performance. This information sharing is mutually beneficial and highlights the importance of learning for both preceptors and interns. It is valuable for both preceptors and interns to have a plan for once the intern is fully registered. Often preceptors ask the question, “Why train an intern if they’re going to leave?”. An alternative philosophy is, “If we don’t train them, what do we do if they stay?”.

The COVID world has accelerated pharmacists’ increasing involvement in the health sector. The profession’s success in rising to the challenge is a direct result of the resilience, adaptability, and availability of all pharmacists irrespective of their years of practice. This highlights an exciting time within the industry for both preceptors and interns.