Local Education –Forums to the future

As a management consultant my objective was always to delegate an owner-manager out of their business.
The process usually took two years and during that period every single staff person was retrained to a different way of thinking about their workplace through on-the-job mentoring and the process of delegation.
Thus, the business owners could actually take a vacation knowing that their business would run just as efficiently when they were not physically present.
In the process of delegation, staff were empowered to make decisions – and they did so effectively.

The interesting aspect of what happened to business owners nearing the end of the first two years of consultancy is worth noting in today’s circumstances.
Firstly, they were confident in their own management abilities and did not fear competition, because they could “think” their way out of a problem (they were “thought leaders”).
Secondly, for the first time in their business life they had become cash flow positive and needed financial investment guidance.
And thirdly, because of their surplus capacity of “time” they wanted the consultancy to develop education of a type to be able to plan more accurately for the future.
And what type of education did they request?
They wanted to know how they could develop clinical services for a fee within their community pharmacy environment.

So my consultancy practice combined all of its talent to deliver a mid-week forum during normal business hours (because delegation within their businesses allowed them to) where exposure to ideas outside of pharmacy became the theme, to create analogous ideas for development within community pharmacy practice.
When we delivered the first forum to 60 of our clients in Sydney, we could not believe the immediate collaboration that happened.
All of our clients had sworn us to strict privacy conditions at the commencement of our consultancy contract, to the extent that none of them even knew the identity of the attendees to that forum.
A large component of those pharmacists did know each other- but the last time they had spoken to each other was at their university lectures.

They immediately began talking about their key performance indicators including turnovers and profit, confidential marketing information that had been developed by the consultancy practice etc – and it seemed to go on forever.
I had never seen or experienced such animated discussion among pharmacists before.
It was also a new type of collaboration that they also had not experienced before.
It happened spontaneously, so even before the first speaker had delivered a paper, there was a motivational “buzz” in the room.

I have never forgotten that incident and subsequent versions as the forums continued.
Out of these forums was born the first pilot study in Australian pharmacy, through consultant training of well-motivated and confident pharmacists who delivered a fee-payable consultation service, totally unsupported by government and health funds.
But the pilot study proved after a twelve-month implementation period, that the public supported the offering and willingly paid for the service.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) bitterly opposed our work and complained to the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA).
To their credit PSA undertook to defend our service, and an uneasy peace resulted.
It also proved that pharmacists could be gainfully employed full-time in such an activity enabling more pharmacists to be employed within a community pharmacy.

All the above happened circa 1976 and age, health and other issues have since required that I practice with a much smaller client base, with my main outreach activity being editor for i2P.

Through the pages of i2P I have long supported the concept of local education, clinical services for a fee and a “bottom-up” approach in the development of suitable pharmacist practice development and management education, rather than a “top down” approach.
It is also a process that describes pharmacist collaboration – something we have to achieve before we are able to collaborate with other health professionals.
Read also Collaboration- What does it mean for health professions?

So it was with some interest that I read in the current edition of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society journal, an article relating that supports my thinking on education – both past and present.
Go to “Leading local practice forums into the future”

The Journal comments:
“In 2010, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) made the move from local branches to local practice forums (LPFs) following the demerger of its professional leadership and regulatory functions. 
The thinking behind the evolution was to ensure that education and training was available locally through member-driven, face-to-face meetings and virtual networking communities.
It was hoped that the switch to the new LPF model would enable pharmacists to advance in their practice within the comfort of their local area, offering more to existing members while also attracting new ones.
The model was to have six core functions: support for continuing professional development (CPD); local leadership; practice research; sharing best practice; networking; and mentoring.”

The similarities to my consultancy practice model circa 1976 are very close.

“At the time LPFs were introduced, the RPS decided that a top down approach was not appropriate, so LPFs rely instead on voluntary input from local members through LPF steering groups.”

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society definitely got that right, but external mentoring is still required to guide local groups.
Selection of strong leaders for each group is a determinant of success and longevity of the forum group.

‘Mike Holden, lead of Wessex LPF, is an advocate for this structure:
“The key thing for me is inverting the pyramid; the RPS’s purpose is to support its members in a variety of ways: resources, lobbying and influencing.

But it sits at the bottom of the [inverted] pyramid. [It’s about] getting individual pharmacists to lead their own career and be empowered to do so.”’

The RPS is the equivalent of the PSA here in Australia, so the above comment would provide a direction for decision-makers within the PSA who are beginning to provide education models of excellence for future pharmacy leaders.
These young leaders should definitely be inserted into local groups as early as possible, so that they can assume a leadership role immediately.
‘Jersey LPF won LPF of the year 2015, as part of the RPS awards programme, for making the most progress.
“We came from being an abandoned LPF,” says Arthur, whose approach has been to “pull in the youngsters”.
“It’s very important to engage with them,” she says.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm and energy from the pharmacists on the island that hasn’t been there for years.”’

Education provided by PSA has generally been too far away from “local areas”, and has been too expensive in relation to the value of the content and its direct application back into pharmacy practice.
Hopefully the PSA will become more “local” and also come to regard specialist providers of “content” as alliance partners rather than as competitors, as occurs at the moment.

‘“We have toyed with the idea of putting events on at weekends,” explains Seal. “But I think people’s spare time is limited and we’re always in competition for that free time.”
Greensmith agrees that persuading hard working pharmacists to give up their free time is difficult. “People are working longer hours [and] there are all these other pressures and priorities that are conflicting with what the LPFs are doing.”

She acknowledges that attendance figures at LPF evening events have been disappointing.
“But that’s reflected in a lot of education evenings; the numbers have been decreasing, unless it’s directly service related.”’

I would comment that local forums would have to be established on weekends until sufficient business owners had reached the stage of delegating themselves out of their business.
In fact, this should be the primary focus for the local forums before launching other projects.

The emphasis on the last line in the RPS journal comment above was mine to draw attention to the British experience that content at forums needs to be both targeted and relevant so as to be immediately incorporated into a business.
That is what draws pharmacists to a forum.

Any criticism of our own PSA in this article is meant to be constructive criticism, because I know some of the specialist content providers could save PSA time and money from having to “reinventing the wheel” when the information is already out there.
PSA needs a “leg-up” with as much support as it can muster, because it does now have the opportunity to become the major lead organisation for a profession that requires infrastructure for support and development of professional activity that is capable of creating new revenue streams.
PSA needs to open up its channels of informal communication with any groups or organisations, (including external service practices), and be able to create dialogue on a continuing basis.
This is essential for a creative culture to emerge and to have leadership immersed within this evolving and continual upgrading of culture.
That process would certainly generate respect, support and an increasing membership.

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