Brighton’s unique perspective

Abeer Aamir, third year Pharmacy MPharm student, tells us more about her experience so far of studying here.

You can read about how Abeer won the this year’s David Kearney Award from the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA) here.

What made you choose Brighton and your course?

I’ll start with the course part first. Pharmacy has always kind of been at the forefront of my career focus, and that is entirely because of my parents. They’ve had the biggest influence even before I was born.

My dad worked in the pharmaceutical sales industry specialising in dermatology. So literally my entire childhood was me helping him study his materials and things like that, or listening to his presentations that he would be giving to doctors and pharmacists. So that exposed me to the whole world of clinical medicine for the first time.

And then on the other side my mother worked in a hospital – as a medical lab technologist, I believe. But she studied as a microbiologist, so she also helped cultivate that interest and that love for science. I remember on one of my birthdays, she got out an old microscope and she had all her old pathology slides to show me and stuff like that.

So, they’ve always fostered that love for healthcare and the sciences and trying to find the clinical aspect of everything. And then when I was in high school, I decided to just dip my toe into pharmacy, to see if I liked it or not. I volunteered at a pharmacy near me, at a major chain back in Canada [Abeer is from Toronto]. And they loved me enough that they hired me! So, I ended up working there for three years.

So, it’s safe to say that I absolutely adored the profession as well. So that just deepened my love for pharmacy.

And the one thing that I noticed when I was there was that I always wanted to make patients the forefront of what I was doing and how I was learning. So, Brighton ended up being my choice to study because it offers such a unique perspective in the way that the course is delivered.

It’s not like the traditional modules where you’re learning one thing at a time. They do case-based study where the patient is the forefront of each of the diseases, linking stuff in that way. I just thought it was so unique and that’s honestly why I chose Brighton.

You’ve talked a bit about this already, but did your personal values or ethics have anything to do with your choice for coming here and doing pharmacy?

Again, I go back to that whole case-based approach and having the patient at the centre. When I first started working at that pharmacy back in Toronto at 16, I had a pharmacist who said a very poignant thing to me. It’s something I think about every day whenever I go in to work, even now. She told me that sometimes it’s easy to forget why we’re here, especially with pharmacists. We have such a heavy workload. Things are just coming from all different directions. But she told me to treat every patient as if they were your family, as if they were your mother, as if they were your father. And I don’t know why that resonated so much with me, but it kind of took down that barrier of: I am a healthcare professional, that is a patient. And it just made me remember, this is another human being; this is a human-to-human interaction. I really need to think about what I’m doing and what I’m saying and keep the patient at the forefront of all my actions.

Can you give an example of a person or a lesson that has happened here that has made you think this was the right choice for me?

At the moment I work in the pharmacy over at the Royal Sussex County Hospital. When I was first starting out in my job there, it was in my second year. They would have me come in and look at patient notes and create care plans, which are basically just like treatment plans based on the patient’s notes. Obviously, these care plans weren’t going to be used but it was more for my knowledge and to consolidate everything, and my manager quizzed me about them. I remember the first day walking in, absolutely petrified because, you know, I’m in my second year and I thought that I didn’t know anything or I didn’t know enough. And I was so scared of embarrassing myself in front of the manager. But that first day, sitting down there and him asking me all these questions, that’s like when I realized: I know so much more than I thought I did. And I fully give all credit to the amazing lecturers that I’ve had.

And again, this whole case-based study model, I’m not sure if other universities do it, but it’s just been so incredible for me because the way that I learn is by connecting those dots. It’s so much easier to understand the disease as a whole and then also learn all the other aspects of it rather than learning just microbiology, just cell biology or whatever.

So, I think that that was a moment where I was like, Oh, wow, this course really helps and I made a good choice here.

You’ve talked a lot about the structure of the course but in terms of the content what aspects do you find most interesting?

Hands down the labs and the workshops. Again, I just love putting the knowledge into practice. For me, the easiest way to learn is by actually doing it, you know? And it’s also just really satisfying to see a really good end product.

Especially with the labs, in those we’re making a lot of medicinal formulations. So, in my second year we did creams and suppositories. Just now in my third year, we had a formulations lab where all of us were given different formulations to make. For example, my group got a paracetamol suspension and we had to make it from scratch, you know? We had three lab days, and we were told: make as many prototypes as you want, and just figure out how you would approach this as a scientist and how you would make this formulation. That was such an incredible moment for me.

What’s your favourite module and why?

Again, obviously it doesn’t really go in a module structure because of the cases and everything. But I will say in terms of the cases that I really enjoy anything with the heart – we had our heart failure case, heart disease, hypertension, things like that – primarily because of the lecturer who runs it, Mark Yeoman. His teaching style is incredible and the way that he connects things together is just amazing.

I also really enjoyed the substance misuse case. There’s a lot of neuro knowledge that’s very hard to grasp. But it was delivered incredibly by Dr Yousif Shamsaldeen – again, he’s an amazing lecturer and the University is so lucky to have him. And then with that case, there were also a lot of components of public health and thinking about how we can actually help these patients in practice. I love thinking about public health and things like that. Being from Canada and seeing the opioid crisis first-hand – and I did some volunteer work back in Canada in regards to it as well – consolidating that knowledge together with this case, that was fun.

Could you tell me a bit more about any of the staff who have made a particular impression on you?

Claire May has just been absolutely incredible. She’s been such a big support with all my work on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI); I’ve been so, so fortunate to know her and work with her, and it was honestly by chance that we ended up meeting. She’s not only helped me with my own work that I’ve been doing as an Inclusive Practice Partner, but she’s really helped me and brought me along with a lot of the initiatives that she was doing because this is obviously a big passion of hers as well.

So most recently there was IPE, which is the InterProfessional Education. It was a bit of a surreal moment, you know, being in those meetings, seeing behind the curtain of how lecturers go about creating these programmes, and then also sitting there working with all these different lecturers from completely different disciplines, being the only student there and yet being able to still give my voice and be heard. I just can’t thank Claire enough. It really helped me solidify my interest in EDI and solidify that this is something that I need to do or I should be doing.

I just want to really hone in on the point that the University really is made better by its teaching staff. They’ve been so incredible in my journey, all of them deliver the lecture materials in such fun and exciting ways. And especially because pharmacy is so heavy, it’s a very difficult degree to go through. So having those staff members and having that support is incredible. I want to give a couple of names, if that’s OK: Ravina Barrett, Dr Yousif Shamsaladeen, Bhavik Patel, and with the formulations I was talking about earlier that’s all Ananth Pannala.

What placements did you enjoy the most?

In my first year we didn’t have any placements – they ended up getting cancelled because of COVID. My second year was a podiatry clinic, the Leaf Hospital, but that’s closing down. But my third year one, that was really incredible. I was at Croydon Hospital, and spent a week there working with the staff closely. It was really interesting. They rotated us into different portions of the hospital and different portions of the pharmacy. So it was really cool to see all of that. Obviously I work in a hospital pharmacy right now, but I guess being up on the wards and actually seeing behind the curtains, it really solidified my interest in hospital pharmacy, which is what I’m hoping to pursue after this.

And how have you changed while being at university and in particular the University of Brighton?

I guess like I would say that I’m a lot more independent, you know, moving across the world without a support system or anything like that. It can be a little bit of a daunting thing to do, especially if you’ve never been to the country before. But I would say that it helped me grow to be a lot more independent and also become a lot more involved and passionate.

For example, all this EDI work I’ve been doing, I don’t think that’s something I would have done back in Canada, not for any other reason than I don’t think I was motivated enough to do it. But being here, that kind of pushed open the doors – like, if I can do something as scary as move halfway across the world, then truly there’s nothing scarier than that. Like walking into a meeting with a bunch of different lecturers, that’s OK, you know what I mean? I feel like that’s the biggest change in me since starting university.

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