The journey from community to hospital pharmacy

‘I realised there were so many other pharmacists who felt the same way’: Janelle Dockray made a career change while juggling new parenthood—now she helps others do the same

Remote outreach pharmacist Janelle Dockray holds another role in her spare time: mentoring dozens of other pharmacists who need guidance in their careers, especially those trying to break into hospital pharmacy.

Under the moniker ‘The Pharmacy Mentor’, Janelle has provided one-on-one mentorship to up to 60 pharmacists so far, with an email list of about 600 people that she’s communicated with over time as well.

Here we find out more about Janelle, why she does what she does, and discover how pharmacists can find a mentor or be good mentors themselves.

Where are you located?

I live in Thursday Island, up in the Torres Strait Islands. It’s really remote. It’s beautiful, you feel like you’re up here and really just fortunate, just grateful to have an opportunity to be in a remote place like this and to be surrounded by such beauty – because the islands are really untouched. And to work with Torres Strait Islander people is amazing.

It’s quiet – we call it island time, everything goes pretty slow, it’s very different to how I think a lot of pharmacists are working at the moment. We’ve been here for almost three years.

What brought you up there specifically, was it the job opportunity?

I think growing up in a smaller town in Queensland I’ve always wanted to work remote and a few years ago I moved from community pharmacy to hospital pharmacy, and I was just working part time when an opportunity came up here for a job in the hospital.

And I wasn’t sure that I would apply but then I met the current director of pharmacy up here and had a chat with him and just really felt like it was a great opportunity, so I applied and got the job and I moved here with my husband and two kids!

The position itself is an outreach position, I look after 15 remote islands and there’s also another hospital that’s on the northern peninsula area so kind of like at the tip of Australia, off Queensland. So I get to go out to all these communities, go out on ferries and helicopters and planes and stuff, it’s pretty amazing.

Image: Supplied.

How did you become ‘The Pharmacy Mentor’?

Great question. I think this was about 18 months ago now. I started in community pharmacy and I loved that, and I went into doing HMRs and then I across into hospital pharmacy. During this time I had a family and I’d taken maternity leave and chances are a lot of pharmacists, especially those having families and taking maternity leave, can feel a little bit stuck then in their career and not really sure where they’re wanting to go next. It really gives them that time to reflect and then they’re looking for something that is maybe more flexible around family life and things like that too.

So I definitely was in that space for myself and looking for something new.

When I went into hospital, I really doubted my ability to succeed in hospital, I really had that lack of confidence and didn’t really have that support to really enter and succeed. As I grew in this space, I started to realise there were so many other pharmacists that felt the same way, that knew they could do more, that they had the potential to do more, but didn’t know how to do it, didn’t have that support.

That was really the start of The Pharmacy Mentor.

It started with a Facebook group, I invited people I knew and then sort of put the invitation out further. I started with a ‘5 steps to hospital pharmacy’ [guide] and focused it around the community-to-hospital transition. This has since grown into one-on-one type mentoring and then I released an e-book and other resources like that. I am also doing a group mentoring program at the moment.

It has evolved over time but that was really the start of The Pharmacy Mentor was realising there were more people out there that wanted to do more but didn’t have the support and the know-how to do it.

How many people have you mentored so far?  

Oh my goodness, I couldn’t even tell you. I have about 600 people that are on an email list with me that I’ve emailed and communicated with over the time. But one-on-one it’s probably 50 or 60 people, possibly more.

I think mentoring means different things to different people. Often when we think about mentoring, people really want to box it in and make it this formal process where you have to have specific boxes that you’re ticking. I actually don’t see mentoring like that, I see it more as a relationship that goes over time.

Often times I’ll have someone contact me either through an email or a message and then we start chatting, they’ve got a few questions, I’ll help to answer those, then it’s just like that checking in with those people as time goes on. Perhaps they go for a job and maybe they’re not successful, maybe they are, and it’s just reflecting and communicating back on how they feel in that moment.

If they’re feeling disappointed or feeling excited, it’s just sharing those moments and helping direct people and show them what is possible for them, different ways to maybe look at things, perhaps if something’s happened that they’re not so happy about, different perspectives on that.

Where do you find the energy to do all of this on top of your job?

I want to make this happen because I feel like if we’re really going to build up the industry, we need pharmacists that are passionate and motivated and supported.

A lot of other organisations focus a lot in on pharmacy business, whereas I strongly believe that we need to be focusing in on the pharmacist and bringing out the best in that person, whatever that might be –whether they feel completely at home and satisfied with their community pharmacy job, dispensing for example and being in a dispensary environment, that’s a really cool element to pharmacy that you can’t escape, it’s very important.

But chances are a lot of people feel that’s not where they see themselves in the next 5 or 10 years. So instead of seeing those people take their value and what they know to another industry, if we can foster and encourage them where they are now and show them what other pathways are available to them, then we get to hold onto those people, and get to really build up a strong industry of pharmacists that really know their value and can offer so much more.

Why did you decide to leave community pharmacy (for now anyway)?

Well… it was a different opportunity and I wanted to see whether it was something I enjoyed. I wanted to overcome my fear of stepping out of the “community” comfort zone. But I suppose I didn’t think of it as “leaving community pharmacy”. I’ll always be a community pharmacist at heart.

In essence I left for the job opportunity, the outreach role, not so much to become a hospital pharmacist. But it has certainly be an amazing opportunity to upskill and broaden my knowledge and skills. Hospital does have some great opportunities for career development though!

Janelle mentors dozens of pharmacists, providing career guidance and support. Image: Supplied

What do you think are the most important traits of a good mentor?

An important trait of a mentor is you have to remember enough of what it was like before you got to where you were, so you can still relate to that person. That’s really important, you can’t be too far removed from where that person is.

The second thing is you need to be able to listen, listen carefully, and not necessarily feel like you’ve got to have all of the answers but just to listen and provide support and suggestions more than anything, so that that person can then make their own choices.

And I think you just really need to care and have a real heart for pharmacy if you want to become a mentor, it’s not something I would suggest people do perhaps out of hoping to make an income or to have something on their resume that looks good.

I think they have to do it because they want to do it and they want to actually see that other person succeed and build up the career of early career pharmacists and other pharmacists.

And what about from the mentee perspective, what are your top tips for people looking for a mentor and how to make that a successful relationship?

I think you need to identify what stage you’re at, at the moment, and what you’re actually looking to get out of that relationship.

If you’re just wanting someone to tell you what to do, I don’t think that’s the right approach. You need to be thinking, “okay what am I looking to get out of this? Is it just to get better ideas about what’s available to me and to find out what the possibilities are?” That’s one thing you need to think of, because who you go to depends on what you’re trying to get out of that mentoring relationship.

If you’re a community pharmacist wanting to go into a hospital environment, well, you’re probably not going to want to be mentored by a community pharmacy owner, for example.

While that might be great for other elements in terms of business and things like that, if that’s not the pathway you’re looking for, then you need to find someone who’s doing what you want to do or has done what you want to do, and then move on from there.

So I think people just need to get out there and get their voice out there and approach people. You’d be surprised how many people would actually say yes if asked, but there’s just those doubts that hang around where we feel a bit unsure about who to ask. If you come across somebody and you think, I’m just going to send them an email – ‘Hey do you think we could have a mentorship relationship here’ or ‘Is it okay if I contact you from time to time and ask you questions?’ I would say a large majority of pharmacists would say yes to that.

You’ve just got to ask. What’s the worst that can happen? They can just say no and that’s fine. And you don’t even have to call it that, you don’t even have to call it anything formal. You can just approach someone and say, ‘hey I have a lot of questions about what it is that you do and I wondered if you can help me with that?’

It’s certainly what I have done for years, approached people and messaged people out of the blue and said, ‘Hi I’m really interested in what you do’. I’ve never had anyone say to me, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t talk to you about that’. They will, they will.

Who have been the mentors that shaped you? Did you have good mentors on your journey?

Definitely, but I don’t think that they ever knew that they were my formal mentors I suppose.

There’s people that I messaged out of the blue, well-known people like Debbie Rigby for example, that offered me plenty of guidance and direction and pointed me in the right place for whatever it was I was looking for.

I remember calling pharmacists out of the blue that worked in different roles that I was interested in and asked them questions about it, I was very curious and I think having some curiosity is really awesome when you’re not sure what direction you want to go into.

And then there’s just been other pharmacists that I’ve worked with that have taken me under their wing a little bit when I first started in hospital, I was quite unsure and there was a particular pharmacist that really just took me under his wing and helped me. Even though they probably don’t know they were mentors to me, they were.

You can reach out to Janelle via Instagram, Facebook and her website.

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