This article appears originally in the Summer 2018 issue of PPI Pulse, the patient and public involvement newsletter from NIHR CLAHRC Oxford and the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.
Ali Albasri is a pharmacist by background, and is currently working towards a DPhil in the department.
He originally trained for four years as a pharmacist at Aston University in Birmingham, followed by a year training in the ‘real world’ at a community pharmacy in Didcot, before finally qualifying.
He still practices as a pharmacist whilst working on his DPhil.
Ali has prior experience in research from completing a master’s degree, in which he undertook a laboratory-based research project looking at how different combinations of drugs might best stop disease progression in COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
His current DPhil is trying to answer the question ‘what is the role of community pharmacists in the management of high blood pressure (hypertension)?’. The project explores what pharmacists are currently doing to help those with high blood pressure, and what they could do in the future to better help them.
How did you find balancing working as a community pharmacist with doing a DPhil?
It’s tricky, but it’s been enjoyable.I find it’s quite nice to have something other than the DPhil to focus on from time to time. I think it gives me some motivation when you know that every Friday you’re going to be working clinically – from Monday to Thursday you make sure you do everything you need to do to fulfil what your goal is for that week.
I was doing a day a week until Christmas. Since then I’ve stopped that and the pharmacy work’s been a bit more ad hoc as I want to focus on the DPhil writing. But up until then I was working a day a week in an independent pharmacy just south of Oxford.
Your DPhil puts you at the two ends of a spectrum with your Master's being very laboratory focussed and your DPhil being very patient focussed, how did that change come about?
For me that changed when I started working in a more patient-facing role as a pharmacist. I started to envisage areas that in my personal practice, and in pharmacies in general, could be developed or have more direct patient impact.
I thought that kind of change would be more suitable for the way my career was heading at that early stage. Well, it’s still early now…
Thinking about PPI, when did you first some across it?
Well, I hadn’t heard of it until I started my DPhil programme here. When you start you get a nice induction with all the members of the team, including Lynne Maddocks (PPI Co-ordinator). I think that was the first I’d heard of it. I immediately started to think about how it could be applied to my own work.
I was lucky enough to hold a couple of patient focus groups to develop a consultation template for pharmacists to use with patients, which is one of the main outputs of my DPhil. This was a group of patients with high blood pressure who came to the department for a two-hour focus group. We held a couple of those. And just got their input on what their priorities were, and it was very interesting. I’d done some work before looking at the views pharmacists and other stakeholders so it was quite good to complete that triangle.
Did you find much overlap between the three groups? Or anything that perhaps you hadn’t thought of before?
There was overlap, for sure. And there were areas that I hadn’t considered – areas that you take for granted because you come across these medicines or conditions every day as a pharmacist or GP, and you understand them quite well.
Specifically related to hypertension, this included questions like: “why do I have this condition? Nobody's told me how I got it? It just appeared one day. I don’t feel any different, what’s going on?”
Generally, people tend to just go along with treatments and recommendations, and get on with their lives, and that’s absolutely fine. But meeting them halfway was quite interesting.
How has what you’ve done with PPI shaped your project?
It’s really rounded off the series of work we’d done already quite nicely. This was really the final piece of our jigsaw, to include the patient, the end users, in what we were doing. One thing we definitely took away from the focus groups was that going back to basics was important for patients, that they were clear on what the fundamentals of high blood pressure were. Things like, what are the medications they’re taking for and what do they do, and explaining that sometimes, with high blood pressure, there often isn’t a single cause that means you get it. That’s very interesting and important to understand when you’re trying to develop something for patients but delivered by healthcare professionals.
To say, “this is something you need to include in what you say to your patients, don’t just dive into what your priorities are as a healthcare professional.”
Normally, I’d ask how do you find interacting with patients and the public, but I presume, as a working pharmacist, you’ve had plenty of experience?
Yes, but it was still quite interesting. One of the focus groups knew that I was a pharmacist, and I don’t think the other group did. It was unintended, but one group just happened to know. In the first group people were asking me, whether in the group or after the session, about their medication, saying things such as “while I’m here…”. While the other group were more forthcoming with their honest opinions of pharmacists.
Overall, it was a pleasant experience, and I think everyone enjoyed it. It was a group of sort of ‘seasoned’ PPI people. Only a couple hadn’t really done anything like it before. So, they knew the general process. I think that in the future if I ever work in a group that hadn’t engaged in PPI before I would probably have a slightly different experience. Regardless of whether they’d done it or not, I offered to share with them the transcript of the focus group and results – I genuinely felt including them in the output, letting them see what their work and time has contributed to, really helps.
Is there anything I’ve not asked that perhaps you’d like to mention?
Just that I do really feel that PPI has contributed to and improved my project. I feel like there’s a way to go still to help develop these kinds of services, and larger scale PPI initiatives would be useful. I think something like that is definitely on the horizon.
Assuming you have any spare time, what sorts of things do you tend to get up to?
I try to engage in professional networks and go on courses and things like that to try to improve my clinical knowledge. Sport wise, in the summer, I usually play cricket as well. Though that can be quite time consuming, so I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep that up for! I’m also captain of my college’s football team. We got promoted this season to the second division in college football. We’re generally a loss-making team, so that was a big one for us!
Ali is funded through an Oxford Primary Care Research Trust Graduate Scholarship – linked to Green Templeton College, as well as through the NIHR CLAHRC and the University of Oxford.
What to read next
NIHR CLAHRC Oxford Communications Officer Gavin Hubbard interviews DPhil student Georgia Richards about her recent move from Australia and what prompted a change of heart towards a research career rather than studying medicine.