Developing Safe Practice

Developing safe practice: investigating how community pharmacists learn and develop as safe practitioners

  • Principal investigator: Dr Sarah Willis
  • Co-investigators: Dr Jane Ferguson & Professor Karen Hassell
  • School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, the University of Manchester

What we want to find out

The study aims to identify the factors that influence how community pharmacists develop as safe practitioners. Objectives include the identification of local and workplace factors influencing safe practitioner development and an understanding of the relative importance of different factors in this development.


Community pharmacists are increasingly involved in providing healthcare services that were once only available from general practitioners. While this gives patients improved access to services, and allows pharmacists to become more directly involved in patient care, it adds to community pharmacists’ workload at a time when they are experiencing increasing demands to dispense rising numbers of prescriptions. As a result, many community pharmacists feel stressed, and are concerned that this stress may cause them to make mistakes, for example by dispensing the wrong drug or the wrong dose of drug. Research suggests that workplace factors including the number of other staff in the dispensary, the organisation that a pharmacist is working for and the type of dispensary system used may also contribute to mistakes being made in community pharmacy. A further risk factor identified is length of time in practice, with recently qualified practitioners less likely to know how to recognise and manage risk safely.

The question of how community pharmacists who have recently qualified learn to manage the pressures they experience at work so that they develop into independent, professional and safe practitioners, and the influence of workplace factors on this development, is therefore one that needs investigating. In the study we are undertaking we are exploring how community pharmacists develop during their foundation years (that is, during their early years in practice), so that patient safety is assured and the foundations of professionalism reinforced.


Through interviews with community pharmacists, this study is exploring participants’ experiences of learning the safe practitioner role and the factors they perceive to have influenced the development of this role. Those taking part are also being asked to think of specific examples where their working conditions, or the people they were working with, were important in the development of this role. In order to identify the relative importance of these factors in developing the safe practitioner role a second stage of the study involves a Q-sort technique, where factors identified through the interviews are ranked according to their significance.

How will we let people know about our findings?

A report on the study will be published on the Pharmacy Research UK website. This report will make recommendations for teaching, learning and for community pharmacist employers to promote the development of safe practitioners. We also plan to present our findings at conferences and in academic journals and we will share our findings as widely as possible with the pharmacy profession, for example by publishing an article in the Pharmaceutical Journal.