How I became a Pharmacy Technician Researcher

Joanne Woodward is a Clinical Research Coordinator at the 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, and NIHR/HEE MClinRes student at The University of Manchester. In this blog post, she tells us how she became a Pharmacy Technician Researcher.

When I tell people I am a Pharmacy Technician working in research, their usual response is ‘so you dispense drugs for clinical trials then?’ well… yes… that is part of my role, but to echo the words of the great Ben Goldacre – I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that!

Early experience working on clinical trials

I qualified as a Pharmacy Technician in 2002, and worked initially in general hospitals before moving to Mental Health in 2008 where I became Senior Pharmacy Technician at 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Shortly after my arrival, the Trust started participating in commercially sponsored clinical drug trials. I was tasked with working on clinical trials alongside a pharmacist colleague; organising storage areas for the medication, reading guidelines, writing SOPs, training staff and liaising with the study sponsors and R&D team.   It soon became part of my daily role, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the drug development process and various regulations and guidelines around clinical research. I became fascinated with the whole research process, and as someone whose entire profession was based around research and evidence based medicine, I often wondered why more pharmacists and technicians were not involved in other aspects of the research process than IMP management.

As one of a few people in the Trust with experience of research document management, I was asked to help out in our R&D team on a part-time secondment to help clear a backlog of work by auditing some old study files. I continued working on the pharmacy aspects of clinical trials; but also began to learn more about the processes for applying to do research in the NHS, the governance checks that are undertaken and the different types of research that the NHS supports. As a mental health Trust, we have clinical psychology students who are required to undertake a piece of research as part of their DClinPsych qualification, and the more projects that I looked at coming through the department, the more I thought ‘I’d really like to do something like that’. I enjoyed working in research so much that when a position came up two years ago, I applied for it and moved to R&D permanently.

My current role

My official title is now Clinical Research Coordinator, which means that I coordinate the setup and delivery of all kinds of research projects; from clinical trials of new medicines to academic research into both mental health and community-based physical health services. I also work on many of the studies as a researcher, and have been trained in venepuncture, sample processing, ECG taking, vital signs and numerous quality of life and psychometric rating scales such as the ADAS-Cog, MMSE, Dependence Scale and Activities of Daily Living. Of course, I still maintain links with the Medicines Management Team and work closely with them to train new pharmacists and technicians, receive and dispense IMP, counsel patients and audit the pharmacy files to ensure compliance with GCP.

Further studies

Earlier this year, I applied for the NIHR/HEE funded studentship to complete a Masters in Clinical Research at the University of Manchester. The award includes a fully-funded MClinRes (which can be completed on a full-time or part-time basis) and funding for backfill to the employing Trust for the duration of the course. The application process is extremely competitive, with ten places on offer and thousands of applicants, but after being invited to interview and giving a presentation of my proposed research, I was absolutely thrilled to become the first Pharmacy Technician to be awarded a place on the course. I started in September and am thoroughly enjoying the course, which gives me the opportunity to plan and undertake my own research, whilst learning with and from many other healthcare professionals from different backgrounds and specialities.

My area of interest is Pharmacy Technician development, particularly within the mental health setting. I am currently working on my dissertation proposal, which is a qualitative research study using the grounded theory approach. I plan to explore the views of key stakeholders on extending the role of Pharmacy Technicians to include medicines administration. I am being supervised by a former colleague, Dr Richard Keers – who I believe did rather well at the CMHP conference this year! I can only hope to emulate his success at future conferences.

I will be studying part-time for two years, and whilst it is difficult to balance both work and study, the studentship is a fantastic opportunity.

Career pathway

The studentship forms part of the NIHR’s Clinical Academic Training programme (CAT) which is devised to encourage and skill more healthcare professionals to undertake research whilst working in clinical practice. This ensures our research is relevant to patients, and makes it faster and easier to translate new research evidence into clinical practice.

The career pathway starts at internship level, but also includes Masters, Doctoral and Post-Doctoral training. The CAT scheme is open to pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, along with other non-medical healthcare professionals. If any pharmacist or technician out there is considering applying for the course or any other part of the CAT scheme, or is interested in pursuing a career in research, I can highly recommend it!

If you like to find out more or have any questions, I am happy to be contacted by email: [email protected]"


by Joanne Woodward, BSc(Hons), FdSc, RegPharmTech. Clinical Research Coordinator, 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and NIHR/HEE MClinRes student, The University of Manchester.