Nadia Bukhari is the youngest-ever female fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS). Angela Sharda talks to her about the secret of her success, what makes her tick and the importance of family values and a strong support network.
Q What inspired you to become a pharmacist?
A I’ve wanted to be a pharmacist since I was 16. I got a Saturday job at the local pharmacy and my sister married a pharmacist – he encouraged me. I really enjoyed the community feel. Patients don’t need an appointment to see a pharmacist.
Q What’s the key to your success?
A Being very driven and focused and not letting anything stop me. And having a very supportive husband. It is difficult for women when you have other caring responsibilities; I have two children, and an elderly mother-in-law who lives with me. If I didn’t have my husband’s support while juggling all my personal commitments, having a successful job would have been hard.
Q What drives you to achieve these things?
A I have always wanted to be an ambassador for the profession. We are quite quiet. I want to change that. Whenever there are problems in the medical profession, doctors are very vocal. There is a lot of solidarity between them. Pharmacists feel like second-class citizens because it is all about the doctors. No – we are the experts in medicines and I am passionate about getting that heard.
Q How is that progressing? Do you feel things are changing?
A I think I am creating an impact. You are doing all these things behind the scenes and you don’t know how widely it has reached. But when you meet people or get feedback on social media, you think, yes, I am making a difference.
Q How did you feel when you were awarded a fellowship of the RPS?
A Very honoured; it showed that the profession had recognised all my hard work. It gave me a sense of self-belief. I need to go further and further in leadership positions to be an advocate for women in pharmacy.
Q What roles do you currently hold?
A I’m working as a senior teaching fellow in Pharmacy Practice, for the UCL School of Pharmacy as alumni co-ordinator and pre-registration, and I’m a member of the RPS English Pharmacy board. I am the medicines management adviser for the British Islamic Medical Association. It’s an educational role; for instance, during Ramadan, patients who are fasting don’t take their medicines very well. I also chair the national pre-registration conference for the RPS.
I am an adviser for the Commonwealth Pharmacists Association, which covers 33 countries. We are trying to make CPD mandatory in Pakistan, and that is a big task.
Q What progress have you made in Pakistan?
A I went there recently and I managed to see all the senior officials at government level. They were very receptive. I also visited the universities in Islamabad and Punjab to speak to final-year students about pharmacy in the UK and my career journey. The girls said they have no female role models in pharmacy, so they were pleased to see that there was a woman who came to do the talk.
I spoke to hospital pharmacists in both cities as well, and we also hope to have a research collaboration with University College London.
Q What have been your biggest challenges?
A I am in the fifth year of doing a PhD and I’m working four days a week. It has been very, very difficult. My father and mother-in-law were diagnosed with cancer at the same time as each other. But I have had a lot of support from work and from my husband — that helped me keep on track.
Q What are you most proud of in your career?
A The fellowship of the RPS. I felt so elated, that was such a huge achievement for me at that point in my life. And then being elected on to the English board; I never thought I would be elected, I was encouraged by senior colleagues, and it was an honour for me.
Q What are the key qualities that make a female leader?
A You must be really assertive, and teamwork is important. Having a shared vision, having the confidence and the communication skills. You need to be humble as well. We have lots of female leaders but the ones that people aspire to be like are the ones they can approach.
What’s the definition of being a leader? It is about bringing others with you, supporting other people to be the best they can be. It’s about the followers. I love developing other people, seeing how they flourish through a mentorship scheme.
Q What advice would you give women who want to be leaders in the profession?
A Don’t give up. We all have good days and bad days. When you get home to kids moaning about their homework, food not cooked and a house that’s a total tip, you do feel like packing it all in. You just need to be positive and keep going. If you want to go into some sort of leadership position, you have to keep striving.
Q How do you juggle all your roles day to day?
A I am highly organised, it’s like a military organisation in my house. My kids, bless them, have become like that as well. We’re out of the house at 7.30am. My son just called to tell me that, ‘I am at home now and I am going to do my homework’. He phones me the minute he’s in the house.
Q What will your focus be next year?
A My biggest priority is the PhD. I am giving myself a maximum of two and a half years to get it nailed and out of the way. I have built a great relationship with Pakistan, that’s going to be another priority. And I have a three-year term on the RPS board, so I’ll be involved with membership engagement and advocating for training.
Q What makes you happy at work?
A Motivating others. When I have given a lecture and the students say, ‘You’ve really inspired me’. I have touching messages from pharmacists who say, ‘You’ve given me the courage to do this myself’. That makes everything so worthwhile.
I have been in this job at UCL for 15 years and there’s not been one day when I have woken up and thought, ‘I don’t want to go to work today’.