08 Mar 2022

An Interview with Tracy Lyons

An Interview with Tracy Lyons

Last week Agnes Jacobs, Deputy Head of Content – Healthcare, CloserStill Media had a chat with Tracy Lyons, Co-Founder of Pharmacy Declares!, UKCPA Environment and Sustainability Advisor and Medicines Optimisation Pharmacist at University Hospitals Dorset NHS Trust to talk about her career so far, her passion and her advice for her younger self.

The first question was about Tracy’s career and journey so far…

TL: I have had quite a varied pharmacy career, most of it in hospital, but I also spent five or six years locuming – in the UK, in Europe and further afield in Australia. Through that, I’ve seen a number of different places and lots of different set ups. Then I returned to London and was lucky enough to work with the infectious team at Imperial College.

Underneath all of that I’ve been a lifelong environmentalist and that’s been my underlying passion – I was increasingly aware of the impact of the environment on health and how that links with the pharmacy profession. So a year ago, when we set up Pharmacy Declares! it felt the perfect platform for the merging of the two different areas. That’s where I think pharmacy in the UK is really taking off - we’re seeing the connection between pharmacy/health and the environment – and that’s going to be my future focus!

AJ: Am I right in thinking it was something in particular when you worked abroad that really sparked your environmental work?

TL: Yes, completely, I was working in France during the 2003 heatwaves - I don’t think they really got much attention in the UK, but they were just devastating. Tens of thousands of people died across Europe over the course of just one summer because the heat was so intense, and I have these really vivid memories of how it impacted healthcare in France.

In my local area, which was in the mountains, it was quite cool, and we were really lucky, but even there the local hospital had to bring in refrigerated trucks to store extra dead bodies – predominantly the elderly and the frail. You could see how it impacted the population and, just from a sheer logistical point of view, there are things that we don’t always think about. For example, the heat was so intense that the tarmac on the roads melted, and we couldn’t get ambulances out to people. That was my real wake up call for how the climate is impacting health and why we need to get involved.

AJ: I think I do remember that heatwave, but only because we went on holiday to France just afterwards and people were talking about it – I don’t really remember seeing it in the news here.

TL: No, I remember calling home and my family weren’t really aware of it. The fact which really hit home for me was that more people died in Paris in one night during that heatwave than during any one night in World War II. You know, it was that intense and that impactful. That’s one of the reasons we really need to raise awareness of climate change so that we can tackle these health emergencies.

AJ: Definitely, that’s a scary statistic! So, throughout your varied career and work so far, what are you most proud of?

TL: I have to say, without a shadow of a doubt, establishing Pharmacy Declares! – it’s been a real passion project for me, but also, it’s been amazing to see the passion, the drive and the enthusiasm in other pharmacy professionals around the country, because I think for most of us, we felt like we were working alone, we felt we were isolated in our desire to do something. So just being able to connect with an energised & supportive network of people who really want to do good for a very noble cause – there’s no other way of saying it – who really just want to look after people and make sure the health of our communities is protected, has been… I would describe it as quite uplifting and quite joyful – because you know that you’re actually doing something purposeful and you’re within a network of people who think exactly the same way. That’s definitely been the highlight!

AJ: Excellent! And on the flip side of that, what has been one of your biggest professional challenges and how have you overcome it?

TL: I’m going to relate it back to the environmental movement again! I think just recognising and strategizing ways for making the profession aware of exactly what the issue is and how important it is for us to be aware of what needs to be done on a large scale. Because, as a profession, we’re really focused on very specialist things, we look at detail – we’re famed for being detail focused!

What we’ve found is a challenge is getting the profession to look up from the individual patient and see the wider picture, the global picture. So it’s an ongoing challenge – we want to make our colleagues realise that actually if we really want to care about patient safety and healthcare delivery, we need to look at the environment that it’s situated in and make sure that is safe and that’s well established, in order to carry on the provision of all the elite level pharmacy services that we’re justifiably proud of.

AJ: Definitely, and I imagine it can be quite challenging to get people to focus on something which can feel almost quite abstract when they are so under pressure or focused on what’s right in front of them?

TL: Exactly, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. We have to move away from the idea that this is another target for us to meet, another job for us to do. It has to be incorporated into every aspect of pharmacy provision and the services we provide, because it underpins all of them.   At the same time we want people to know that it needn’t be an extra burden.  You can do this by delivering excellent pharmaceutical care – by avoiding waste, by optimising patients’ medicine, that kind of thing. That’s the message we need to get across, and it’s intricate and multifaceted – but it’s our target for this year!

AJ: And it’s absolutely vital, but I think it seems people are slowly, slowly starting to get that message…

TL: I think so, I hope so!

AJ: What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

TL: Be a lot, lot braver. I always thought that in order to take a stance on something, you had to be the world’s leading expert, or you have to be incredibly senior in your field to do something, and I held back for years and years and years waiting for that person to arrive. What I’ve realised is actually, you don’t need to be that person to make a difference. You need to have passion for a project and a drive, a will to do something good and improve patient healthcare, and I think as long as you’re humble enough to say that ‘I’m not the expert in this, I don’t know it all, but I am seeking advice’, and you draw information from people who do have that knowledge, then you can make a big difference and then you can step up with authority and ask for changes to be made.

AJ: Absolutely, and that’s been a common theme through the conversations I’ve been having, interviewing people for these International Women’s Day interviews. I think it’s that being brave, but also having the confidence to go for something even if you feel like you don’t know enough, just going for it and learning and having that confidence is a common theme.

TL: That’s really interesting. You hear about that don’t you, in the male versus female approach to job applications? Here it is, playing out in other sectors of life.  

AJ: Absolutely, and I think it’s certainly something that would resonate outside of pharmacy as well – it certainly resonates with me!

And finally, what is something that you would like others to know? So this could be another piece of advice perhaps to women who are coming into the profession, or it could be for more senior people in the profession – what do they need to know about women coming into roles…anything essentially!

TL: I’m going to say, from my recent experience, is that I would like them to know that there are people out there who want them to succeed. I’ve been quite nervous taking on some of the newer roles that have come my way over the last year, but I’ve been blown away by the support that I’ve had from my colleagues around me and from very senior figures within the NHS and from our professional bodies.

We’ve spoken about the need to get the message across about how to take on climate change and deliver climate action, but what I’ve discovered is that within all of the groups that we work with, even though it’s not been mentioned, there are people within each group that have already understood this message and they’ve just been waiting for someone to come along and help them deliver it. So, be aware that you’re not alone, and I think as long as you have the confidence or bravery to stand up and state your position, my experience has been that there will be somebody there to back you up.  For sure, if somebody else were to step up needing help in this area – myself and the Pharmacy Declares! team would be there to support them and help them to deliver their ideas.

Be confident, step up and do what you need to do and know that there are people out there that want you to succeed!