International Women’s Day – Prof Charlotte Skitterall
Wednesday 1st March 2023
On Wednesday, 8th March 2023, International Women’s Day is marked across the world and Manchester Foundation Trust Charity is joining in the campaign. The day encourages women to campaign for, and imagine, a world of gender equality free from stereotypes and discrimination and this year’s theme is “equity”.
Last year we featured an interview with Dr Mayada Haydar, which you can read here. This year our Charity is once again showcasing women’s achievements in our NHS Trust and for 2023 we have spoken to Professor Charlotte Skitterall. Professor Skitterall is the Group Chief Pharmacist at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT). She has had many career highlights and accolades, but her most recent achievement was receiving a New Year’s Honour in the 2023 list for her services to pharmacy. Receiving the MBE comes off the back of being appointed as a Fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in 2021.
For the 2023 International Women’s Day, and as we fast approach the NHS’ 75th birthday in July, we spoke to Professor Skitterall about her career and her advice for women considering a future in pharmacy. Professor Skitterall’s interview is below and here you can read our other 2023 interview with Roxy Afzal.
Can you tell us a little bit about your career and how you came to be Group Chief Pharmacist at MFT?
I was always interested in science, studying maths, biology and chemistry at A-levels. When I was considering what to do as a degree, my sister (I have three sisters in total) told me about a pharmacist she knew who worked on the cancer wards and in the chemotherapy unit at a large hospital in Birmingham. His job sounded so interesting, so I went away and researched what qualifications I’d need to do a similar job.
Once I’d completed my Pharmacy course at Liverpool John Moores University, I moved to Exeter for my pre-registration year. The Pharmacy team there was really forward thinking and innovative. I enjoyed working with them on a project to measure quality of life in chemotherapy patients receiving their treatment continually at home. This started an interest for me that has remained throughout my career.
After Exeter, I then moved to University Hospital of North Staffs and from there went on to work at Withington Hospital in 1995, before it merged with Wythenshawe. I was then asked to do some project work outside of pharmacy so I actually moved out of that field, working as a Project Manager and then General Manager. This experience was invaluable in teaching me the wider priorities within the Trust and how pharmacy could best support them.
I was then really pleased to be asked to apply for the Chief Pharmacist post at Trafford General Hospital. This was a really exciting post as it was one of only two or three in the country that was responsible for both primary and secondary care. I was really proud of the ways we were able to support patient care and established strong pathways across primary and secondary care.
I then moved to Wythenshawe Hospital in 2011. It was great to be working in a teaching hospital with the opportunity for research and innovation that this brings. I have always had an interest in commissioning pathways and the use of high cost drugs. This proved invaluable and enabled me to support the Cystic Fibrosis, respiratory and infectious diseases services, in particular, to ensure that patients received early access to life-changing treatments.
I took up the Group Chief Pharmacist role at MFT in about 2018, when Wythenshawe became part of MFT. I am Chair of the Greater Manchester Medication Management Group, having been involved in it since 2004 and am National Specialty Adviser for Medicines Optimisation with NHS England.
The centre of my work has always been the patients. Although I don’t get that face-to-face patient interaction anymore, I like being able to make changes in Greater Manchester and nationally in the areas I’m interested in. We now need to look at reducing health inequalities in the sustainability agenda. I feel very privileged that I’m in a position where I can drive forward this work.
What’s it like working for MFT?
It’s really exciting. We have so many in-house and national research trials and gene therapies that we are able to offer our patients. As I started in chemotherapy, this feels like a natural progression for me.
I work with a really great team at MFT who really support and look out for each other. They have loads of energy and drive to deliver a high-quality service. I know I am probably quite annoying at times in that I never just accept “good enough” and always strive to do better for our patients.
This drive and innovation means that there are lots of opportunities for staff working in MFT to develop their skills or work in a different sector, for example with the Manchester Local Care Organisation.
How has it been being a female in this industry?
I do remember going to my first North West Chief Pharmacists’ meeting. I was 32, brand new to the role and remember walking into a room of predominately older, male colleagues and felt quite daunted.
The balance of male to female has shifted since that time and while it is not 50/50 it is much more balanced and I am lucky to work with some fabulous female (and male) peers. Working in MFT’s CSS (Clinical and Scientific Services) there is a really good mix of the genders.
How was it when you heard the news of your MBE?
I received an email from the Cabinet Office to my work email and had no idea what it was. I couldn’t believe it. The letter says “the Prime Minister has recommended you to the King”. It has to be kept confidential so I told no one and almost forgot about it. It came out in the local news before I had even told my sisters. When it went public I had lots of people contacting me that day. It was overwhelming how kind people were about it and it has really given me a confidence boost that I can’t describe.
The honour really is a reflection of the great team I work with though. I really mean that. It’s not just about me. I have a huge sense of pride that we’ve been recognised in this way. It was a team effort.
I also think having that title to my name will really help even more when influencing change.
Lots of people say to me “you work so hard” but I don’t work harder than others. However, I do always want to do something to the best of my ability. I try to model good leadership and prioritise a work life balance. Over Covid we all worked crazy hours, but now it’s important to reflect on that and practice more wellbeing. I’m hopefully getting a puppy very soon to help me practice what I preach!
What words of advice would you give to your younger self?
I was very insecure when I was younger and I lacked confidence in myself. It would be great to meet myself then and tell her “you will have professional success”. But at the same time, I do think humility and being humble is a quality that has had a positive impact as well. It makes you try harder.
Outside of work, what is important to you?
My family. My husband Chris and my girls Lizzie and Alex, are my world. I try to help them be the very best they can be and get them to believe in themselves; anything is possible with hard work. Being a positive role model to them is very important to me.
Another passion of mine is being a mentor for the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. I support children with their online accreditation and I’ve been doing it for six years. So far I’ve mentored more than 200 children. I love giving out their awards in the presentations and seeing how passionate they are about what they have achieved and how much they have contributed to the local community through their volunteering
I love being outdoors, walking (did I mention a puppy?!) and we are very lucky to have a caravan in the Lake District where we can do this.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into a Pharmacy role?
I think there are so many avenues to explore now – GP, hospital pharmacy, primary and secondary care jobs, specialist services….so much variation. There are many opportunities to develop and it’s a really exciting career path. There is also much more flexibility now.
Remember you can also make jobs work for you – when I wanted to work four days a week they weren’t advertising the job in that way, but I made it work for me and my family. As a woman and mother that was really important to me.
I’d say be brave and believe in yourself – follow your dream you can achieve anything you want in your career.