Open Access Research article

Learning to prescribe – pharmacists' experiences of supplementary prescribing training in England

Richard J Cooper1*, Joanne Lymn2, Claire Anderson1, Anthony Avery3, Paul Bissell4, Louise Guillaume3, Allen Hutchinson3, Elizabeth Murphy5, Julie Ratcliffe6 and Paul Ward7

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Social Research in Medicines and Health, School of Pharmacy, University of Nottingham, UK

2 School of Nursing, University of Nottingham, UK

3 School of Community Health Sciences, University of Nottingham, UK

4 School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, UK

5 School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham, UK

6 University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia 5000, Australia

7 Flinders University, Sturt Road, Bedford Park, Adelaide, South Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Medical Education 2008, 8:57  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-8-57

Published: 5 December 2008



The introduction of non-medical prescribing for professions such as pharmacy and nursing in recent years offers additional responsibilities and opportunities but attendant training issues. In the UK and in contrast to some international models, becoming a non-medical prescriber involves the completion of an accredited training course offered by many higher education institutions, where the skills and knowledge necessary for prescribing are learnt. Aims: to explore pharmacists' perceptions and experiences of learning to prescribe on supplementary prescribing (SP) courses, particularly in relation to inter-professional learning, course content and subsequent use of prescribing in practice.


A postal questionnaire survey was sent to all 808 SP registered pharmacists in England in April 2007, exploring demographic, training, prescribing, safety culture and general perceptions of SP.


After one follow-up, 411 (51%) of pharmacists responded. 82% agreed SP training was useful, 58% agreed courses provided appropriate knowledge and 62% agreed that the necessary prescribing skills were gained. Clinical examination, consultation skills training and practical experience with doctors were valued highly; pharmacology training and some aspects of course delivery were criticised. Mixed views on inter-professional learning were reported – insights into other professions being valued but knowledge and skills differences considered problematic. 67% believed SP and recent independent prescribing (IP) should be taught together, with more diagnostic training wanted; few pharmacists trained in IP, but many were training or intending to train. There was no association between pharmacists' attitudes towards prescribing training and when they undertook training between 2004 and 2007 but earlier cohorts were more likely to be using supplementary prescribing in practice.


Pharmacists appeared to value their SP training and suggested improvements that could inform future courses. The benefits of inter-professional learning, however, may conflict with providing profession-specific training. SP training may be perceived to be an instrumental 'stepping stone' in pharmacists' professional project of gaining full IP status.