Student numbers and pharmacy

I am so confused about the debate that is raging around pharmacists and student numbers. I just don’t get it and believe that the term ‘thought leader’ must be an oxymoron. So here is my take:

Pharmacy is a degree and the universities produce graduates. That is fine – it is a good degree that could take you into so many more places. I wish that the pharmaceutical representatives that called had a degree in pharmacy, but they don’t need to be ‘pharmacists’. So go on – develop the course – make it diverse and open up options.

Not all graduates should be pharmacists. That is fine – during the course, as other options open up, some graduates should be encouraged or may find themselves other paths. Marketing, management, sales – I could go on. I am sure that the tutors encourage all potential graduates to understand the requirements to be a ‘professional’ as well as the standards required by the GPhC. And I am equally sure that they identify a few students and that a few students identify it themselves – that a professional life is not for them. We must not force people. We must not say that all people who have a pharmacy degree must be a pharmacist. How many pharmacists have gone on to pursue a different career and realise that a pre-registration and perhaps post registration year was not really needed?

Employers need choice. That is good. When I qualified, I did not have the first choice of my pre-registration placement, but I did have my first proper job 6 months before registration. That was what it was like then, when employers thought they were lucky to have someone with a certificate. That’s not good. We must tell pharmacists that it is not a guaranteed job for life. It is an honour to be a pharmacist and to help people and you have to develop your professionalism and be the best that you can possibly be. And I am sorry, if you aren’t good enough – you aren’t good enough!

We need diversity. We must be cautious that the ‘profession’ does not take over from ‘professionalism’. A profession can weed out people who do not fit – who do not conform. Then a profession can restrict and constrain their membership by regulations and standards, frameworks and barriers. It is no surprise that members of professions are less creative and diverse in their opinions and habits. We are pharmacists, members of the GPhC who set our boundaries, but some are members of the RPS who develop our professionalism and support us to be better. Diversity is good, innovation is good – and we need leaders.

Pharmacists must build on the respect. Pharmacy is an honourable profession. It dates back to 2600 BC and we must remember that the apothecary preceded our medical colleagues as one of the oldest professions. We should continue to develop the theme that to be a pharmacist is a position of privilege and not a right. It would be great to know that any colleague is there because they are actually good – not just because they have a certificate.

I want to get away from the feeling that pharmacy is a ‘safe profession’ – get a degree and you have a job for life. Let’s get a little more edgy than this:

  • Pharmacy is a great degree – it opens out lots of opportunities for you
  • Being a Pharmacist is hard work, it is not easy to be a ‘professional’ and not everyone is cut out for it
  • Employers need choice, not all pharmacists will be employed as pharmacists and it isn’t a guaranteed job for life
  • The profession needs diversity, innovation, forward thinkers and leaders and the RPS will drive this focus through the faculty and a general move away from restraining your practice
  • Your professionalism is paramount – the RPS will support you, stand up for you and, if necessary, fight for you

2 thoughts on “Student numbers and pharmacy

  1. Interesting thoughts, but in community pharmacy the increasing numbers of pharmacists is meaning that “good professional” pharmacists who put patients first and give business managers a bit of professional push back are being bullied out of the job and replaced with “good business” pharmacists who may do the best for the business and “look good on financial paper” but the healthcare experience that patients are getting isn’t the best.

    1. Robin – you make a good point. The RPS is getting to grips with their role in supporting pharmacists – they will be able to support pharmacists better. The other solution is to find a more Scottish approach of including specified pharmacists along side pharmacies. I have spoken about an idea like this before and am working on a possible solution.

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