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The importance of original scientific research for pharmacy students

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By Joanne Hainsworth, President of the Bradford Association of Pharmacy Students (BAPS), and Patrick To, BAPS Vice-President, both at the University of Bradford

As pharmacy students in our final year of the MPharm at the University of Bradford we understand that pharmacy education is currently undergoing radical change. Throughout our time at university, we have moved from the traditional lecturing style to a more modern, team-based learning (TBL) approach to fit in with the perceived skills necessary for the pharmacists of tomorrow. Pharmacy education has to adapt to new social and health care systems, as well as the present financial circumstances. However, one aspect of the more ‘traditional’ teaching, the student project, should be kept in the MPharm curriculum because, without it, a student’s exposure to basic scientific research may be jeopardised.

This belief stems from our own experience which happened last year, where we took part in an original research project to investigate whether the soils of the Yorkshire Dales contained a possible solution to antibiotic resistance. From this project we were able to learn a variety of skills that are required for the modern pharmacist, including team work, problem solving and time management. Our supervisor, who quoted Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winning creative scientist, explained to us at the beginning that most original scientific research is based on a ‘guess’. Feynman suggested that once a ‘guess‘ has been made then it has to be considered very carefully — via checking facts and figures in relevant publications, if these are available, before moving on to experiments to establish whether the hypothesis can be proven. This is the method that we adopted for our student project.

Our initial meeting with our supervisor was an unusual one. With no previous data, few supportable theories and little expectation that we would find organisms in the soil that had antibacterial properties, we really had no idea at all what we would find. Through critical analysis of the information that was available, we thought this project could prove to be complex. It was different to anything we had previously encountered on our course, but it added to our skill set in ways that we did not expect.

During our project we were given opportunities to explore the rich geographical areas that the Yorkshire Dales offer, create our own growth media from American crab shells and learn the importance of having a skilled technical team to support the project. After initial uncertainty about what we would discover, we were surprised to find that six of our bacterial samples produced compounds with antimicrobial properties. This shows that the novel research project that we undertook did have relevance to the modern problem of antibiotic resistance and the depth of the problem.

The research project shows the relevance of original scientific research to progress as an MPharm student, and helps to develop the core skills for lifelong learning that are important at the beginning and throughout our careers as pharmacists.

Acknowledgement: With thanks to Aneeda Javed and Adnan Arshad for their contributions to the research project.

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