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The professional development certificate scheme for undergraduates

by Jamie Wilkinson, Chris Cairns and Parastou Donyai

The professional development certificate scheme, developed by the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association, can bridge the gap between pharmacy undergraduates, tutors and employers. Jamie Wilkinson, Chris Cairns and Parastou Donyai explain


In 1999, the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA) formed an alliance with the College of Pharmacy Practice (CPP). In the preceding two decades, the BPSA had established a successful programme of annual events for pharmacy undergraduates and preregistration trainees.

To sustain members’ participation and to highlight the professional development opportunities afforded by BPSA events, the professional development certificate (PDC) scheme was developed and formalised. The scheme, in essence, rewards students for participating in and learning from at least five CPP-accredited events in any one academic year, and gives successful students an official BPSA-CPP certificate.

The underlying principles of the PDC scheme are commendable. The scheme makes it possible for undergraduates to select, participate in and learn from a variety of resources outside the standard pharmacy curriculum, and rewards them for doing so. It also introduces students to continuing professional development in advance of registration.

The scheme will prepare undergraduates for future careers by introducing and developing work skills coveted by employers, not least of all by preparing students for the competency-based preregistration year.

The mechanics of the scheme are simple. Students attend and engage in a variety of CPP-accredited activities to earn at least five professional development points (PDPs) during any one academic year. Some of the CPP-accredited activities include the BPSA annual conference, local Society branch meetings, and local BPSA-accredited events.

After each activity, students complete a form reflecting on the experience and any resulting learning. Taking part and completing the reflective form earns the student one PDP. Earning five PDPs in one academic year and consolidating the reflective forms allows students to apply for the BPSA-CPP certificate (PDC) during the ensuing summer break.

As a joint venture, we are conducting a formal evaluation of the PDC scheme. We are interested in what pharmacy students, tutors, employers and the BPSA itself understand about the value of the scheme so that we can work to further support and promote its use.

Our investigation, although at a preliminary stage, has already highlighted one area that has immense potential to benefit from the PDC scheme. Here, we describe our idea and invite students, tutors and potential employers to consider our suggestions.

Pharmacy employment

One of the selling points of the PDC scheme is that students can write about their certificate on pharmacy job applications, whether for summer placements or preregistration training posts, in order to set themselves apart from other candidates.

Although employers may see mention of any certificate as evidence of achievement and, therefore, a marker of an applicant’s potential, we wonder if employers have a detailed understanding of the PDC process.

Appreciating the process, we believe, would authenticate the value of this particular certificate. We also believe that referees, normally personal tutors, could play a leading role in highlighting students’ PDC achievements on relevant applications.

The more astute pharmacy student might develop a good working relationship with their personal tutor, for example, to obtain future job references, but it is not known if many students appreciate the added dimension the PDC scheme could bring to their tutor’s reference.

With growing numbers of pharmacy students, academics are assigned an increasing number of tutees about whom they must write, sometimes in detail and, hopefully, always with accuracy when providing a reference.

However, take for example, the NHS national appointment scheme for hospital preregistration pharmacy posts. This streamlined process asks tutors to rate their tutees on a number of attributes using a five-point scale.

We think that, in the absence of regular tutor-tutee meetings, or evidence of personal or professional development, pharmacy academics face a real challenge to portray a true picture of every tutee when asked to rate them in this way. This could place the tutee at a disadvantage and, potentially, impact on employers’ selection processes.

Our vision is for the PDC scheme to play a bigger role in pharmacy students’ university experience. The BPSA has recently created a new logo for the PDC scheme to use when promoting and disseminating the potential benefits to students, tutors and employers alike. All events and activities leading to PDPs are accredited by the College of Pharmacy Practice because they are shown to meet pharmacy competencies.

Students who take part in PDC events reflect on and demonstrate their learning in relation to these competencies before obtaining the PDP. Therefore, pharmacy students using the PDC scheme actually undergo an accredited process of personal and professional development. In effect, students using the scheme become a cut above the rest and this is what they could demonstrate to potential employers in order to enhance their career opportunities.

We believe that the PDC scheme would provide the perfect opportunity for pharmacy tutors to speak to their tutees about their experiences of the scheme so as to obtain a clearer picture of them when compiling references. Pharmacy employers could benefit by further streamlining their selection processes if they come to recognise students’ PDC as an indicator of student quality.


Our research is ongoing and we hope to provide an update of our findings in the near future. We have been involved in investigating other personal and professional development schemes, and would welcome constructive comments and accounts of experiences as they relate to the issues discussed.

This academic year, the BPSA executive, led by the educational development officer, has set out to promote the PDC scheme with renewed vigour, and started with a special focus at the recent British Pharmaceutical Conference. We hope that students, tutors and employers will support the BPSA in this endeavour.


Jamie Wilkinson is the current educational development officer for the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association

Chris Cairns is preregistration tutor at the University Hospital, Lewisham

Parastou Donyai is lecturer in pharmacy practice at the University of Reading

For information about the PDC scheme e-mail

To provide feedback on the scheme e-mail (until 1 November 2008) and (from 1 November 2008 onwards)


Citation: The Pharmaceutical JournalURI: 10034073

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