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Nothing wrong with the quality of MPharm graduates

The Pharmacy Schools Council is concerned about the news item which appears to declare the “failure” of the current MPharm degree in educating pharmacists for future roles (The Pharmaceutical Journal 2015;294:677). We strongly disagree with this sentiment.

It is extremely important to stress the high quality of UK MPharm degrees and the excellent graduates these courses produce. The news item and the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) ‘Tomorrow’s pharmacy team’ publication, to which it refers, lack any evidence or internationally comparative data to support the assertion that the current MPharm course (as outlined by the GPhC ‘Future pharmacist, standard for the initial education and training of pharmacists’, May 2011) is ill-equipped to meet the demands of the changes in the profession. The GPhC document has noted that the assumptions within ‘Tomorrow’s pharmacy team’ are based on “initial conclusions… which we need to test”, which the Pharmacy Schools Council welcomes.

If there is in fact evidence to suggest that the current MPharm does not “equip pharmacists with the skills needed to deliver the care and the services that will be expected of them in the future”, it does not necessarily follow that the MPharm itself has failed because it is meeting and surpassing the standards that have been set by the regulator.

There is a need to recognise the advances that pharmacy education has made, particularly within the past five years. The current MPharm has seen significant improvements that are only visible in the graduates of 2014–2015, who experienced a considerably increased level of clinical exposure throughout their education. Much of this exposure has been introduced early on within MPharm courses — a strategy that stems from the evidence base which suggests early clinical exposure is particularly valuable. This could prove to be more innovative than proposals that incorporate clinical placements into year 4 of the programme. The viewpoint set out in this news item does not take into account these changes and the impact that they have had on graduates.

Pharmacy schools are continually developing and responding to the changing healthcare landscape, and to predictions of the roles pharmacists will play in the future. Missing from the GPhC document is praise of the education’s ability to meet the demand for creating strong clinical scientists with a sound knowledge of new and complex medicines.

Employers have widely declared that they hope to recruit large numbers of additional pharmacists over the next five years in order to help to fill the gap left by GP shortages in practices and to fill national pilots for pharmacists to work in emergency care departments. This indicates that trusts already recognise the skills, abilities and value of pharmacists.

“Integration” needs to be clearly defined before it can be supported. It needs to be made clear whether this refers to further integrated clinical exposure or to a science-practice integration. This will require an evidence-based approach. Integration comprises many options and it is important that this is not rushed through without facilitating a broad understanding and long-term view of what will be needed in the profession in the future. Integration is not a simplistic solution and analysis of what might currently be wrong with pharmacy education has not yet been carried out.

Also, there is a connection between undergraduate and postgraduate studies. For example, medical graduates are not immediately expected to be experts in all roles and specialities, nor are doctors finishing their F2 medical placements. It is unrealistic to suggest that graduates should be able to move into all the roles pharmacists undertake as soon as they finish their pre-registration year.

The GPhC clearly recognises that standards need to be achievable and affordable. Although we agree this should not be the primary focus for change, it should be considered to set the parameters and realities of what can be achieved within undergraduate education. It will be impossible to separate the need for greater funding from calls for more intense, integrated clinical training.

The international message that this news item portrays for pharmacy education in the UK is a cause for concern. At a time of great opportunity for developing the role of the pharmacist, reports such as this may cast a shadow of doubt over the abilities of the UK’s education system to provide capable graduates.

The Pharmacy Schools Council welcomes the GPhC consultation on ‘Tomorrow’s pharmacy team’, and sees this as an opportunity for further development of the MPharm and for the strengthening of the pharmacist’s role in society. As experts on pharmacy education, we hope to take a leading role in helping to ensure that the best possible outcome for this process is reached.

Yvonne Perrie

Chairman

Kay Marshall

Deputy chairman

Pharmacy Schools Council

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2015.20069066

Readers' comments (2)

  • Chijioke Agomo

    Without drawing myself further into this debate, yet, I wish to bring to the attention of the GPhC, the RPS and the UK Pharmacy Schools Council to a document from the Association of Faculties of Pharmacy of Canada (AFPC) and the Association of Deans of Pharmacy of Canada (ADPC) and titled, 'Position Statement and Joint Resolution on the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) for the First Professional Degree at Universities in Canada February 2010'.
    Available from: https://www.afpc.info/sites/default/files/AFPC_ADPC_PharmD_Position_Statement_Resolution_Sept_2010.pdf

    Most of the issues raised in this document are relevant to the UK pharmacy education, moving forward.

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  • Yvonne and Kay,

    You raise some very interesting and pertinent points here.

    There most critical I will mention;
    "It is unrealistic to suggest that graduates should be able to move into all the roles pharmacists undertake as soon as they finish their pre-registration year."

    This is something that has irked me for some time. Namely to the point that in general, there is no distinction of level of pharmacist in real terms. Pharmacy to me has always been a profession that looked down to make sure it was doing at least the minimum and not looking up to strive to be the best.
    This has stemmed from the market in the largest sector of pharmacy, having no appreciation that one pharmacist is better than another one, and there being a mechanism within the system to allow that to be remunerated appropriately.
    (I am aware that pharmacists don't like to think that way, but its true)

    So the point that you raise about pharmacists cannot be expected to fulfil all roles after pre-reg is true in itself, however the system (regulatory, professionally, monetarily etc) does not reflect that fact at the moment.
    What we really need is for this fact to be taken forward and the necessary changes to the whole landscape need to be made to make it happen.

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