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Changing focus for pharmacy degrees

Scotland’s chief pharmaceutical officer wants to see a radical shake-up of pharmacy education to move away from a focus on science.

Bill Scott, Scotland’s chief pharmacist speaking at Royal Pharmaceutical Society Conference 2014

Source: Nadia Attura

Scotland’s chief pharmaceutical officer Bill Scott wants to see a radical shake-up of pharmacy education

Pharmacy degrees should move away from a focus on chemistry and other sciences and concentrate on health provision, Scotland’s chief pharmacist has said.

Speaking at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s annual conference on 8 September 2014, Scotland’s chief pharmaceutical officer Bill Scott argued for a radical shake-up of pharmacy education to remove the “mystery” associated with the pharmacy profession.

“We still have the requirement for chemistry,” Scott told delegates. “We need to move away from that. It’s not about chemistry, it’s about healthcare. [Pharmacy] is not just science, it’s more than that. We need to have that discussion before [prospective students] apply.”

Scott’s suggestion was supported in a separate session by pharmacist Mathew Smith from Cardiff School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “I would get rid of loads of the science,” Smith said, responding to a question about a radical solution for pharmacy undergraduate development. “Around 99% of our students are going to be pharmacists and not going in to the pharmaceutical industry; if you look at those who do, it’s training on the job now, rather than at undergraduate [level].”

The calls follow the announcement at the conference by Mike Hannay, chairman of the “Educating for excellence” conference stream, that few responses to the Health Education England (HEE) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) consultation on student numbers favoured introducing a break point into the pharmacy degree, where the course would be split by science and clinical content.

  • This story was updated on 15 September 2014 to correct the remarks of Mathew Smith. In the original version Smith was erroneously quoted as saying: “I would get rid of the science”.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20066397

Readers' comments (5)

  • This shows a frightening lack of understanding on the subject of healthcare education from a senior civil servant: not only should he reconsider his position on pharmacy, but perhaps he should think more carefully about the nature of healthcare education in general. The human body is a biochemical machine. Any trainee healthcare professional can learn a fact or clinical skill; then just as easily forget it during the periods of their professional practice when it is not called upon. If one understands the underpinnings of a clinical event, then one can piece reconstruct the information required to deal with it from first principles and, equally importantly, figure out what is happening when presented with a situation not for which training was not specifically provided. I doubt, after many years in practice, whether I can recall the relative lipophilicites of β-blockers verbatim, but I am sure that I can work it out using my knowledge of chemistry together with information from the standard references found in any pharmacy.

    The uniqueness of our profession has been lost in recent years, as we join the scores of other generic healthcare professionals who diagnose, prescribe, counsel, etc., etc. Pharmacists have always been clinical scientists, and I strongly oppose any attempt to remove their scientific expertise in favour of “soft” skills that are more likely to be learned through experience, rather than through an increasingly expensive higher education.

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  • I totally agree with Billy’s comment. Surely the science content of the MPharm differentiates us from other healthcare professionals and enables us to do our job?!

    As a pharmacy student I feel that there are two aspects of my degree at University which complement each other. There is the academic aspect and the clinical aspect. I spend hours studying the science part through lectures and workshops and this in turn informs my ability to provide a healthcare service to patients during my OSCEs, clinical stations or when I am on placement.

    Developing my people skills so that I convey my science understanding of a patient’s medicines and can ascertain what is wrong with them is equally valuable as the academic side. They work in tandem. I’m not a pharmacist if I don’t have expertise in each aspect, I would struggle to uphold core features of the Seven Principles without them.

    We are medicines experts. It is our science expertise that gives us value and will enable us to expand our role. Does any other healthcare professional have the chemistry, pharmaceutics and pharmacology knowledge to best manage a patient or contribute to drug development? Could the guidance in the BNF be written by pharmacists without scientific knowledge?


    Science underpins my degree and I would be totally lost without it. It opens up so many doors and enables you to be a professional. I don’t think you can rightfully be called a pharmacist without a science education.

    I think this idea that Scott has conjured up is a stark reflection on the regressive role of pharmacists and how pharmacy education needs to be radicalised to meet the demands of our patients.

    We need to be pioneering and parading our scientific knowledge to secure innovative commissioning contracts and to show patients and the NHS how we have so much more to offer them. We should not confine ourselves to hiding behind a dispensing desk checking a prescription (which you also need scientific knowledge for as protocol would only get you so far). How on earth would pharmacists rise to the fantastic opportunities proposed by Health Education England in their "Modernising Pharmacy Careers" programme without a science background to inform their practice?

    The only sense I can make of Scott's comments is that perhaps the varying degree courses at each pharmacy school are not producing graduates with adequate clinical skills.

    Healthcare provision is something that every healthcare professional should be capable of providing. If newly qualified pharmacists are not up to this standard then questions need to be asked of the GPhC.

    Say NO to Scott. Don’t take the heart out of our profession.

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  • I could not disagree more with Mr Scott's opinion. When I graduated from University, our Deen's parting message to our class was ...."do not forget your science"........

    This has stuck with me and always will. It has become even more relevant having qualified and worked as a pharmacist across several sectors. Yes, to say that pharmacy is more than science and is bout health provision is true - but our science is the underpinning bedrock to having a sound foundation.

    How can pharmacists be expected to take on a more hands on clinical role, move away from dispensary, offer more services etc . If they lack the confidence afforded by having a firm grasp of the sciences which underpin the profession.

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  • I suspect Professor Scott is trying to stimulate debate and I can share his sentiments to some extent. There is a danger in dumping science completely as it would mean there was little difference between the knowledge of pharmacists and technicians.
    A proposal to remove chemistry because few need to synthesise medicines would also mean pharmacists would not understand how medicines are metabolised or interact. So the devil would be in the detail.
    It is my understanding that the EU determines the course requirements so that there is reciprocity. Perhaps if Scotland leaves the EU then Prof Scott could get his way but pharmacists there might have limited career opportunities outside the country.

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  • Professor Scott's comments beg the question: who would he suggest will has the science base / scientific knowledge on medicines?
    Perhaps he could enlighten us.

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