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A glimpse of the pharmacy undergraduate course at the University of Toronto

In this article, Anne Noott describes the undergraduate course at the school of pharmacy, University of Toronto, and compares it with the UK MPharm course

In the first of three articles about pharmacy in Canada, Anne Noott describes the undergraduate course at the school of pharmacy, University of Toronto, and compares it with the UK MPharm course

University of Toronto

University of Toronto

During a recent trip to Canada, I was delighted to be invited to visit the Leslie L. Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto, as the guest of Zubin Austin, professor of pharmacy practice. I found it to be similar in many ways to UK schools of pharmacy, albeit with some interesting differences.

The department is large by UK standards, with an intake of 240 students each year. Professor Austin explained that they have about 1,500 applicants each year for these places. The stringent selection criteria (listed below) may come as a surprise to UK pharmacy students who were offered their university place without interview but on the basis of predicted A-level grades alone:

• Outstanding academic performance in the two-year biomedical sciences preparation course, which is common to pharmacy and other healthcare professions.
• Candidates need to complete a written aptitude test.
• An objective structured clinical examination, which tests character attributes such as performance under pressure and communication skills.

Although it is discouraged by the faculty, unsurprisingly, many students obtain private tutoring or coaching for the latter two tests, in much the same way as some UK school students are coached to pass the 11-Plus and other selective exams.

The course

The course is four years (plus the initial two years) and, in the past, there has been an additional preregistration period of four months. However, from this year’s intake onwards, the amount of time spent on placements during the course will be substantially increased, with most of the final year being spent on placements. Therefore, students will not be required to undertake additional preregistration Faculty of pharmacy, University of Torontotraining. Instead, the training will, in effect, be integrated into the undergraduate course, as is proposed for the UK in the future.

However, it was interesting to note that, even though this change has been agreed, not all the details have been clarified, for example, whether the university or the regulatory body will be responsible for checking the quality of those vitally important final-year placements.

The subjects taught within each year of the course appeared similar to what might be expected within a UK undergraduate pharmacy curriculum, with a gradual move from a predominance of science-based modules to a more clinical focus throughout the course. As at the University of Wolverhampton, but unlike many other UK schools of pharmacy, students study pharmacy practice topics and also undertake placements in both community and hospital from year 1 onwards.

One major difference was that the pharmacy students at the University of Toronto are required, as part of their course, to undertake 160 hours (four to five weeks) of structured, practical and usually unpaid pharmacy experience during their three-month summer vacation. So, some would argue, they are denied opportunities for either earning money or for relaxation, which most UK pharmacy students can enjoy.

Unlike in Great Britain, where pharmacists can practise throughout the country, pharmacy graduates from the University of Toronto are only licensed to practice within Ontario. If they wish to work elsewhere in Canada, they will need to demonstrate that they meet provincial licensing requirements before being authorised to practise there.

Within the faculty, there are also a number of full-time and part-time postgraduate students studying for higher degrees, both taught and research based. A wide range of continuing professional development courses is offered for registered pharmacists (regular reaccreditation is compulsory in Canada), and even an annual series of free lectures that are open to the general public on pharmacy- and medicines-related topics. 

The faculty

I was impressed with the modern, purpose-built facilities provided for the students, including a new, spacious pharmacy practice lab, which would be the envy of most UK departments. Professor Austin explained that the department has been fortunate enough to receive some extremely generous donations from former students, not least Leslie L. Dan himself, who paid for the faculty to relocate from its previous ageing and somewhat cramped accommodation to the current beautiful building, which was designed by the noted architect Norman Foster — of “The Gherkin” fame. (If any of our Wolverhampton alumni would like to do the same, we would love to hear from you!)

The faculty’s history

Surprisingly (to me at least), the university itself was founded in 1827 so (unlike the rest of downtown Toronto) much of it is housed in mellow, Victorian stone buildings, which owe more to Buckingham Palace than to “The Gherkin”, and surrounded by gardens, parks and playing fields. There are also 1,500 beds in 10 teaching hospitals within 10 minutes’ walk, which are extensively used for both placements and day-to-day teaching.

The faculty is justifiably proud of its past research successes, which include the discovery of insulin and pablum. I have not come across this before but, apparently, this was a bland, grain-based baby food with added iron and vitamin D, which was revolutionary in preventing and treating infant malnutrition during the mid 20th century. Modern-day research is facilitated by some funding from the provincial government, intended to help researchers develop their discoveries into commercial products.

During my tour of the faculty building, Professor Austin took me into a room and said: “This is our pharmacy library.” It took me a few minutes to realise what was missing: the books. Although textbooks are on sale at the university bookshop and are widely used in the two-year preparatory course, the departmental library is, in fact, simply a reading area because there are no books or other printed materials to be seen.

Professor Austin explained that all reading materials are now online, so students are provided with web links or are expected to search online themselves for appropriate materials rather than physically reading books or journals.

Similarly, all students arrive at the university with their own laptops, which they use during lectures to add to the electronic notes that are provided by teaching staff. The entire university has wi-fi access, so fixed computer connections are unnecessary. At the University of Wolverhampton, we are proud of our combination of printed material and online resources, but I must admit the University of Toronto put us to shame in this respect.

Final thoughts

I was left with the feeling that, far from following in the footsteps of UK pharmacy education, Canada is, in many respects, leading the way. I came away feeling that I had seen into our own future.

Acknowledgement Professor Austin for his hospitality during my visit.

Anne Noott is senior lecturer in pharmacy practice at the University of Wolverhampton

See related articles

An overview of pharmacy practice in Canada


Citation: Tomorrow's Pharmacist URI: 11084787

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