Have we reached a crossroads in pharmaceutical education?

The crossroad concept reflects that it used to be possible for a student interested in a career in pharmaceutical science to qualify either as a pharmacist or as a pharmaceutical scientist and be able to progress a science-based career with many options available. I am worried that these opportunities could be reduced as the pharmacy courses increase their clinical content and I do not want to see such a careers crossroad appear for budding pharmaceutical scientists.

The General Pharmaceutical Council are consulting on the initial education and training standards for pharmacists. (https://surveys.pharmacyregulation.org/s/IETP-standards/). The APS will contribute to the debate because of its longstanding concerns that fewer pharmacists are entering the industry and it may be that course content is contributing to these career decisions.

Part of the dialogue underpinning the consultation extends the long-term debate on the proportions of science and practice in the pharmacy courses currently on offer. Most of us would agree that the integration of the two core strands within pharmacy has been achieved, in many cases with great success but the question remains that there may be inadequate depth in some areas of science to allow a pharmacist to be an expert practitioner in that particular discipline. We hear from some of our industrial members that qualifying pharmacists do not have sufficient practical skills to readily work in a technical laboratory. One of the key achievements of GPhC is the move from assessment of academic knowledge to assessment of competencies that relate to performance ‘on the job’. Much of that is driven by the need to assure patients that their health care professional is able to do the job but now many science-based degrees have recognised that a competency framework is a good way to go when training professionals.

So to the title of the blog. Some Pharm Sci courses are taught alongside courses in Pharmacy and so there is common interest in the provision of the science elements. It is key to understand the direction of travel of the regulator and to contribute to the debate if an opportunity is provided. I would hope that the consultation would remove the crossroads concept altogether. Degrees in pharmaceutical science do ensure that graduates have the academic knowledge and practical training that industry needs. The APS accreditation programme will confirms this and is competency based so we are clearly set on a path which will deepen and strengthen PharmSci degrees. We will be the scientists who see the overall pharmaceutical picture and will be able to put context around the discovery and development of medicines.

I believe that pharmacy courses also recognise the crossroads and are working to ensure that the scientific competencies are maintained, even strengthened as a result of the GPhC consultation. Pharmacists do have the added dimension of patient focus and so can make contributions to a wider range of industry needs. When I joined the industry many years ago pharmacists were present at all levels and widely across a variety of disciplines in most companies but that is much less the case in current times. I would like to see the numbers increase as I believe the overarching contribution we can make is critical in decision making in the industry.

This debate is open to all and I would encourage all pharmaceutical scientists from pharmsci or pharmacy background to contribute to the consultation- it is a relatively straightforward templated process and would ensure an informed basis for decisions arising from the consultation.

At the very least it gives us the opportunity to show the wider world the key contributions made to the world of medicines made by pharmaceutical science.

Bill Dawson, APS Advisory Board