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Pharmacy student numbers could buck national decline

People Universities are likely to take on a higher number of pharmacy students next year, pharmacy leaders have warned, bucking UCAS figures that show an 8 per cent drop in overall university applications.

Universities are likely to take on a greater number of pharmacy students next year, experts have warned, bucking UCAS figures that show an 8 per cent drop in overall university applications for 2013.

The British Pharmaceutical Students' Association (BPSA) said the opening of three new pharmacy schools in 2013 would mean pharmacy was unlikely to follow the national decline caused by the introduction of higher tuition fees.

Aston University pharmacy practice lecturer Joseph Bush agreed that Aston had "certainly not had any particular drop this year", instead accepting more students in 2012 than in previous years. 

"There's a lot of concern about the challenges of [having] more graduates and the effect that has on the jobs market" Joseph Bush, Aston University

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And BPSA president Vikesh Kakad said total course fees reaching up to £36,000 had not put pharmacy students off.

Mr Kakad feared that new pharmacy schools opening in Birmingham, Durham and Lincoln next year would contribute to a trend of common jobs in community pharmacy and hospital pharmacy "slightly diminishing".

"You don't need to be a magician to know where it's heading," he added.

However, Mr Bush said fears over job prospects could put a stop to the rise in applications to pharmacy degrees. "Potential applicants are starting to ask about the job situation," he told C+D. "There's a lot of concern about the challenges of [having] more graduates and the effect that has on the jobs market."

UCAS does not publish figures specifically on pharmacy degrees, but the demand for pharmacology, toxicology and pharmacy courses grew from 6.6 applicants per place in 2010 to 7.2 in 2011.

But the number of students accepted onto the courses did fall slightly from 4,179 up to August 2011, to 4,161 up to August this year.

Last month, C+D readers supported a cap on pharmacy student numbers because of the tough jobs market, after an academic claimed restrictions would be "detrimental on a wider scale".

Are you concerned by the number of graduates entering the pharmacy jobs market?

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Farm Assistant, Community pharmacist

a certain multinational chain has just reduced their starting salary by £3500pa. was this because they were interested in quality? wake up everybody and smell the coffee. and all this talk of new roles, well who will decide these new roles? the people at the top who have no concept of reality. my advice to anyone thinking of doing a degree in pharmacy is buy a burger van and i'm being deadly serious because at least you will have a job, you won't be paying back your student loan in your forties and most important you won't be intimidated by incompetent management.

Emma Weinbren, Marketing

Thanks for commenting - would I be able to talk to you anonymously about this? Please email me at [email protected] if you're happy for me to get in touch or would like to know more about the story we're doing.

Andrew Husband, Academic pharmacist

Interesting comments, but with no acknowledgement of the fact that the pharmacy employment martket has almost no competition within it in recent memory. The comments from 'Super Pharmacist' suggest that employers are 'very picky', is this something remarkable? I would certainly hope an employer would be 'picky' when selecting staff who are charged with the safety of patients.

New schools, and those established ones with any sort of research footprint, are not simply churning out graduates to become locums or community pharmacists. If we can get past the hype and see that the research base of the profession is almost invisible, particularly in the context of community pharmacy, we may see that the employment destination for our future graduates will be a much richer environment in future if it is informed by pharmacists who engage in real postgraduate research. At present this sector of our profession is alarmingly short on numbers and thus the definition and evaluation of what we do is lacking. By this I specifically mean high quality RC-UK or NIHR funded practice research

Competetion in any area of life usually results in the 'cream' rising, elitest as that may sound it can only be good for the profession in what will be the defining period in our history. I recently read a quote from the BPSA suggesting a pharmacy education was a 'waste of money' because jobs are becoming less plentiful. Before we say things like that we should think about how it sounds to the legions of graduates in other subjects, with unregulated numbers, who manage to satisfy 'picky' employers like PwC, Deloittes and KPMG to become highly paid and respected professionals.

Vikesh Kakad, Hospital pharmacist

Dear Andrew Husband,

You highlight a very good point about pharmacist based research and personally I am very supportive of this.

Just to clarify the reason the BPSA quotes 'waste of money' is to do with graduates not being able to complete their pre-reg training and becoming pharmacist in the first place, before they take on any career profession paths. Our research highlights the imbalance between pharmacy graduates and pre-registration training places, and clearly it is unfair and a 'waste of money' if there aren't enough places for a graduate to undertake the training to become a pharmacist.

Clinical Pharmacist, Hospital pharmacist

It is a valid point that we could utilise ourselves more within research and expand our skill set. However, there has never been much promotion within the undergraduate degree in relation to research skills as the primary focus is on clinical and legal aspects which inevitabely is focused on hospital and community pharmacy.

With such few pre-reg places dedicated to industry it is difficult to develop any underpinning knowledge in order to take further research. If Medicine and Dentistry have workforce planning in place, why can't we adopt this?

Clive Hodgson, Community pharmacist

Just a few observations Andrew’s comments.

Historically the vast majority of Pharmacy graduates have gone into a career in Pharmacy (Community, Hospital or Industry). Only a very few went into post grad research or education and fewer still used the degree to advance a career in an unrelated area.

It is a fact that until recently the numbers of graduates were more or less matched to the demands of the three main branches of Pharmacy mentioned above.

What is happening now is an explosion in the number of Pharmacy graduates who most likely are expecting a career in one of these three branches. Unfortunately many of these graduates are going to find that there isn’t one.
The influx of EU pharmacists is also greatly exacerbating this situation

It would be great if new opportunities for Pharmacy graduates could be developed (where historically there hasn’t been) but that will take time and money. In the present economic climate I cannot see anything happening anytime soon.

As for the idea of increasing numbers of graduates raising standards “the cream rising” as you say…… well, I fear many foreign owned multiples will only see this situation as an opportunity to reduce costs (salaries) and worsen working conditions.

Super Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

I don't want to sound pessimistic & defeatist as pharmacy can still be a rewarding job both from a professional aspect & also commercially if you're that way inclined, whether you work for yourself or as an employee for a big multiple, on a personal satisfaction level/achievement.

My advice though for anybody clever enough to get into a pharmacy course is to think long & hard before doing so as the profession has & will change dramatically over the next few years & for the worse before it gets better (if it ever will). Look seriously at other courses available, including their job prospects, before you commit yourself. A pharmacist's job is nowhere as secure as it used to be & don't expect to walk into any vacancy you apply for as employers now have the choice to be very picky & they are.

Good luck to all!!

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