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The degree needs to provide practical skills

The pharmacy degree does not sufficiently equip students with the practical and communication skills to be a modern, service-focused pharmacist, writes Numark's John D'Arcy

Pharmacy has made enormous strides in recent years. There is a high level of political agreement for an enhanced role for pharmacy, and pharmacy as a profession continues to be a popular choice for budding undergraduates. There is high expectation on pharmacy to deliver on its role in medicines optimisation, but there is a question mark over the pace at which this is happening and pharmacy's preparedness to take on this key role.

Ample time is spent training a pharmacist – a four-year master's degree followed by a year's pre-registration training. This should be long enough to get to grips with the challenge ahead but, for many pharmacists, there seems to be a reluctance to engage with patients. Any notion of a fully enhanced role will never happen unless we get this bit right.

A large part of the problem (and therefore the solution) lies with the pharmacy degree. It is some years since I did my degree, but even wading through the mists of ancient history I recall an abundance of science and no patient focus.

The move to a four- year degree should have provided the opportunity to redress the balance, but there still seems to be an overemphasis on science and theory rather than practice, leaving graduates lacking in patient focus and, frankly, assertiveness skills.

If pharmacy is truly to make its mark, it needs professionals who are not simply science experts but also possess a range of communication skills

Accordingly, the pre-registration year has to try to fill the gap by translating graduates' hard-earned knowledge into convincing patients to take their medicines properly and to adopt a healthier lifestyle. No small challenge following four years of intensive science-based education.

If pharmacy is truly to make its mark, it needs professionals who are not simply science experts but also possess a range of communication skills and, crucially, the ability to put them into practice. Only then will they be able to deal properly with patients and have the confidence, assertiveness and thus credibility needed to face up to other health professionals and commissioners. It is too late to leave this to the pre-registration year.

Throughout my career, the enduring mantra from pharmacy graduates has been: "Why have I spent all this time training simply to dispense prescriptions?"

The game has moved on and will continue to do so. Pharmacists are required to provide a plethora of health-related services and, in the community pharmacy setting, are expected to have managerial oversight over an increasingly complex and demanding operation.

Meanwhile the gap between the underpinning degree and day-to-day practice grows ever wider. It is high time we did something to close that gap.

John D'Arcy is managing director of Numark

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