I asked myself the other day what it was that made me want to study pharmacy. Was it the lure of MURs, the excitement of chasing stock on quota, or the satisfaction of a script well dispensed? Of course not. I didn't want to be a pharmacist – what I wanted was to do the pharmacy degree course.
The combination of biology, chemistry, physics, medicine and more – a degree equivalent of a Quality Street selection box – along with the prospect of employment in a well-remunerated vocation made pharmacy number one on the application form.
Then, after all that, I found myself a registered pharmacist – and the mundane uniformity of everyday life began!
Who'd be a pharmacy student these days, eh? Well, it seems that many people would be – perhaps too many. So many indeed that there have been suggestions that applications should be limited, which has a strange echo of 1950s post-war Britain.
To demand a limit upon new graduates is to stifle the lifeblood of pharmacy
The country was in the grip of depression, the workforce depleted, and so we appealed to the colonies to send their most able to work in the land of plenty.
Immigrants flooded into the country and the jobs market so successfully that, within a decade, unemployment began to bite, and there came the inevitable chorus of: "Bloody foreigners, coming over here, stealing our jobs..." culminating in Enoch Powell's infamous "rivers of blood" speech.
So to the present day, and it seems that some in pharmacy are also foreseeing "the River Tiber foaming". Regional shortages of pharmacists around the turn of the century were exacerbated by the so-called 'fallow year' as the BPharm degree changed from a three-year to a four-year course, and some pharmacy multiples responded by encouraging and supporting EU pharmacists to come to Britain to make up the shortfall.
In addition, the pharmacy course became increasingly popular at a time of recession and rising student fees, when qualifications in subjects such as 'history of lace-knitting' (University of Glasgow) no longer seemed attractive. Now from employee and locum pharmacists is coming a chorus of: "Bloody students, graduating, stealing our jobs..."
Many have sought to compare the restriction of pharmacy contracts with restriction on student places – but that is a tautological simplicity. And the cry from BPSA and the colleges themselves seems a perverse throwback to the days of rotten boroughs and purchased army commissions, because – as for final salary pensions and the 'job for life' – the days of guaranteed employment are over.
To demand a limit upon new graduates is to stifle the lifeblood of pharmacy.
Our profession needs the young and enthusiastic, the talented and visionary, the brightest and best. They will drive up standards, challenge received wisdom, and want to advance the vocation of their choice.
Instead of seeing this as a challenge for vacancies or driving down wages, pharmacists and students alike should welcome the challenge, lest our profession grow fat with complacency.