The pharmacy degree is unique in its generalist nature. Our pharmacist graduates are versatile in that they can take up posts in various areas of practice. These are community, hospital, responsible pharmacists at wholesale dealers, in pharmaceutical industry, including pharmaceutical marketing, regulatory affairs, academic teaching and research.

It is easy to mistake a community pharmacist for someone who only gives people “pills across the counter” (Times of Malta, March 5).

But pharmacists are more than that, while the dispensing of medicines – by pharmacists – remains an important factor in primary and secondary health care.

It is a moot point that community pharmacists – the pharmacists who practise in town and village pharmacies – are a keystone of primary health care. The pharmacy is the first port of call for many patients who are either served by the pharmacist usually for minor ailments and chronic conditions or directed and advised to visit a family doctor or other health care consultant as required.

The community pharmacist ensures timely access to medicines that are of qood quality, safe and efficacious. He or she is a good source of advice on health and medicines use and outreach for many conditions. The clinical role of the community pharmacist has developed over the years and should be recognised by all.

Since 2007, community pharmacists are offering a POYC service to more than 150,000 registered chronic patients, improving their access to their entitled medicines together with a more personalised service.

At present, community pharmacy is experiencing a lack of pharmacist human resource. This may be attributed to the development of POYC and other service needs by pharmacies and extended hours of service by many pharmacies; but also the feminisation of the profession (approximately 60 per cent or more women) – with women pharmacists taking temporary retirement to start families or care for elderly family members.

Community pharmacy is a unique professional area of practice because of the one-to-one relationship built by pharmacists with their patients over the years. Many pharmacists, however, may also feel that they are not adequately supported in their daily service requirements within their pharmacy structure. And that they are not adequately remunerated for the responsibilities of the service they give, when compared to their sister profession, medicine.

This is supported and being addressed by the Chamber of Pharmacists.

But this dearth of pharmacists is also being reported by the pharmaceutical industry where the industry itself is crying out for more pharmacists to fill readily available posts in research and development, quality assurance, quality control, pharmaceutical marketing, RPs and regulatory affairs.

This dearth of pharmacists is also being reported by the pharmaceutical industry where the industry itself is crying out for more pharmacists to fill readily available posts

The area of government pharmaceutical service including hospital pharmacy is also in need of pharmacists if clinical and ward pharmacy are to be further developed and new projects started. Moreover, hospital pharmacists are looking at the long-standing need for specialisations, a development that is supported proactively by the chamber, and other pharmacy organisations.

Previously, the University pharmacy courses had relatively large cohorts and the question was then… will they be absorbed by the market, but these have always found posts in the various sectors.

The popularity of the pharmacy course was intrinsic, but also due to the fact that those who did not make it to the medical course found refuge in the pharmacy one.  They then fully integrated into the course which has always been an intensive one and cohorts of excellent pharmacists have graduated annually from our alma mater.

From experience in outreach activities the chamber notes that while, for example, young girls in the fourth forms visiting the annual BPW careers day on the occasion of Women’s Day, approach the pharmacy stand with interest, few have science subjects and show a genuine interest in the pharmacy course.

In September, for the last five years, the chamber has also participated in the Science in the City Festival in Valletta, in collaboration with the Malta Pharmaceutical Students Association showcasing the pharmacist from the historical apothecary role to the cutting edge scientist and health care professional of today. Visitors range from small children to adolescents to young and old adults.

Of course there remains the national dearth of students who take science subjects in general to contend with. We need to catch them young and show children, even at kindergarten level that ‘Science is cool!” Laudable efforts are being made all around, but statistics speak volumes and the result on the other side of the ‘apothecary scales’ are what they are.

Pharmaceutical and medicinal chemistry, for example, are a keystone of the pharmacy course. But pharmacy has that ‘magic and art’ of combining the care of the patient rendering pharmacy practice studies intriguing and interesting. We need to bring about the ‘miracle’ by which our young students are excited by the wonder of science in all its facets.

The chamber believes that entry to the pharmacy course should be by committed students who want to be pharmacists in whichever area of practice they choose, retaining their versatility and right to be generalists; but also ready to take up the postgraduate development and specialisations on offer.

The course entry requirements should be such as to maintain the high standards achieved to date, but with an ear on the ground to hear the profession’s needs in the market. This acoustic need may be nurtured by bringing on board the profession’s representatives when taking fundamental decisions such as entry requirements, student uptake, and curricular development.

Moreover, to address the present need of pharmacists in all areas of practice a credible and sustained outreach campaigning is needed by the University, the government and stakeholders. The chamber is ready to participate actively in these initiatives.  Failing which, the pharmacist may become a rare species indeed.

Mary Ann Sant Fournier is president of the Malta Chamber of Pharmacists.

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