Expanding roles of pharmacists

There are many different jobs pharmacists can be involved in as well as different areas and settings they can go into such as communities, hospitals and industries.

Pharmacists are medicine specialists or drug experts, and what makes it an attractive career is its job scope. There are many different jobs pharmacists can be involved in as well as different areas and settings they can go into such as communities, hospitals and industries.

“Those who are inclined to do research can work in research centres whether in universities or with the government. Besides those, they can also join the Ministry of Health’s Clinical Research Centre,” said Monash University Malaysia Interim Head of the School of Pharmacy, Associate  Professor Dr Ong Chin Eng.

“Choices are wide for graduates. Pharmacists are very much involved in Research and Development (R&D) to help discover new medicines. They are also involved in the manufacturing of drugs and medicines as well as in quality control and even, marketing and in the legal aspect,” he added.

Monash’s Bachelor in Pharmacy programme is focused in four main areas, namely Enabling Sciences, Applied Pharmaceutical Sciences, Clinical and Therapeutic Sciences, and Pharmacy Practice. The first students learn is the fundamental sciences to build their foundation.

They then learn the discipline of dealing with drug behaviour in the body in Applied Pharmaceutical Sciences; how the drug is absorbed and acts in the body, and how it is eventually eliminated. One of the core study areas is drug formulation where students learn how different dosage forms are designed.

Through Clinical and Therapeutic Sciences, students learn the management of the major disease states, their epidemiology, pathophysiology, diagnosis, the chemistry and pharmacology of the medicines used to treat these conditions, and the clinical and practice aspects of treating patients.

Additionally, in Pharmacy Practice, students understand how doctors treat patients and how pharmacists can contribute to that. Students also learn pharmacy practice, professionalism, ethics, pharmacy law and legislations controlling drug delivery and supply, as well as the current practice of dispensing  and healthcare in the society.

“At Monash, our students are trained in communication, numeracy, critical thinking and information literacy skills. Pharmacists are involved in counselling patients and need to be skilled at working out the best option and advice.

“Numeracy is also very important so they can calculate the most accurate dose as different medicines have different dosing regimens, especially for children and elderly who are more sensitive to drug level changes.

“Some of their assignments requires them to look out for the latest literature and research in a particular topic given. This focuses on lifelong learning and in the future when they go into practice, they will know where to look for the latest information.

“This is important as there are new drugs entering the market all the time. Graduates need to develop this ability so they are able to retrieve the latest information and disseminate it to the public and advise other healthcare professionals,” Ong said.

In preparation for the workplace, students are involved in an intensive placement programme where they undergo 12 weeks of work placement in four different settings. They are placed in government hospitals, private hospitals, community pharmacies and rural pharmacies (health polyclinics) for three weeks  each.

During this training, students get to observe what pharmacists do and they also need to be involved in some of the activities. In a hospital, they will go into the ward with the hospital pharmacists and they need to present the case such as how drugs are used in the case and discuss any issues related  to that drug use.

“The role of pharmacists are changing all the time. I see a bigger role for pharmacists in patient care. Pharmacists will have expanded roles as they move from being product-centred to patient-centred. If you look at the profession trend around the world, pharmacists have an increasing role in  different levels of care to patients,” Ong said.

“The government has set a pharmacist population ratio of one to 2,000 and the plan is to achieve that target in the year 2020, but our country has already achieved it this year. I would say the job prospect will be good for the next 10 years,” he added.