Proper patient care

Like any other profession, the role of pharmacists has evolved rapidly due to advancements in technology, particularly in automation and artificial intelligence. The Covid-19 pandemic pushed it further into unfamiliar territory.

In the 19th century, a pharmacy career was product-oriented, with professionals focused on preparing, manufacturing and dispensing medicines.

Soon, the profession evolved into a more patient-centred role, involving the provision of pharmaceutical care.

With changing industry needs, pharmacy education evolved in tandem, shifting the focus from laboratory skills to people skills.

Besides clinical knowledge, the emphasis was on communication, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, which are key in the provision of pharmaceutical care.

In the last decade, pharmacy practice and pharmacy education had again been challenged by the digital era, and the resultant rapidly evolving healthcare industry and patient needs.

Graduates must be exposed to the endless possibilities that come with the rapid advancements in technology, and have the agility to adapt to and excel in the ever-changing industry if they are to remain relevant as the future unfolds.

Broad yet inclusive

The pharmacy practice is diversifying. Its curriculum should provide knowledge and practical exposure to students, which will allow them to take on any role within the diverse industry, which includes the hospital, community and industrial pharmacy, research, regulatory, clinical trial, and medical affairs sectors.

The goal is to give them exposure, not for them to master it. The challenge will be to do this without burdening students within their four years of study, while keeping them engaged, interested and capable of assuming roles within any of these areas.Multidisciplinary

The traditional pharmacy curriculum predominantly focused on scientific disciplines such as chemistry, microbiology, drug action, formulation, and clinical knowledge to provide pharmaceutical care.

But to prepare graduates for endless possibilities, there is a need to incorporate knowledge and practical exposure to areas beyond the pharmacy discipline. This may include digital literacy, entrepreneurship, marketing, management, and other relevant subjects. Similarly, the goal is to introduce these areas, not for the students to master them.

Redesigning the curriculum to strike a balance between core pharmacy knowledge and multidisciplinary subjects is a challenge that requires careful consideration of the content’s relevance and the overall curriculum load.

Interprofessional education

Pharmacists must be trained to work collaboratively as part of a healthcare team. This includes effective collaboration with other professionals such as doctors, nurses, nutritionists, and patients.

The curriculum should equip the pharmacy students with opportunities to understand their role within the healthcare team, and the ability to work and communicate effectively as a team to deliver safe and effective patient care.

Many pharmacy schools around the world have adopted this practice to varying degrees and success rates. The challenge remains to design appropriate and engaging learning activities involving different disciplines within healthcare.

Continuous learning

The one skill that will ensure a pharmacy graduate remains relevant and actively contribute to the well-being of the community is their own ability to challenge and equip themselves with current knowledge.

This is a skill that needs to be consciously taught and incorporated in every pharmacy curriculum. This will remain a challenge, especially in a country like Malaysia, where the secondary education system is highly guided, examination-oriented and knowledge heavy.

The trick is to gradually introduce this into the four years of pharmacy curriculum, allowing students to adapt to the change and expectation gradually.

Educators must be equipped with skills to design appropriate teaching, learning, and assessment strategies that are engaging and fair to the students.

Every pharmacy educator needs to be able to critically reflect and improve the curriculum in tandem with the changing healthcare industry needs.

Graduates cannot be expected to possess and display knowledge and qualities that they have not been taught or exposed to. Change must start with the educators. It is our responsibility to lead by example and to prepare pharmacy graduates for the future.

Taylor’s University School of Pharmacy head Dr Renukha Sellappans has extensive experience in the design and development of the varsity’s Bachelor of Pharmacy curriculum. The former clinical pharmacist who is a certified pharmacotherapy specialist by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties, a division under the American Pharmacists Association, also oversees the provisional registration of pharmacists of the university. She is involved in various research projects in the field of pharmacy practice, and medication use and safety among older persons. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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