Take this pill: update pharmacy education

As professionals with in-depth knowledge of drug compositions and formulations, pharmacists are a critical cog in the healthcare wheel of any country. In the developed world, the pharmacy profession is expanding in new directions, with professionals getting involved not just in dispensing medicines and conducting drug research but also in educating and counselling patients.

The Indian pharmaceutical sector currently accounts for about 3.1-3.6% of the global pharma industry in value terms, and is witnessing a market growth of 12.8% due to an increase in consumer spending and healthcare insurance. As the rapidly growing Indian pharmaceutical sector strives to become a global hub of original drug research and manufacturing, pharmacy graduates with the right training and knowledge have significant potential to power the industry’s growth.

As the pharma sector works to propel itself towards the next level of growth, among the major challenges that confront the industry today are significant talent gaps and shortage of highly skilled workforce. The current pharmacy education system in India is bedevilled by various problems, including a curriculum that has not been upgraded for years, unspecialised coursework, lack of integration with other sciences, and lack of priority over increasing research output from institutions.

A transition to a knowledge economy has resulted in the emergence of newer technological areas in the field of Life Sciences. Be it bioinformatics or nanotechnology, these emerging new knowledge areas have overlapped intrinsically with traditional subjects. A student of pharmacy or pharmacology must therefore possess knowledge beyond the traditional understanding of drug quality maintenance and marketing.

Pharmacological studies must incorporate various disciplines from associated Life Sciences to impart in students a deeper understanding of human biology right up to the molecular levels to physiology and pathology of diseases. We also need to incorporate areas of biotechnology, pharmacokinetics studies and drug metabolism.

At the same time, instilling in students a drive for innovation and research is also important. In the Indian context, it is important to develop a crop of educated researchers and innovators in medicine who would be working with the objective of devising innovative solutions to India’s healthcare woes.

Developing low-cost diagnostic solutions, medical devices as well drugs is essential for India to be able to make healthcare accessible to all. A number of start-ups working towards devising such innovative indigenous solutions have already emerged in recent years. Skilling pharmaceutical students and providing them start-up training can also help us produce talent that would feed into this demand.

Another important need is to develop closer and active links between the industry and academic institutions. Regular interaction between them is crucial to ensure that students are abreast of the developments taking place in the field and are able to skill themselves accordingly.

A sustainable give and take of ideas allows academia and students to understand first-hand the developments taking place in the industry and become aware of its changing needs. This would help upskill and update
students and will create a future workforce that is more ready to be assimilated into the industry.

Creating long-term training programmes for students to impart practical learning opportunities, bringing industry leaders on board for lectures and establishing forums that help fresh graduates find meaningful employment opportunities are important elements that must be focused upon.

Patient-centric

With vital knowledge of drug composition, interactions and toxicology, pharmacists have the ability to guide patients towards the correct usage of medicines and curtail the negative outcomes or adverse reactions from incorrect drug consumption. This is particularly important for people who consume multiple drugs for different conditions. Similarly, simple advice on how and when to consume which type of drug can also allow better medical care for patients.

Across the world, pharmacists play an important role in ensuring safe, effective and rational use of medicines. In India, however, we rarely see pharmacists interact with patients effectively. Their role is limited to storage and dispensing of medication in clinical settings and formulation and compounding in industrial settings. We must also train pharmacists towards handling their clinical and patient-centric responsibilities.

Counselling patients on diet, lifestyle and disease prevention is another key role pharmacists can play, especially in rural areas and primary health centres where shortage of doctors and medical staff is a major concern.

Thus, there is an urgent need to revamp pharmacy education in India and improve its quality through a series of measures such as upgrading curriculum with present day’s needs and industrial participation. A workforce skilled in high-quality research, drug development with multi-dimensional knowledge is important to meet the changing needs of the industry.

(The writer is Head of Office/Controlling Authority, Drugs Control Department, Delhi)

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Take this pill: update pharmacy education

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