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A contemporary and relevant pharmacy curriculum is the need

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Dr B Suresh, President, Pharmacy Council of India, speaks on various issues related to pharma education in India and elaborates on the initiative taken by Pharmacy Council of India (PCI) to bridge the gap between industry and academia

Brief us on the current scenario of pharma education in India.

Dr B Suresh

The pharmacy education in India is presently in a very challenging phase. Due to an increase in the growth of the pharma industry, there is a growing need for qualified and highly knowledgeable human resource. As a result, there is now a sudden spurt of interest from the students to pursue pharmacy programme in India. Further, job opportunities for engineering-based programmes are on the downslide, making it less attractive for students to pursue engineering as a first choice of career option.  The sudden influx of interest and consequent increase of demand has resulted in the rush to start new pharmacy colleges in India in an already overcrowded space. This sudden growth has precipitated issues relating to the quality of education being delivered at these institutions. The Pharmacy Council of India (PCI) has addressed this challenge of quality in pharmacy education through a strategy involving three domains of action: quality assurance, academic and institutional capacity building and more emphasis on experiential education and competency building.

What are the issues faced by PCI?

PCI faces a major challenge with regards to dual regulation of pharmacy education, i.e. by the PCI and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). This dual regulation has led to institutions exploiting structural and procedural mechanisms of regulation to their advantage, resulting in a number of litigations. Though the PCI and AICTE have worked out strategies to harmonise their regulations it still does precipitate regulatory challenges that result in not being able to bring about quality advancement. Besides this, the major challenge for pharmacy education in the country relates to the availability of qualified and competent pharmacy teachers that can carry forward the vision of PCI in preparing a pharmacist workforce that is competent, current and relevant.

Pharma education is regulated by two bodies, PCI and AICTE in India. How is it impacting the education system? There was also an attempt by PCI to bring complete pharma education under its roof. What is the status?

I would like to reiterate that dual regulation is greatly impacting the pharmacy education system. Efforts to overcome this by the PCI are ongoing and has to be considered by the government as changes require amendment to various acts.

The gap between academia and industry is a major concern. How is PCI bridging the gap?

There has been a steady change in the pharma sector approach to drug discovery and development. A contemporary and relevant pharmacy curriculum is the need to address this gap. Emerging and growing scientific areas in pharma sciences such as modelling and simulation training, clinical and translational science as well as nano technology should become available for both basic and advanced training. The faculty should be developed and supported to lead and contribute to fields such as cell and system biology, genomics, proteomics and nano technology. PCI has brought out five regulations and a national curriculum to usher a paradigm shift in pharma education, training and research. This will not only provide much needed direction, growth and leadership for the cusrriculum advances, creation, sharing and offering, but also help identify creation of partnerships with institution and industry. Thus, it will lead to development of required transition and bring about a cultural change, not only in the educational programmes, but also the profession.

There has been a demand to abolish D.Pharm course and make B.Pharm as a minimum qualification. What are your views?

The views of making the minimum registered qualification for pharmacy profession in the country as B.Pharm have been on discussion for more than 10 years now. However, on the other side, there is also the observation being made on the need for diploma pharmacists in drug stores and hospitals, which is on great demand and any step to stop D.Pharm programme would result in shortage of pharmacists to manage the pharmacies and the pharmaceutical care. In this regard, I am of the view that perhaps this is still the not the right time to state that D.Pharm programme is no longer required. May be 5-10 years down the line, the profession may revisit this issue and make the right decision.

Recently PCI has revised B.Pharm and M.Pharm syllabus, how it is going to help students be more industry ready?

PCI has brought out for the first time a national syllabus for its B.Pharm and M.Pharm programmes and has been well received by most of the academia, the students and the industry. This effort would result in:

i) Developing well qualified knowledgeable skilled and competent and pharma scientists
ii) Support efforts in the drug discovery development and delivery
iii) Providing high quality pharma care services in healthcare system.

Pharm D was introduced to meet the international level of pharma education. The first batch of Pharm D passed out in 2014. What are the opportunities available for them?

The Pharm D programme was introduced in 2008 to meet the needs of pharmacists playing their roles in clinical settings and helping in advancing the pharma care and healthcare delivery system of the country. The first batch of the Pharm D students who have passed out in 2014 have now been able to make their mark in the healthcare team through their knowledge and expertise in medicines and the supportive role they can play with the physicians. These students have been able to find opportunities for themselves both in India and abroad in the segments of hospital and clinical pharmacy services, pharmacy education and also in pharma industry in the area of pharmacovigilance and clinical research.

What are the measures taken by PCI to address deficit in teaching staff, both in terms of quality and quantity?

Availability of the number of faculty for teaching at pharmacy institutions is no longer a challenge as almost 70 per cent of the pharmacy institutions in our country offer post graduate programmes in pharmacy and almost 30 per cent of the institutions also are recognised for conducting research leading to the award of PhD. What really is the concern relates to the quality of teaching and learning process being delivered at the institutions and updation of knowledge by the existing faculty. To address these challenges, PCI has made it mandatory that pharmacy teachers need to undergo continuing education programmes and quality improvement programmes and get themselves updated both with the pedagogy of teaching as well as the advances that has happened in the relevant fields. The other step that can help bridge this gap would be the use of technology for disseminating information and knowledge which the PCI intends to do over a period of time by providing modules of learning to teachers, online through its web portal.

What are the pre-requisites of a great teacher? Share some learnings from your experience.

The most important pre-requisite to become a great teacher is to give your best to the students without any expectations. The pleasure of sharing your knowledge with another person that will help him shape his career is the greatest reward which a teacher can get. If the teacher has indeed impacted and helped shape the career of a student, he will be the recipient of unstinted respect and affection that he will receive from the student throughout his life. I have experienced this and continue to enjoy the love and respect from my students when I meet them.

Tell us about a teacher who changed your life.

I convey my greetings to all my fellow teacher colleagues on the occasion of ‘Teacher’s Day’ during which period this issue is going to be released. I have thoroughly enjoyed being a teacher and even now the most joyous moment for me is always when I speak to the young students and motivate them in their careers. To speak about any one of my teachers who had played an important role in my life would be doing injustice to other teachers. I on this day, acknowledge and pay my respects to all my teachers who have shaped me and helped me reach where I am today.

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