Pharma education: In need of a revamp

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An analysis of the current state of pharma education in India, its successes and shortcomings, as well as measures needed to bridge  the gap between the industry and academia

The pharmacy profession in India began in the early 20th century and since then, has undergone several transformations. These changes have had an impact on pharmaceutical education as well.

Tracing the beginnings

The systematic implementation of pharma education in India commenced from 1948, with the enforcement of Pharmacy Act-1948, to set standards and regulate pharmacy education, profession and practice in India. Provisions of the Pharmacy Act are implemented through the Pharmacy Council of India (PCI), a statutory body established in 1949. Thus, formal pharma education in India has been prevalent for several decades. Since the late 1980s, due to rapid industrialisation in the pharma sector, privatisation, and economic growth, pharmacy education has been developing faster in India than anywhere in the world. Yet, even today, the pharma education system in India is criticised by industry for lack of regular revision of the syllabus to ensure students are industry ready. Another grouse is that though the use of technology in the pharma industry is growing at a rapid pace, academia finds it difficult to match the pace of industry via revisions of the curriculum. As a result, there is a noticeable gap between industry and academia. To address this issue, the Pharmacy Council of India (PCI) recently revised and introduced a uniform B Pharm and M Pharm syllabus to meet the needs and expectations of the industry.

Challenges galore

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Dr B Suresh

According to Dr B Suresh, President, PCI, pharmacy education in India is presently in a very challenging phase. Due to an increase in the growth of the industry, there is growing need for qualified and highly knowledgeable human resources. As a result, there is now a sudden spurt of interest from students to pursue pharmacy in India. The sudden interest and consequent increase in demand has resulted in a rush to start new pharmacy colleges in India, in an already overcrowded space. This sudden growth has precipitated issues related to the quality of education
being delivered at these institutions.”

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Dr Mayur Yergeri

Dr Mayur Yergeri, Associate Dean and Professor, SPPSPTM also reiterates, “There are more than 1000 institutions that admit more than 50,000 students to the B Pharm degree programme and more than 700 institutions that train more than 34,000 students in the D Pharm programme. To add to this, we have the Pharm D and M Pharm Programmes where more than 15,000 students are added in these courses. For a country of more than 1.3 billion people, we need this number of healthcare professionals to meet the demands of the healthcare industry for a highly populated country.”

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Dr G Parthasarathi

“In India, pharma education is still more focused towards pharma sciences, manufacturing quality medicines at affordable prices unlike many developed countries where the focus is more towards pharma practice, preparing them for a direct role in patient care. For example, in the US, Pharm D is the minimum qualification for practicing the profession of pharmacy. Students are trained to be a part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team,” informs Dr G Parthasarathi, Dean, Global Engagement and Professor, Pharmacy Practice, JSS University.

 

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Dr Bharani S Sogali

Pointing out major concerns related to pharma education, Dr Bharani S Sogali, Professor and HOD, Department of Pharmaceutics, Krupanidhi College of Pharmacy said, “Some of the drawbacks of pharma education (in India) includes, entry of unqualified and non-meritorious students into the course, non focused and unspecialised way of learning, lack of industrial and clinical exposure, unskilled ways of practical and lab training in the institutes. Research output from Indian educational labs rarely lead to commercialisation and revenue generation. Given the market needs for trained man power, teaching takes total priority over research in our universities. Institutional base of research in India is extremely narrow and serious research is limited to a few ‘elite’ institutes. Lack of encouragement from government research funding organisations to private institutes and gaps in institution governing policies for research priorities as well as limited funds for research and development facilities/ equipment by institutes or governing bodies are other concern areas.”

Winds of change

The PCI has tried to has address the 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. Moreover, pharma education is heading towards a lot of change after the introduction of uniform PCI syllabus for pharmacy across the country.

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Dr Mahesh Burande

Dr Mahesh Burande, Director, IPER gives an overview of the Indian situation vis-a-vis the global scenario and says, “In developed countries, Pharm D schools are producing pharmacists and they work in the healthcare sector, especially hospitals and pharmacy chains. This job is highly respected and rewarded. In some other countries, science graduates contribute more to pharma manufacturing and research and development. Pharm D programmes in India started 10 years back under the leadership of Dr B Suresh, President, PCI. In India, students today have the choice to select a industry career or a healthcare career due to availability of two programmes i.e. B. Pharm or Pharm D after 12 th (grade) science.

Industry – academia gap

Nevertheless, there exists an undeniable gap between industry and academia. Some of the major reasons for the gap are:

  • Academia often fails to adopt  technology changes as compared to the industry.
  • The faculty involved in the design, development and delivery of the course content lacks industry experience and exposure which also reflects in the overall outcomes of the course.
  • The lack of proper representation/ contribution by subject experts from industry while framing the syllabus.
  • Minimum industry-institution collaboration in grooming future pharmacists.

“An improved educational system will enable pharmacy graduates to satisfy the requirements of the pharma industry, which is currently missing. As the industry’s demand for competency is constantly increasing, the educational domain will have to undergo changes to match industry requirements. Each college should tie up with industry, by working on mutual exchange programmes like collaborative projects, R&D and training,” said Dr Sogali.

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Dr Burande said that while industry is growing at a tremendous speed with new technology and new regulations at par with global standards, the syllabus for B Pharm and M Pharm is not updated at the same pace. Even if it is updated, teachers are not groomed or oriented to pass on these changes and skills at the earliest to students, creating a knowledge gap. He further suggested that in order to bridge this gap, a pharma industry panel should suggest new changes in the syllabus each year. Experienced teachers should be certified to deliver these changes and these teachers should orient their juniors to deliver it to students. The minimum skills required in manufacturing should be identified and developed in students who wish to make a career in the pharma industry. Students should be certified for these skills before receiving  D. Pharm, B.Pharm, M.Pharm or Pharm D degrees. There should also be formal  agreements between a pharma company and a pharmacy college, to enable training of students. The licence of the comppany and approval of the college should not continue, if this active association doesn’t happen and specific outcomes are measured. India has 1,300 pharmacy colleges and more than 10,000 pharma companies and this is easily achievable. For Pharm D holders, a hospital is already attached before giving approval to the programme by PCI. 30 per cent of the syllabus related to identified skills should be taught by industry experts on weekends. Teachers should undergo a one month training once every two years in the industry related to his/ her subject , accompanied by a certification from the company. This would make them eligible for promotions and pay hikes as they would then impart better skills to students. Similarly, he recommends a six month industrial training and project report for B.Pharm students before raduation. Thus one semester in a four-year programme should be for training ina pharma company. Soft skills along with at least one foreign language should be taught to students in the college. India  exports drugs and medicines to 212 countries, hence such skills are in demand. This approach will definitely  bridge the gap between academia and industry.

Fortunately, PCI has taken note of these needs and has taken certain measures. In an interview with Express Pharma, Dr Suresh informs that the PCI has made it mandatory for pharmacy teachers to undergo continuing education and quality improvement programmes and update themselves, both with the pedagogy of teaching as well as  advances in relevant fields. The other step that can help address the 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 online modules of learning to teachers through its web portal. PCI has also revised the B Pharm and M Pharm syllabi as per industry requirements. PCI has brought out five regulations and a national curriculum for making a paradigm shift in the pharma education, training and research. These regulations will not only provide much needed direction, growth and leadership for creation, sharing and offering advances in the curriculum, but also help identify and create partnerships between institutions and industry for the required transition and bring about a cultural change, not only in the educational programmes, but also the profession.

Future trends in pharma education

Industry veterans also share their views on the upcoming trends in pharmacy education. Dr Burande of IPER opines that the future trend in pharma education is digitalisation. Experts lectures are available on the web and even demonstrations through video. It will be virtual learning and simulation models to develop skills. Online education to develop skills will be preferred worldwide and those institutes well equipped with these facilities will drive growth and quality teaching. “Inspired teachers will build the brand of such institutes and cater to the needs of  industry and students. There should be marketing and training departments in every pharmacy college,” further states Burande.

According to Dr Parthasarthi, “The need for every institution involved in imparting pharmacy education is to seek national and international accreditation to bench mark the quality necessary. The future trend is going to be more learner-centric as implementing innovative pedagogy to engage students actively in the learning process is important. Adopting Information and Communication and Technologies (ICT) enabled teaching and learning process is essential.”

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Whereas, Dr Sogali believes, every college should give  students an atmosphere to nourish internal skills and qualities. A system should be devised so that each student gets an opportunity to freely think and develop skills to the maximum. Professionalism can be cultivated only through rational ways of thinking and performing. Students should come out with their ideas and suggestions in any aspect of education and especially be focused on innovative research. Most of our students lack an initial pull, which should be given by the teachers or the college. Students should also be trained to improve their soft skills, she opines.

She further states, “Coming to the educational aspect, much emphasis should be given to industrial and practical exposure. Clinical and practical training should be given more importance and included as a part of the curriculum. Research-oriented ways of learning are more effective rather than limiting students to theory. One should be updated on  current and continuous changes in the pharma field. Also, in the current competitive market, everyone should strive to be ahead of the curve with latest updates and higher knowledge levels.”

The pharma sector is undergoing a sea change in terms of meeting the healthcare needs of the country. In a world which is getting constantly disrupted, we have to keep pace with the changing scenario. Luckily, the pharma education sector is taking the necessary steps to do so. For example, the change in the B Pharm and M Pharm syllabi by the PCI is one such change as the country will now have a uniform pharma education system. It has its advantages and disadvantages— the advantage is that the quality of pharmacy schools will improve as we  gear up to meet the needs of the new healthcare system. I expect an exit exam in the near future for the benefit of all stake holders and the students themselves, says Yergeri.

Making students industry ready

The professors unanimously believe that there is need to strengthen industry-academia collaborations in terms of education, training and research, through continuous interaction with the pharma industry leaders and involving them in the framing of the pharmacy curriculum.

  • Firstly, students can be made industry ready by training them within pharma companies and in community pharmacy practice to keep abreast of the demand and supply gap in the health industry.
  • Keeping pace with the industry needs and continuous technology upgradation, thinking out-of-the-box for solving problems, both for pharma industry and healthcare needs are other ways towards this goal.
  • Regular faculty exposure to the changing scenario in the industry would help them understand industry needs as would periodic skill and competency based evaluation
  • Industry sponsored projects,  enhanced alumni engagement
  • Starting practice schools/ finishing school for pharmacy profession are also important initiatives.
  • Campus recruitment and training would be the final step in this endeavour.

It is hoped that India wil soon  be able to build a robust pharma education system which would be instrumental in fortifying the sector and making India a global leader in this sphere.

swati.rana@expressindia.com

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