As sensibly reported by
The Pharmaceutical Journal
, comments made at this year’s Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) conference about what being a member of the RPS means to the individual pharmacist were reported via social media. It was somewhat unfair on those making the comments that they were taken out of context and paraphrased within the limits of the microblogging site, Twitter.
Similarly, it is unfortunate for the RPS that these comments were not made by RPS staff or elected members, but they were reported from the RPS conference via social media, including RPS accounts, and this may have been interpreted as either promulgation or endorsement of these statements, intentionally or otherwise.
Either way, it was an interesting case study on the vagaries of social media and the debate centred around three questions, most of which have been raised in the public arena before.
Firstly, can you consider yourself as a professional if you aren’t a member of your professional body? Of course, this automatically assumes that the RPS is “the” leadership body, which to all extents and purposes it is, but individuals have the right to decide on who they look to and pay for professional leadership. For some, it may not be the RPS. Furthermore, the best pharmacists in the UK can join the RPS, as can the worst. They just have to be a registered pharmacist, be able to complete an online form and pay the required fee which, as one Twitter user puts it, doesn’t magically confer you with professionalism. In the absence of robust evidence to the contrary, membership and professionalism are largely non-sequiturs.
Secondly, do the public expect you to be a member of the RPS? The public probably have little understanding of what the RPS does, because if they did, they would understand that membership of the RPS is not an indicator of either competence or quality – again, the best or worst pharmacists in the UK can be a member. This argument might hold more weight if there was any evidence that the public understood the specific roles of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and the RPS, but I am fairly confident that their level of knowledge is minimal. I suspect fully informed patients would expect their pharmacist to be registered with the GPhC and perhaps be a little unsure about whether membership of the RPS would give them a better experience as a patient.
Thirdly, does being a non-member of the RPS throw into question your commitment to the profession and patients? Again, the best versus the worst pharmacist case applies, as does a lack of evidence to answer the question. Clearly there will be a large number of pharmacists who are not members of the RPS but are nevertheless brilliant at what they do and really committed to patient care. I know this because some of them are friends and colleagues and I also know that, rather than being inspired to join the RPS by this message, they feel insulted.
They are judged not by their post-nominals or lack of, but by their actions to help patients with their medicines. The fact that they do not want to be members of the RPS has a number of potential reasons, but primarily, they clearly do not feel that the RPS gives them something they either cannot access elsewhere or that they need to carry out their role. That is an issue the RPS needs to address, not the non-members.
I am proud to be a member of the RPS because it is important to me that the profession has a strong, credible and recognisable leadership body which is recognised as the equivalent of a royal college by our medical and nursing colleagues, has a professional media presence, and one that in some ways protects the history of the profession. I do not believe that membership of the RPS profoundly influences my professionalism or my commitment to patients, and I have yet to meet a patient who has ever expressed the remotest interest in whether I or any of my pharmacy colleagues are RPS members.
While it would be wonderful if all pharmacists were members of the RPS, the world is not like that. The RPS, and its members, need to present a compelling case for non-members to join up. Rhetoric and professional emotional blackmail, whether it is directly or indirectly attributable to the RPS, will not present a convincing case and may do more harm than good. These questions should be put to bed unless there is compelling evidence to support the claims made around them.