Science is intrinsic to pharmacy

Science is an intrinsic component of the pharmacy degree, characterising the requisite knowledge demanded as a medicines expert. The absence of this foundation at undergraduate level threatens the professional role that pharmacy has strived for and the safety of the public. Pharmaceutical care encompasses an understanding of disease states, the application of pharmacology and the relevant ‘soft’ skills to ensure patients receive therapeutic benefit from their medicines. Without this knowledge, the pharmacist’s role in the community is impaired due to difficulties recognising symptoms associated with adverse drug reactions or toxicity, an inability to detect subtle prescription errors from logical reasoning, and problems communicating with patients confidently.

Adherence to prescribed medicine is a perennial issue in community; a strong knowledge base is required to articulate and explain the importance of the individual’s prescriptions with respect to the drug action and reasons why it may be administered in a certain way. The communication skills developed in training helps tailor this knowledge appropriately to each individual patient. Furthermore, if supervising pharmacists  lack a knowledge of pharmaceutical science, problems may be compounded in the community, increasing the frequency of acute deteriorations that require intervention in secondary care; a logistical and financial burden on the National Health Service.

The professional relationships pharmacists have with other healthcare practitioners are greatly undermined by deficiencies in pharmaceutical science. The dialogue with nurse and doctors concerning:  the safe delivery of medicines, appropriate and accurate prescribing, and diverse medicine issues, resides on the fact that a pharmacist is uniquely qualified to advise them, considering their unique skill set and educational background with chemistry, physiology, pharmacology and microbiology. If we are not proficient in these specialist areas, the contribution of ward pharmacists in clinical scenarios will be undermined as allied professionals will be unable to respect, appreciate or value the counsel of pharmacists in healthcare. Not only does this erode the active role that modern pharmacists play in the treatment of patients, it will possibly increase the risk of harm in hospital. 

As part of a multidisciplinary team, clinical pharmacists need to be able to understand a similar language that runs through medicine. In order to assess the appropriateness and safety of certain medicines, we must be able to understand the basic science of physiological parameters, such as blood counts, liver and renal function. A lack of familiarity with biochemistry makes the numbers arbitrary; simply reading off numbers and responding with protocols will not provide a user with enough awareness to lead an informed discussion with doctors. In sterile manufacturing units, pharmacists manage extemporaneous product manufacture independently, purely because of their experience with formulation science. No other professional has sufficient knowledge of physical chemistry to manage manufacturing units, which would be compromised by a lack of chemistry and other sciences in pharmacy education.

In conclusion, a scientific curriculum attracts many students towards vocational careers in pharmacy and it instils graduates a breadth of skills: problem solving abilities and specialist knowledge in pharmaceutical science. This foundation makes pharmacy graduates so highly valued and proficient; as a result, shifts away from science in the undergraduate curriculum will impair pharmacy graduates’ performance severely. For this reason, many students and practitioners wholeheartedly agree that a distinct lack of science will compromise the clinical practice of pharmacy, trust in the profession, and the safety of the public who are the first concern.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 4 October 2014, Vol 293, No 7830;293(7830):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.20066535

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