Prescription for care

Image: Prescription For Care

Pharmacy is entering a new age. And so too is the way in which pharmacists are being educated. Pharmacists of the future won't be responsible for just preparing and dispensing medications. Their skills will be put to increased use as they play a much greater role in ensuring the overall wellbeing of their patients. They will collaborate with GPs on home medication reviews; offer in-pharmacy consultations; conduct practice-based, leading-edge research; and diversify into consulting roles.

Ultimately, it's about improving patient care – a service that has, until now, not developed as much as it should have, says Professor Shalom Benrimoj, head of the new Graduate School of Health under which the School of Pharmacy has launched this year.

"The pharmaceutical industry has been spending millions of dollars developing safe and effective medications but there hasn't been significant investment in making sure that people use medications appropriately and that they are optimally prescribed."

Benrimoj analysed the educational changes taking place and found a need for students to undertake more practical training to ensure they are ready to adapt to the emerging areas of patient demand and healthcare needs.

Pharmacists at the cutting-edge of their profession will provide a range of additional services including home reviews to improve the management of a patient's medication

"We found that the profession is moving from a product focus to a patient focus," says Benrimoj. "The patient focus is about quality use of medicines. This means the role of a pharmacist is evolving to address the needs of patients in a more holistic way and working collaboratively with medical practitioners and other healthcare professionals."

"Because pharmacists will need a higher level of expertise, the UTS Masters program has been developed to be very practice-focused," says Associate Professor Kylie Williams, who works alongside Benrimoj. "The idea is that when students complete their degree, they are better prepared to practise."

Pharmacists at the cutting-edge of their profession will provide a range of additional services including home reviews to improve the management of a patient's medication. This means a GP can refer patients on multiple medications to an accredited pharmacist who then visits the patient's home to discuss and evaluate their medication.

These discussions could cover how a person is taking their medication (dosage and frequency) and any issues there might be. The pharmacist will provide information to the patients and as well as reporting any recommendations to the doctor: something may be missing; a dose might be too high; or the patient may be having an adverse reaction.

Problem-based learning, one of the many elements of the UTS course, will develop these critical skills and ensure the pharmacists of tomorrow are ready for the challenges associated with these new areas of expertise.

Using a high-tech simulated dispensary, students will be put under pressure in scenarios that reflect the real-life challenges facing today's practising pharmacists. New facilities on campus will also ensure they are up-to date with the latest technology – and are ready to walk straight into a community pharmacy or consulting role.

"Through these simulated scenarios students will become familiar with technologies that are being introduced in the field now and in the future," says Williams. "Role plays will build vital skills to help them effectively interact with patients; how to best communicate with them and how to handle challenging situations. It's about replicating the environment.

"Another advantage to the program is that each student will be paired with an academic mentor for the duration of the two-year course to ensure that we develop their skills to their full potential and they are therefore well prepared for the industry's emerging needs."

Says Benrimoj: "We want to make sure the students are professionally practice-based, very technologically advanced, have international knowledge, and that the teaching is research-led – all elements that are characteristic of a UTS degree."

The postgraduate program is open to science and medical science graduates, with research scholarships available for Masters and PhD candidates. For more information on this course visit the Pharmacy at UTS website.

Words: Caroline Jenkins
Image: istockphoto.com, mangostock