April ’11 Article in IP

Their Future In Your Hands.

There used to be a radio programme where the tag line was “This may not be your problem today but it could be some time.” The subject of this months article may not affect you now but in our rapidly changing times who is to say what may happen in the future. It concerns the Pre-reg year. Or to give it’s proper title the Intern year as part of the M.Pharm program. My problem is trying to decide if I will be taking on an intern next September/October.
A bit of history here. I became a tutor over 10 years ago. I was winding down from my involvement in the IPU and was looking for another challenge. I was working for an Irish owned pharmacy chain and they supported me in this. I have to say that I always enjoyed the mental challenge of moulding raw meat into a perfectly good pharmacist. And to this day I am immensely proud of the pre-regs who passed under my tutelage.
But now the FEMPI cuts have hit every pharmacy. We all have to work harder and look at everything that we do in the pharmacy and ask how does this contribute to the overall benefit of the pharmacy. So I sat down to look at all the pros and cons of taking on a pre-reg.
One of the biggest pros for me was the challenge and satisfaction of teaching. Only the pre-regs who have passed under my care can really comment on my abilities as a teacher but I enjoyed the process. I have no doubt that the pharmacy benefited from having a graduate fresh out of college full of all the latest therapies, drug regimes et al and only bursting to try and put them into practice. Another pro was the onus on myself to keep up to date via various CPD and courses offered specifically for tutors.
When it came to cons up to the current cut backs there wasn’t many. The only real one was that you had a member of staff who only stayed a year and finding a replacement was an annual task. Lately however all the input required from tutors means that an ever growing chunk of my time has been dedicated to the intern-ship. And the current cuts means that every expense has to be looked at carefully.
Can I afford a member of staff who will only be with me one year? I have been looking at the extra work load for myself with an intern. Do I want all this extra work and effort especially when I recognise that they will be gone after 12 months. I could take on a technician who presumably would be looking long term. I also have to justify every minute of my time. Over the last couple of years I have spent too much time in the pharmacy, initially to get established and lately to try and save on costs. So now I’m taking time off when ever I can afford it. I could also take on my second pharmacist for more hours and allow myself more time off. I will have to take somebody on when my current pre-reg finishes in October but will it be intern or regular staff?

I feel for the current graduates. There seems to have been very little control on the number of college places over the past few years. At some stage did anybody in the PSI or Department of Education sit down and realise that if there are to be 180 or so graduates each year then there will be a need for at least 180 tutors as well. I cannot but wonder if anybody has carried out a manpower survey of pharmacy and pharmacist needs. Has any account been taken of the number of Irish residents who are studying and have studied pharmacy in the UK or the number of European pharmacists who have registered to practice here? But that is an article for another day.

The PSI are paid by interns to take part in the M.Pharm. and the RCSI are paid to run the course. We are doing work on behalf of PSI and RCSI as part of the M.Pharm. Shouldn’t we get paid too? A day spent doing the tutor course is another days locum that has to be paid for. And if you are not Dublin based you can add travelling expenses as well. Should the M.Pharm year now be considered as just another year in college? This leads to the question should we get paid for taking an intern? And following on from this should interns be paid at all? I personally would find it hard to have somebody in the pharmacy who was effectively working unpaid for me. This may be one of my attitudes that will need changing. I have already had one applicant who is willing to work for no salary. I may not be paying them with cash but with my knowledge, experience and time instead. It is becoming standard practice with other professions that the intern-ship is unpaid and I can see this becoming commonplace in pharmacy as well. If tutors continue to provide intern-ships for no return then ultimately we will continue to place no value on our time and expertise. And if we don’t put any value on our time and expertise how can we expect the HSE, PSI and Department of Health to put any value on it? Colleagues in other countries get paid grants to take on interns so I think that it time that tutors received some form of recompense.

When the M.Pharm. course was announced I just saw it as a natural development of the previous pre-reg years. There then followed a series of small changes. On their own each change did not involve a lot of extra work. But like the frog in a pot of water tutors sat there as the temperature was slowly raised. Well now it is boiling.
I would imagine that the RCSI is constantly reviewing the M.Pharm. course. Other courses have changed the nature of their intern-ships to match availability and I feel that the RCSI will have to as well. It struck me as unusual that pharmacy graduates were obliged to work full time while pursuing a Masters programme over a 12 month period. It is effectively two full time positions and cannot be sustainable in the long term.
For me after much time spent considering the matter I have decided that the needs of my business must come first. Much as I enjoy the experience of having a pre-reg I have to ensure that my bills are paid. I have notified the 38 graduates who applied for a place with me of this decision and wish them all the best. They are in for a tough time.

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