Financial and mental strain being placed on Pharmacy students

Pharmacy students across Ireland have, exclusively to Irish Pharmacy News, highlighted difficulties under the
new MPharm programme and have voiced their concerns on a lack of payment for placements.

Under the terms of the new integrated Masters of Pharmacy programme, 4th year pharmacy students are presently undertaking a four month unpaid placement.

“We work 9-5.30 four days a week, carrying out the same tasks as a pharmacy technician,” A 4th year pharmacy student, who wished to remain anonymous, told Irish Pharmacy News.

“Furthermore, as 5th year students we are expected to undertake an 8 month unpaid placement, with an increased cost of fees from €3000 to €7,500 in UCC, €8,500 in TCD and €9000 in RCSI. As a result, each pharmacy student faces an approximate deficit of at least €25,000.”

Many students are experiencing financial strain as well as mental health issues associated with their study. University Students Ireland (USI) alongside pharmacy students have therefore written an open letter to the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland.

The letter states, “The old course consisted of a 4-year undergraduate programme followed by a one-year internship, paid up to 14 euro an hour, at the discretion of the employer. The new course, introduced in 2015, is a five-year integrated masters programme under one of the three schools of pharmacy in Ireland – UCC, TCD, RCSI.

As a result, pharmacy students must now complete a four-month placement in year 4 and an eight-month placement in year 5 – both unpaid. “Some students are having to work nearly seven days every week to financially support themselves and to be able to attend placement. One third of pharmacy students are currently in receipt of the SUSI grant. However, it is unclear whether the fifth year will be covered by this, thus students may have to take a year out between fourth and fifth year to work to afford their fees.

“The Department of Education refuse to fund fifth year and the Pharmacy Schools and the PSI are against intern pharmacists being paid for their work. We would like clarification on who used to cover the costs of the NPIP year in the past. We would like to know what we are paying for and why?

“These astronomical fees never had to be paid by a student in the past. This integrated degree was developed to benefit us, the students. We have yet to experience any of this benefit. All we are experiencing is financial strain, stress and unhappiness. In a previous email you stated that the new integrated 5-year degree will inflict ‘short term financial consequences on students’.

This statement undermines the consequences of this financial strain, with a worrying amount of young Intern Pharmacists experiencing various mental health issues as a result, including anxiety and depression.

“Contributing factors to the mental health status of Intern Pharmacists at present is not limited to the financial strain. It is also because we are unmotivated whilst at placement. If you look up the definition of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation you will understand what we are referring to. Receiving payment for the work which we do would contribute towards building the self-esteem, work ethic and work morale of student pharmacists. Receiving payment would also make us feel more competent and thus contribute to our intrinsic motivation.

“You also mentioned that ‘the opportunity presented by the new programme for careful teaching and professional mentoring would be an invaluable asset’ in this email. Could you explain to the pharmacy students of Ireland how so? What is the program for careful teaching and professional mentoring? Will the preceptors be receiving a new training plan to educate them as to how they are to deliver this ‘professional mentoring’ during the 8 months?

If so, is it possible for this training plan to be circulated to the students of all three schools of pharmacy so that we can see exactly what the astronomical fifth year fee is funding? What additional education shall we be receiving for this new fee? How will it be an invaluable asset to us?

“You also mentioned that ‘the 5th year placement is not designed for pharmacy students to act as technicians’. We would like to inform you that regardless of what your intentions were when designing the new course, it is inevitable that we will be acting as technicians during our 8-month unpaid placement. We will be performing all the same tasks and duties in the pharmacy as a pharmacy technician would be doing. Examples of these activities are putting away the drugs order, putting prescriptions through the software, generating labels, gathering the drugs for final checking by the pharmacist, getting the claim ready at the end of the month, performing extemporaneous compounding etc.

“This new integrated degree was designed to enhance students’ learning. We urge you to listen to us, the students. Please consider our opinions and respond promptly to them. Our learning is not being enhanced. We are not benefiting from this new course in any way. We are not learning more or gaining anything different from those students in the year ahead of us who are in the old 4 + 1 model. We are suffering financially but more importantly, and alarmingly, we are suffering mentally.

“In the real world, you learn on the job. The notion that a student can sit on placement for 4-months and simply ‘learn’ and not work is incredulous. Working and learning are not mutually exclusive. They go hand in hand. This new degree programme has generated a lot of upset for students, with very little educational gain. We should be looking forward to our careers as Pharmacists. Instead we will emerge disappointed and in low spirits. It is the duty of the PSI to take our feedback into account and listen to our concerns to ensure the course can be improved for the future pharmacy classes to come. If not, it appears the pharmacy degree will become a course solely reserved for the ‘elitist’.”

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