Pharmacy as a Career


Yeoh Peng Nam, B.Pharmacy, M.Sc., Ph.D., R.Ph., MMPS,
Formerly Professor and Founding Head, Department of Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Formerly also Professor and Head, Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
At Present: Professor of Pharmacy, International Medical University, Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

September 2002

  1. Introduction

    Pharmacy refers to the profession, which is concerned with the handling of all aspects of chemical substances, referred to as medicine or drugs. This includes knowledge of the source (whether natural or synthetic), the physical and chemical properties, the good and bad effects on living organisms (including man), the dosage forms, the formulation, compounding and manufacture, the storage, sale, laws and ethics governing the manufacture, import, export, storage, sale and usage of drugs or poisons.

    A person who has graduated with a bachelor degree in pharmacy is called a pharmacist. The pharmacist is trained in the counseling of patients on the appropriate usage of medicine, food supplements, and herbal preparations for related diseases, disorders or conditions. The pharmacist is also trained to provide information and advice on prevention of diseases and the maintenance of good health.

    In order for the pharmacist to practice pharmacy, which involves the import, sale, storage, distribution, export of drugs, chemicals or poisons and health promotion, the pharmacist has to be registered yearly with the Pharmacy Board of the Ministry of Health, Malaysia.

  2. Educational Background

    A student who is interested to study pharmacy must have a strong background in science subjects, like chemistry, biology, mathematics and physics. A good command of English is a great asset.

  3. The Pharmacy Course

  1. Institutions conducting the Pharmacy Course

    At the time of writing this article (September 2002), three public universities, University of Science Malaysia (USM), University Malaya (UM), National University Malaysia (UKM), one private University (International Medical University, IMU) have successfully produced pharmacy graduates with the undergraduate degree in pharmacy.

    IMU runs a twinning programme in pharmacy with the University of Strathclyde in United Kingdom. Two other private colleges (Sepang Institute of Technology, SIT) and Sedaya International College have started a franchised programme in Pharmacy with universities in Australia and USM, respectively. Two other institutions of higher learning in Malaysia, viz., Universiti Islam Antarabangsa (UIA), Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), have also started the pharmacy course.

  2. Entry Level Qualifications

    Acceptable entry level qualifications include pre-university matriculation at the stated universities, the Cambridge Higher School Certificate or HSC, the GCE A-level and certain diplomas conferred by the Ministry of Health, Malaysia, USM. UKM and MARA. The private institutions of higher learning also accepts Canadian pre-University (CPU), Australian Matriculation, New ZEALAND BURSARY, Unified Examination certificate (UEC), Australian University Foundation Programme, Indian Pre-University. However, because the number of places for pharmacy in the stated tertiary institutions is limited, generally only candidates with very good grades in science subjects are selected.

  3. The Course Content

    The curriculum in pharmacy is very broad based. Students study basic medical sciences, which include anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, immunology, microbiology, genetics, molecular biology, calculus, statistics, information technology, parasitology and pathology. Students also study pharmacognosy, pharmacology, pharmaceutical chemistry, pharmaceutics or pharmacy practice, clinical pharmacy, marketing, management, ethics and pharmacy laws. 
    In addition, students in the public universities have to take co-curricular courses, unrelated to the profession, with the aim of obtaining a balanced education. The curriculum in the three public universities includes several weeks of full-time attachment to pharmacies in hospitals, the community and in pharmaceutical factories.

  4. The Length of the Course

    The three public universities, USM, UKM and UM conduct a minimum 4-year pharmacy course. Successful graduates are conferred the Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honors) degree. 
    The length of the pharmacy course conducted in the private institutions vary from 3 to 4 years, with students following intensive study programme at the expense of study breaks. IMU confers the Master of Pharmacy degree from the University of Strathclyde. Although called a Master of Pharmacy, it is actually an undergraduate degree of the same standing as a bachelor's degree.

  1. Studying Pharmacy Abroad : Importance of Accreditation of Degree by the Pharmacy Board, Ministry of Health

    Students who wish to study pharmacy abroad should first ensure that the pharmacy degree from the selected university is accredited by the Pharmacy Board of the Ministry of Health, Malaysia. This matter is of utmost importance. If the degree is not accredited, they will not be registered as pharmacists after graduation and will not be able to work as pharmacists in Malaysia. The degree status of a university can be verified with the Ministry of Health, Pharmacy Services Division.

    In general, pharmacy degrees from universities in Singapore, Hongkong, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom are accredited. Pharmacy degrees from only certain universities in Canada, United States, Japan, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Iraq and other West Asian Countries are accredited by the Pharmacy Board. To date, no degree from China, Korea, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, South Africa, countries in Europe, Scandinavia, South Africa and South America is accredited for registration with the Pharmacy Board.

  2. The Forensic Pharmacy Examination

    In order to be eligible for registration with the Pharmacy Board, Ministry of Health, Malaysia, all pharmacy graduates must pass the forensic pharmacy examination and undergo a 12 month pupilage (or housemanship) in a hospital pharmacy, community pharmacy or pharmaceutical factory approved by the Pharmacy Board.

  3. Poison Licenses and the Practice of Pharmacy

    In Malaysia, only registered pharmacist can hold certain types of poison license. These licenses are required for the operation of a pharmacy or a factory which manufacture drugs or animal feed containing drugs. These licenses are also needed to distribute, sell, import and export drugs and certain chemicals.

  4. Career Options

    At the moment of writing, there is a great shortage of pharmacists in Malaysia as well as in many countries in the world, including Australia, United Kingdom, United States. In Malaysia, pharmacists can choose to work in the government or private sector.

    In pharmacies in the hospital or community, the pharmacist is responsible for the procurement, storage, distribution, dispensing, usage and sale of drugs or medicines.

  1. Pharmacists in the Hospital Pharmacy

    The pharmacist in the hospital works closely with the doctors to decide on the most cost-effective medicine for different disease conditions. Pharmacists check on the dose and type of medicine prescribed by the doctors, providing an essential screen against medication errors. They fill prescriptions and counsel patients on the right way to take medicine, to improve patient compliance so as to ensure therapeutic success and to reduce adverse effects due to inappropriate use of the drug. Sometimes if certain prescribed medicine is very expensive, pharmacists can help doctors look for a cheaper but equally effective generic substitute.

    Pharmacists do therapeutic drug monitoring to help doctors provide more effective treatment, with lesser drug-induced adverse effects. 
    Pharmacists in hospitals also do small-scale formulation and manufacture of special dosage forms when requested by specialists in the hospitals.

  2. Pharmacists in the Community Pharmacy

    The community pharmacist not only dispenses doctors' prescriptions for medicines, they also manage, procure, store, sell, counsel and advice patients and consumers on the use of over-the-counter drugs, herbal medication, food supplements and cosmetics. Pharmacists also counsel patients on the use of certain medical devices and perform certain diagnostic tests. They participate in the distribution of health information and advises consumers on disease prevention and the promotion of wellness.

    Community pharmacists either own their own pharmacies or work as managers for pharmacies owned by a chain pharmacy or a non-pharmacist owner.

  3. Pharmacists in the Government Sector

    In the government sector, many pharmacists work in the hospital pharmacy. Others are involved in the drug enforcement division of the Ministry of Health. They enforce the laws, which control the procurement, import, export, manufacture, distribution, and sale of drugs, medicine and poisons. Their duties include the inspection of premises, which manufacture drugs or medicine and herbal medicine to ensure that standards of Good Manufacturing Practice are adhered to.

    A large number of pharmacists in the government work in the National Poison Control Bureau (NPCB) in Petaling Jaya. They are responsible for the quality control, standardization and registration of drugs, medicine, herbal medicine, cosmetics and medical devices.

  4. Pharmacists in Pharmaceutical Factories

    In pharmaceutical factories, pharmacists have many roles. They can be involved in drug research and development. Most are in-charge of quality control, manufacturing, registration, sale, marketing and distribution of pharmaceutical products to hospitals, clinics and community pharmacies.

  5. Pharmacists in Multinational Drug Companies

    The pharmacists, who work in multinational drug companies, have many functions. They could be involved in management of the company, sale of medicines, drug development and promotion, drug trials, drug registration, clinical drug trials and post-marketing surveillance. While performing their functions, they become a good source of drug information and continuing drug education for medical and health professionals.

    It is an asset for pharmacists in this sector to have a Master degree in Business Administration or equivalent in Management.

  6. Pharmacists in Academia

    The pharmacy graduate can also choose an academic career. With additional Master and Doctorate qualifications in appropriate pharmacy disciplines, the pharmacist can become a lecturer in the university in pharmacy, medical, dental, nursing or biomedical science departments. The pharmacy graduate can also do research and drug development in the creation of new drugs or new formulations of drugs in universities research centers or drug companies.

  1. Continuing Pharmacy Education

    The pharmacist relies on expert knowledge on all aspects of drugs used as medicine or otherwise. Since new drugs or medicine, new strategies for treatment of diseases, new medical devices are continuously being introduced and certain older ones become obsolete as new knowledge reveals unacceptable adverse effects, it is essential that the pharmacist be up-to-date with his knowledge.

    The Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS)
    In Malaysia, the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS) is the professional society for all pharmacists. MPS works very closely with the Pharmacy Division, Ministry of Health and many drug companies to conduct many Continuing Pharmacy Education (CPE) activities. It is to the benefit of all pharmacists to be a member of MPS.


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