Specialized training puts pharmacists front and center
“Pharmacists help people live better, healthier lives”
As we consider how the profession of pharmacy has changed over the last 160 years – and how much it might change in the near future – I want to note the profound changes in pharmacy education over these 16 decades.
Elements of our history seem to be coming full circle. Physicians played a key role in formalizing pharmacy education in the mid-19th century, because they were concerned with the quality of drug products. They recognized the importance of ensuring the integrity of medicines, and they took the initiative in molding a profession with the skills and knowledge needed to prepare and distribute high-quality medications. Today, physicians increasingly recognize the need to take advantage of pharmacists’ expertise when faced with the complexity of medication management — especially for patients with multiple chronic conditions.
Transition and change
The changes in education over just the last 60 years underscore that we have, indeed, advanced as a profession. This becomes clear in the context of the APhA Code of Ethics, which from 1929 until 1969 stated: “Pharmacists should never discuss the therapeutic effect of a physician’s prescription with a patron or disclose details of the composition which the physician has withheld.”
After decades on the front lines of patient care, pharmacists were told to stop “counterprescribing” — and state law even prohibited placement of drug names on the prescription labels.
This was a challenging time in pharmacy practice, a time when more prefabricated medications were coming to market and when the effectiveness and actions of many medicinal products were often unclear.
Reimagining the profession
As pharmacists found their compounding duties shrinking, pharmacy educators began to reimagine the curriculum. And education and practice leaders began to accumulate evidence indicating that medication errors could harm patients when pharmacists’ roles were limited.
A multiyear study of the profession, released in 1949, represented a turning point in thought leadership about pharmacy education and practice. The report recommended increasing the pre-pharmacy coursework to increase both scientific rigor and general education requirements. It also encouraged an evolution of the core pharmacy curriculum in keeping with changes in other professions. By the early 1960s, the degree advanced from a four-year BS to a five-year degree.
In 1969, the APhA Code of Ethics revision markedly changed the profession’s ethical commitment to patients and society, stating, “A pharmacist should always strive to perfect and enlarge his knowledge. He should utilize and make available this knowledge as may be required in accordance with his best judgment.”
The change from “should never discuss” to “should make available” was a 180-degree shift for the pharmacist and patient care. Fortunately, pharmacy education had begun to introduce important changes that would help prepare graduates for their new role.