Pharmacy education in Nigeria should mirror global standards – Ex-President, PANS

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Plangkat James Milaham is the immediate past president of the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria Students (PANS) UNIJOS Chapter. In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, the Plateau State born scholar shares his views on pertinent issues surrounding pharmacy education and pharmacy practice in Nigeria, as well as his reasons for preferring industrial pharmacy to all other areas of Pharmacy. Excerpts:

As a student, how would you assess pharmacy profession in Nigeria?
Pharmacy profession in Nigeria is a work-in-progress. I can say for sure that the profession is yet to reach its true apex. For example, Pharmacy students have been getting assurances about proper implementation of the Pharm.D. programme, which is a broader and more clinically-oriented degree in Pharmacy. But till date, only one university has started awarding the degree. Even at that, it is still not yet properly recognised.
However, the industrial arm is doing quite well but a lot needs to be done in the area of drug research and development, which I feel is still at an infant stage. By now, Nigeria should have been able to boast of discovering and formulating internationally recognised and approved drugs and therapies; sadly, however, majority of our pharmaceutical companies are just involved in packaging, marketing, distribution or production of already discovered drugs. So my submission is that the profession is still developing and yet to fully maximise its potentials.

What, in your own opinion, are the major challenges facing pharmacy education in Nigeria?
This is a tough one, but in my opinion, ASUU and its incessant strikes occupy the number one spot in the list of major challenges facing not just pharmacy education but the Nigerian university system as a whole. I also believe there is more to be done in the areas of facility upgrade and infrastructural advancement. It is as a result of this that we find ourselves doing more of theory and less of practical in pharmacy schools across Nigeria; yet it should be the other way round.
For us to learn better, we should be given avenues to practically experience what we are being taught. Also, learning in an ultramodern environment boosts students’ interests and helps them to conveniently learn without much stress. I am talking about good lecture rooms with adequate capacities, well-equipped laboratories, advanced lecture materials, constant power supply, elaborate and regularly functional Internet facilities etc.

What can the government can do to improve the standard of pharmacy education in Nigeria?
The government has a huge role to play. Most importantly is to try and conduct a detailed research on pharmacy education in developed nations; after which policies and strategies should be formulated to enable us become conversant with modern practices. For the government to effectively achieve this, political interests and biased sentiments must be put aside.
Also, attention needs to be paid generally to the educational sector in terms of modernisation, advancement and maintenance. This, I believe will go a long way to improve the standard of pharmacy education in the country.

How has the wave of insurgency in northern states affected your academic calendar?
With regards to UNIJOS, the insurgency in northern Nigeria has had no significant effect on our academic calendar. But it has negatively impacted our emotions because of the numerous losses we have recorded. We have lost many friends, colleagues and even family members to bomb blasts. In fact, just this year, in February, there was an explosion just meters away from the university premises; yet examinations were conducted the next day.
However, there have been other religious crises in the past that terribly marred our academic calendar. This is sometimes inevitable as the university is situated at a location that exposes students and makes them easy targets when violence erupts

Can you tell us some of your achievements and challenges as PANS-UNIJOS president?
I would begin with my own personal challenges. The fact that I had academic work needing serious attention posed a very big challenge to me. My tenure as president was also a relatively short one, so I had little time to properly plan and execute my agenda. I also came into office to face huge chunks of debts and the fact that our regular PANS dues was not so much meant we had to put in a lot of effort to externally source for funds.
However, despite all these, with many thanks to God and my fellow executive members, we were able to make a new set of lockers to tackle the challenge of locker insufficiency in the faculty. To spice up our academic lives, we also introduced an inter-class debate competition which awarded prizes that were beneficial to students in their classroom. We gave prizes such as such as generators and a photocopying machine. The competition was fully sponsored by NAIP, Kano State Chapter.
We also revived the Mr and Miss PANS beauty pageant competition and the tradition of supplying each student with a set of souvenirs, a tradition which was recently neglected. Most importantly, we were able to clear our debts entirely and we left no debts behind.

Where do you see PANS-UNIJOS in the next five years?
I see PANS-UNIJOS attaining greater heights in the next five years. I see it gaining not just national but international recognition. I must say PANS-UNIJOS is made up of men and women of substance. If they are given the opportunity to showcase what they are made of, PANS-National, the pharmacy profession and Nigeria as a whole will be amazed.

Which area of pharmacy practice would you specialise in after graduating and why?
I would love to go into industrial pharmacy. I see it as the most challenging and most tasking. It is where you annually set high targets for yourself and work hard all year round to achieve the goals. It also exposes you to virtually all aspects of pharmacy practice. As an industrial pharmacist you come in contact with pharmacists in the hospitals, community pharmacists, academia and even those who work with regulatory agencies. It also offers a platform for drug research and development and the financial benefits are not discouraging at all.

What is your message to pharmacy students in UNIJOS, and especially the new PANS executives?

To all pharmacy students in UNIJOS, I would like to say thank you as all I can offer is appreciation and gratitude. I was praised, encouraged, supported and constructively criticised during my tenure and it was all these that pushed me to work harder and do more. Also, they should keep setting the pace academically and never relent in their unity.
Finally, my advice to the new executives of PANS-UNIJOS is to never back down when the going gets tough. Being a PANS executive is not a piece of cake so you should equip yourselves for the challenges to come. Also, if you work collectively with a unified and purposeful spirit, no obstacle will be too difficult for you to scale. And most importantly always think positive. We also appreciate Pharmanews for what it is doing for the pharmacy profession.

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Pharmacy education in Nigeria should mirror global standards – Ex-President, PANS