The fate of pharmacy and pharmacists in Nigeria
The choice of this topic was largely influenced by my personal experience, exposure and service in the past 30 years. Prior to the beginning of my Pharmacy education, I really did not know much about Pharmacy or pharmacists or their roles in the society. In essence, I got into Pharmacy by chance – but certainly not because I could not qualify for any other course. I had the opportunity in my second year to move from Ife to Ibadan to study Medicine but, somehow, I stood my ground and completed the course of study.
The argument, therefore, that Pharmacy is inferior to Medicine is an illiterate proposition. It has no scientific basis. I am a proud pharmacist and have never felt inferior, as a result of my choice.
The cross we bear
Pharmacy education is versatile and has provided a solid foundation for everyone to build on. Despite this sound education, the environment of practice does not allow the young graduates to give their best. They are practically released into a system that is completely strange and for which they are ill-prepared. They have to struggle in practically all areas of practice.
In the hospital, the doctor is the ‘boss’. He has cornered everything and, in fact, will prefer Pharmacy and other ‘irritating’ para-medicals (as he derisively calls the other health professionals) to be thrown out of the hospital. There can only be one head of department who will probably retire as an assistant director or, at best, a deputy director. Everyone one else must wait.
The situation is not different in the various ministries, parastatals and agencies. It is the same experience in the community and industrial settings. The available spaces have been occupied and practically locked up by businessmen, entrepreneurs (whom we also called all sorts of names like “traders” or “charlatans”).
Paradoxically, the professionally trained graduate ends up a wanderer, moving from one job to the other, seeking a comfortable but elusive ‘altitude’ to fly. This search has taken many colleagues back to school for accumulation of additional degrees in other courses like Accountancy, Law and Engineering! Some have even gone back to the medical college for a degree in Medicine. In the process, we have accumulated a class of hybrid pharmacists, dissatisfied with themselves and unhappy with others.
Nothing seems to matter anymore. A rat race has begun and economic exigencies have become the sole driver of behaviour. The pride of being a pharmacist is losing steam and being a custodian of drugs is becoming an academic slogan. Emphasis on knowledge and its application is no longer attractive and the Pharmacy franchise is taking a turn for the worse.
The culprit we seek
How did we get to this sorry state of affairs? The blame game is on. Everybody blames everybody. To the youths, our leaders have been docile, unimaginative and selfish, if not utterly foolish. “They have sold our franchise to the ‘dogs’,” the youths cry with much anger and venom. Others blame the doctors, the traders, the government, and so on. Yet, the situation gets worse; and while our supposed enemies consolidate, we continue to agitate – challenging every imaginable foe and adversary.
William Shakespeare has already told us many years ago in his book, Julius Caesar: “Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
The fault cannot be in those places where we are pointing our fingers, but rather in ourselves. It is for us to determine where we want to be and how we want Pharmacy to be defined and judged in Nigeria. Charlotte Bronte said, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
We have to accept this reality of life and, as individuals and groups, follow the principles to the letter. My considered opinion is that our expectations generally are very far from reality.
The cure we need
What then must we do to positively impact the fortune of Pharmacy and pharmacists in Nigeria?
- Success: We must define what success means to the individual or group. Success in life is measured not by fortune or acclaim. A venture tried, a challenge met, a future that you embrace is successful, if only it makes the world a better place to live. What is your idea of success? If it is to be rich or prosperous, that is a good and achievable ambition. Your challenge will be how to use the instrumentality of Pharmacy to achieve that aim.
- Mercantilism or professionalism? There is always this delicate balance between the professional and mercantile nature of Pharmacy. I urge every pharmacist reader to remember that, by training, we are first and foremost scientists and not businessmen. Your training in pharmaceutical sciences does not prepare you adequately for the business of Pharmacy. Drug is a specialised article of trade and most of the very successful pharmaceutical entrepreneurs are not pharmacists. If, therefore, you have your eyes on the mercantile pharmacy, then you must retrain yourself appropriately. You must learn the trade and become an expert in it.
- Competencies, skills and knowledge (CSK): You cannot give what you do not have. What you knew yesterday has become obsolete today. You must constantly update your knowledge. It is all about relevance. People will respect you for what you bring to the table. To become more relevant in the hospital system, we need to do more than just keeping and dispensing drugs. We need to develop our CSK and render services that only qualified professionals can do. There is really not so much to gain in the repeated ‘I am a pharmacist’ chant because people will ask: ‘So what?’
- Hard work: There is no shortcut to success, if you are not a thief or fraudster. It takes approximately 9 months for a baby to be well-formed in the womb. You need to pay your dues, serve and be served. I am amazed when people take jobs and insist on a resumption time of 11am and closing time of 2pm. What value can you really add to the organisation with a work schedule of this nature?
- Humility: We need to put on a garment of humility everywhere we go. If you have chosen to work for a named or characterised employer, then it will be wrong to carry yourself higher than your job and employer. Stooping to conquer is a strategy. You learn and gain a lot by being humble.
- Integrity: Employing a pharmacist is no longer a guarantee that your assets are safe. We have so many cases of pharmacists stealing from their employers and converting company resources to personal use. However, the most disturbing integrity issue in Pharmacy today is the ‘Register and Go’ syndrome. Let me appeal to those who are involved in this practice to stop it. You are disgracing Pharmacy.
- Creativity: You are your own property. Your survival and development are your personal responsibilities. You must do everything within your power to live above your environment. You must not succumb to the failings of the system you find yourself. You must be innovative, creative and initiate action to make the system better.
- Quit complaining: It’s a rarely effective strategy. Lou Holtz once said, “Never tell your problems to anyone. 20 per cent don’t care and the other 80 per cent are glad you have them.” Randy Pausch adds, “Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier.”
- Stop the acrimony: There are so many disagreements within the house of Pharmacy. Unfortunately, the issues we disagree on are not strategic and, therefore, we usually do not come off any better after each bout of strife. Let us think more (and act more) on value-adding relationship building. Let us all embrace the aims and objectives of the newly inaugurated Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy. Let us work in harmony with the leadership of the PSN. The new leadership of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) will need the support of all and sundry. Let us give them the benefit of doubt and the opportunity to succeed. This is one way to increase the fortunes of Pharmacy.
- Empowerment: Let us empower ourselves. We complain so much about poverty but we are invariably making others rich. Let us patronise pharmacist-owned organisations by default. Let there be more co-operation among us. Let us mentor the youths. Let us extend always, without conditions, the hands of fellowship to each other. Let us bring everybody, as much as possible, under the PSN umbrella. We must deliberately cultivate our colleagues in government.
- Group action: The PSN must rise up to the occasion and recognise current threats. We complain about the present situation, while the future remains bleak. We need to be more strategic. We must pay attention to the youths in particular – not just because of their own good but because of the future of Pharmacy.
I have no doubt in my mind that things will get better and Pharmacy will take her position of respect in the health care delivery system and the economy of the nation, as a whole. God bless Pharmacy.