In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, the current national president of the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria Students (PANS), Raymond E. Okokoh, reveals why the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria should make Industrial Training (IT) compulsory for pharmacy students in the country. He also discloses the achievements of his administration so far, as well as some of the challenges dogging pharmacy education in Nigeria. Excerpts:
As a student, how would you assess pharmacy profession in Nigeria?
Pharmacy profession in Nigeria has attained a height enviable by other professions in the health sector. Pharmacists play a very vital role in the society. Apart from being drug experts, they also play other important roles in the society, so much that people consider them indispensable. However, there is still the misconception in some quarters that pharmacists are mere traders. This needs to be addressed so that people will know that Pharmacy is beyond buying and selling of drugs. In Nigeria, pharmacists are everywhere and in all endeavours as they fit in well into any role assigned to them due to the quality of training they get from pharmacy schools.
What, in your own opinion, are the major challenges facing pharmacy education in Nigeria?
I would say that pharmacy education is a very demanding one and requires well-equipped, standard laboratories and equipment. But there is the challenge of inadequate funding on the part of the government, which has led to some schools having substandard or inadequate equipment and teaching aids.
That aside, most pharmacy schools don’t incorporate Industrial Training into their curriculum. And this has constituted a great drawback in the learning of students and their familiarity with the practical aspect of Pharmacy. Pharmacy is a professional course and if you are not grounded in the practical side of it, you cannot practise successfully.
A Fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) once told us that we should endeavour to grow from being professionals to practitioners. He said Pharmacy does not end in answering “pharmacist” as a title but that we must be able to deliver when it comes to practical and real life cases. I would therefore recommend that the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) incorporates a compulsory Industrial Training programme in pharmacy curriculum, because, as they say, ‘experience is the best teacher’.
What do you think the government can do to improve the standard of pharmacy education in Nigeria?
I think the lecturers and deans of pharmacy schools across the country are all capable and up to the task, but the major challenge still remains lack of funds and other resources to work with. Government should ensure availability of funds for pharmacy schools so that we can start operating at par with other pharmacy schools in the world.
Our lecturers are capable, but lack of necessary equipment to work with and lack of motivation from government has always been the barrier militating against the development of pharmacy education in the country.
Let’s talk about PANS. How have you been coping financially?
Lack of funds has really dealt with my administration, especially in this period when the country is in transition of leadership. PANS has, over the years, depended on donations and support from corporate bodies and pharmaceutical companies for carrying out its activities. But this year, being an election year, things have not been easy for the PANS leadership, as all potential sponsors keep telling us to check back after the elections.
Most of our activities had to be put on hold because of lack of funds. For instance, we needed to pay capitation to the International Pharmacy Students Forum (IPSF). We also needed to upgrade our website and renew its subscription but we couldn’t achieve any of these. In fact, we have been borrowing from people to run the association and it has been demoralising. Some executives of PANS have great ideas and plans for the association but funding has been a big challenge.
Tell us some of the programmes you plan for PANS before leaving office
I’d love to start with one important programme that we have been working assiduously on, which is tagged “Neros Pharmaceuticals Tournament”. We have come up with the idea of having an Annual Sports Festival programme among pharmacy schools and the tournament will cover a period of two months. Matches will be played only during the weekends and the final match will take place during our national convention.
We have designed it in such a way that each pharmacy school will represent a particular pharmaceutical company or a pharmacy. For example, we may have a Neros Pharmaceuticals team taking on an Emzor Pharmaceuticals team and so on like that. We therefore appeal to pharmaceutical companies, as well as established pharmacies, to support us in this regard by providing sport wears and funds to any school that chooses to represent them.
Also, we are planning to have our next national convention tagged “Diversity 2015” from 9 to 16, August and the theme is “Preparing the Nigerian Pharmacy Students for Global Challenges”. So, we are in dire need of sponsorship and support so as to successfully host this year’s Annual National Convention as we call on individuals, corporate bodies and Pharmaceutical companies to come to our aid.
In addition, the African Pharmacy Students Symposium comes up in Rwanda in June this year, while the International Pharmacy Students Forum (IPSF)comes up in India, in August. It is pertinent that PANS is well represented at these conferences; so we need sponsors to assist us.
There have also been some suggestions on ways to get steady income for the association. These include establishment of a PANS Table Water factory. We believe PANS is no longer a small association and that if we own such a business venture, it will benefit us all as students. Therefore we have planned that the company will be managed by paid personnel, while the PSN regulates the affairs of the company.
PANS activities will be sponsored from the profits made from the business. Scholarships will also be awarded to pharmacy students from the proceeds. In addition, we are proposing establishing a mobile application called ipharm, which will be useful for pharmacy students as well as pharmacists who are already working. It will also be used to generate funds for the association. We therefore need partners who will sponsors these proposed projects and consequently help us solve the problem of underfunding in PANS.
Finally, what is your message to pharmacy students across the country?
This is to tell my colleagues in all pharmacy schools across the country that the profession they have chosen is not a mistake. Pharmacy is a noble and respectable profession they should be proud of; so, no matter the challenges, they should endeavour to finish well.
I also want to remind them that our profession is an honourable one; so we should never feel inferior to other students that are studying health-related courses. You are pharmacists in the making, which means you are people of honour. We must work hard so as to maintain our integrity and values.