Someone once said of life’s ambition, “If you are passionate about it, pursue it, no matter what anyone else thinks. That’s how dreams are achieved.” This perhaps desribes the life of Emeghebo Chika Ndubuisi, the newly elected national president of the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria Students (PANS), whom despite having a bachelor’s degree in Applied Biochemistry from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK), Awka, Anambra State, decided to bag another degree in Pharmacy. He is currently studying for a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree in the same university.
In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, the indigene of Akpulu town, Ideato North Local Government Area of Imo State, reveals the reason for his uncommon decision, as well as his administration’s plan for the association. Excerpts:
What prompted your decision to study Pharmacy after having studied Applied Biochemistry?
Right from my childhood days, I had always harboured this uncommon love for the health care delivery system. When I visited hospitals, I would admire the men in white (laboratory coat), and I appreciated their efforts in ensuring that patients got better. Somehow then, I was more familiar with doctors and nurses; but as I grew up, I discovered that the responsibility of formulating and rationally dispensing drugs for the overall therapeutic advantage of the patients lies on the pharmacist. That was how I developed such special love for the pharmacy profession that even after a BSc. in Biochemistry, I still had to come back to study for the profession of my dreams. I want be a member of the pharmacy team and thereby contribute my quota to the benefit of the patient.
You recently emerged PANS national president. What prompted your decision to get actively involved in PANS politics and what are your plans for pharmacy students?
My decision to get actively involved in PANS politics sprang from one of my innate characteristics – willingness to serve. In any environment I find myself, I make the best of every opportunity that I have to render services to people. I find fulfillment in contributing my quota in a team, for the ultimate good of the organisation where I find myself. So, in simple terms, my decision to get actively involved in PANS politics was predicated on the understanding that it is yet another opportunity to serve through the dispensing of quality and impactful leadership.
My first plan for pharmacy students in Nigeria is to take them from where they are now and lead them to where they are aspiring to be. My priority is to ensure a paradigm shift from what used to be the standard of pharmacy education in Nigeria. It is my plan that, through proper collaborations with the federal ministries of education and health and other relevant agencies, pharmacy schools in Nigeria will be upgraded through the installation of state-of-the-art facilities and qualified manpower so as to produce pharmacists that can favorably compete anywhere in the world.
What are the challenges facing pharmacy students nationally and how can they be tackled?
The challenges facing pharmacy students in Nigeria are enormous. However, against all odds, pharmacy education in Nigeria is on the progressive scale. But as you well know, there is always room for improvement. The challenges range from inadequate and archaic laboratory equipment to insufficient library materials for research purposes. Others include lack of modern teaching aids, insufficient manpower in the universities, and poor welfare package for the lecturers and other staff of the faculties. There is also the challenge of meagre or non-existent bursary allowance for the students from most of the states. Also there is the issue of very poor student-exchange programme.
To surmount these challenges, all hands must be on deck. Both the government and the organised private sector must collaborate. There should be a viable public-private partnership. The government of the day should have the political will to revamp and reposition the pharmacy schools, having the understanding that the life of the nation depends largely on the quality of pharmacists that are produced from our pharmacy schools.
Pharmacy laboratories should be well-equipped with modern facilities. Up-to-date textbooks should replace outdated editions. Our lecturers and other staff should be well taken care of, so that they can happily give their best. State governors should map out a special bursary allowance for pharmacy students from their states. Funds should be made available by the federal ministry of education for our student-exchange programmes so that there would be mutual sharing of scientific knowledge locally and internationally. Finally, the internship programme for young pharmacists should be reviewed and modified to ameliorate the stress faced by students immediately after graduation.
Tell us about PANS programmes for 2016
2016 is no doubt an activity-studded year for PANS. We are looking at increasing the level of students’ participation in PANS activities. We are going to have various competitions – in academics and sporting activities among pharmacy schools. We are looking at expanding the Neros Sports Tournament to accommodate both track and field events.
We shall also be reaching out to more people in the society through our health missions in various states. Our student-exchange programme will also receive good attention as it is our desire to host students from other parts of the globe. Also, the annual convention fiesta which will be held at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, and has been tagged ‘Legacy 2016’, will definitely be second to none in the history of the association.
What do you think government can do to improve the standard of pharmacy education in Nigeria?
The government should, through the federal ministry of education, ensure the upgrading of all the laboratories in pharmacy schools in Nigeria. Modern equipment should be installed; newer editions of textbooks and other teaching aids should replace older editions. Funds should be made available for students and lecturers for research, especially in the area of Nigerian medicinal plants because Nigeria is blessed with a wide variety of medicinal plants. Government should also sponsor our student-exchange programmes so as to give us the opportunity of sharing ideas and knowledge among pharmacy students, locally and globally.
State governments should review and improve on the bursary allowance given to pharmacy students in their various states. The internship programme should be reviewed and modified for a better pharmacy experience immediately after graduation.
What grey areas in the pharmacy profession do you think the PSN and other stakeholders need to address urgently?
Among other things, the leadership of the PSN should ensure that the pharmacy profession is preserved and guarded with all jealousy. They should have the will to clamp down on all unauthorised drug dealers, no matter who is involved.
The sentiments have been that there are insufficient pharmacists in the country and no pharmacist would want to operate a community pharmacy in the rural areas. But I think the reason pharmacists are not practising in rural areas is because there are still unauthorised drug dealers there. The need must be created.
In developed countries this kind of discussion would not arise because you dare not handle drugs if you are not licensed to do so. Until drug handling absolutely left to pharmacists, our relevance in the health care system may not be significantly felt.
Secondly, the PSN leadership should try to secure specialty and consultancy programmes for pharmacists after graduation. I look forward to an era when we shall begin to have a consultant paediatric pharmacist, a consultant neurological pharmacist etc.
Additionally, the internship programme for fresh graduates of pharmacy should be made more comprehensive and more rewarding. Above all, more facilities should be accredited to be able to take intern pharmacists, and the existing ones should be encouraged to take more people. It is disheartening to see that a pharmacist stays for more than a year without getting an internship placement.
Where do you see PANS by the time you will be leaving office?
On leaving office, I would love to see PANS far better than I met it. I see PANS becoming the number one professional students’ body in Nigeria. I see a PANS that would lend its voice in formulating policies that will improve health care delivery in Nigeria and elsewhere. Most importantly, I see a formidable and more united PANS.