This article provides an overview of the current status of pharmacy education in the United Kingdom. A characteristic program is described which is based on the master of pharmacy (MPharm) model, which is an "undergraduate" master's degree. The type and length of training, numbers entering and leaving the profession, and criteria for admission are discussed, and an overview of the curriculum, which is normally based over 4 years, is given. The career opportunities of UK pharmacy graduates are discussed, as well as educational challenges such as plagiarism and the changing profile of schools of pharmacy, which is affecting supply and demand of pharmacists. The changing face of the profession in the UK is then addressed, including the advent of the prescribing pharmacist.
Historically, entrance to the pharmacy profession required successful completion of a 3-year Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree followed by 1 year preregistration work under appropriate supervision. Since the turn of the century, however, the recognized qualification that permits registration with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) has been the 4-year MPharm program, followed by the compulsory 1-year work program prior to application for registration as a pharmacist. Under the Bologna agreement for educational equivalence across Europe, this is classed as an "undergraduate masters program," which is a lesser qualification than the traditional MSc degree (1); the reason being that possession of a bachelor's degree is not necessary for application to the program. Within mainland Europe, pharmacy degree programs typically are 5 to 6 years. The United Kingdom's 4-year degree is the shortest of the European pharmacy degrees. The MPharm programs fulfill all of the criteria required under European regulations concerning equivalence of qualifications: a European Union citizen achieving an MPharm degree is thus eligible to apply for registration in any of the European member states having completed their work placement experience. However, most member states impose some additional language requirements and the need to work under supervision for the first 3 to 6 months after taking up their new post. A non-European Union citizen qualifying as a pharmacist in one member state is not automatically eligible to apply for registration as a pharmacist in another member state since legislation applying to mutual recognition of qualifications applies to European Union citizens only. (2)
There is some lack of consistency concerning requirements for "currency of knowledge" prior to graduation. There is a limited timeframe during which MPharm students must complete their program. Most UK schools of pharmacy require students to graduate from the MPharm program within 6 years of commencing, which allows for illness, pregnancy, etc, or even failure and repetition of some stages of the program. The argument proffered for this limit is that the material taught early in the program is outdated if the student graduates more than 3 years after they commence their studies. This limit, however, is not mandatory, and thus not applied in all UK programs. Each case is assessed on merit by the RPSGB when the student applies for training prior to application for entry onto the register of pharmacists. Students, however, are not obliged to undertake their preregistration training immediately following graduation; thus, a student who graduates in 4 years may decide to delay preregistration training. There are cases where graduates have applied for preregistration training more than 10 years after graduation. Using the argument of "currency of knowledge," it has now been suggested that graduates should be required to begin their preregistration training within 3 years of graduation. This has yet to be legislated. The 12-month preregistration training culminates with a national registration examination. Students are allowed 3 attempts to pass this assessment if needed, with an additional 12month period of training enforced after the second failure. …