Is Pharmacy a Knowledge-Based Profession?

By Waterfield, Jon | American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Is Pharmacy a Knowledge-Based Profession?


Waterfield, Jon, American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education


INTRODUCTION

Pharmacists have a unique knowledge base and the following statement provides some insight into the breadth and depth of that knowledge:

   Pharmacists through their education and training can
   consider (and conceptualise) a drug molecule, together
   with its formulation and delivery as a medicine. They
   have an in-depth knowledge of pharmacology and
   therapeutics, physicochemical properties of drugs
   and excipients, biopharmacy and pharmacokinetics,
   adverse drug reactions and drug interactions. It is this
   complex, varied and integrated expert knowledge that
   qualifies them, and them alone, to make professional
   judgements relating to medicines. (1)

While most pharmacists would agree with the preceding statement, pharmacy clearly is not always a well-understood profession. A study that examined attitudes of the general public to the expanding role of the community pharmacist revealed a range of consumer attitudes. (2) For example there was support for community pharmacist involvement in non-dispensing-related roles such as public health, but less support for services that would require access to selected information from medical records. Another study on consumers' perceptions of community pharmacy in Portugal found that participants displayed superficial and contradictory ideas about the actual functions of a pharmacist. (3) One of the key challenges for the pharmacy profession is how to demonstrate the potential benefit of having pharmacists' input their knowledge into patient care.

This lack of understanding about the role of the pharmacist raises a potentially fruitful question: "Is pharmacy a knowledge-based profession?" Alternatively, the question could be stated: "Is the unique contribution of the pharmacist based on what they know rather than on what they do?" This area of inquiry is particularly relevant for the pharmacy educator for a number of important reasons.

The pharmacy curriculum is a full and comprehensive menu of subjects that span both the traditional pharmaceutical sciences and practice-related studies. The pragmatic question for the pharmacy educator centers on how this breadth and depth of knowledge can be applied in a meaningful way in the practice setting. The contribution of the pharmacist to patient care is beyond the mechanical and technical supply function associated with dispensing, but this strengthening view from within the profession challenges the educator to design and deliver a curriculum that is relevant to this aspiration. To argue that pharmacy is a knowledge-based profession implies that this knowledge somehow has to be mobilized and applied. Again, this has significant implications for the educator to ensure that the future practitioner can communicate effectively and assert their unique position within a clinical setting.

The knowledge-based nature of the pharmacy profession also presents a challenge for the educator as to the importance of research activity and the discovery of new knowledge. This has implications in the preparation of future pharmacists with the skills and confidence necessary to undertake research as part of their practice. As the profession increasingly recognizes the place of continuing professional development (CPD), the importance of ongoing knowledge acquisition and knowledge application in practice is an integral part of any CPD program. As the pharmacy educator is involved in developing future practitioners who can work within an ethos of professionalism and CPD, the status of pharmacy as a knowledge-based profession becomes increasingly significant.

The aim of this review is to highlight the way in which knowledge and professionalism are intertwined. Having stated some of the possible reasons why this area is important for the pharmacy educator, the main focus of this review is a closer examination of the types of knowledge used by the pharmacist. A useful starting point is to look briefly at some of the key areas associated with knowledge and professionalism. …

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