I am a pharmacist currently employed with a private organisation, and though the actions of the government and RHA do not affect me directly, I would like to extend my support to my fellow pharmacist colleagues for recently, I too were in their shoes.
For too long the pharmacy profession has remained dormant and passive about decisions, or lack there of, affecting their future. Many people do not understand the plight of the pharmacist and may regard their actions as being merely selfish but if one were to take a closer look into the reasons for such action, one would surely agree that this action was long overdue.
Pharmacists have been requesting to be reclassified for over 30 years!!! I cannot think of any other profession that has waited so patiently, without any form of protest, for such a profession-altering decision to be made. Why has this action not been taken earlier? Pharmacists are currently classified as technicians in Ministry of Health classification structure. However, over the years, the requirement to become a pharmacist has change dramatically from a 3 year diploma, to a 4 year advanced diploma, then to a 4 year B.Sc. Degree programme and may soon become a 5 year Doctor of Pharmacy programme, as is seen in the USA and other developed countries. Why haven’t these changes been echoed in the classification of Pharmacists employed by the government or RHA? Why are pharmacists still being classed as technicians and paid as such? Why should pharmacists endure 4 long years of study and pay in excess of $22, 000 a year, to enter the work place and be paid less than that of someone who stopped studying after CXC? Is this fair? Would you want this for yourself? The government in conjunction with the Pharmacy Board of Trinidad and Tobago have recently embarked upon a Pharmacy Technician Program, so I must ask myself, why should pharmacists who are considered technicians need more technicians???
Apart from reclassification and inadequate compensation packages, most pharmacists through out the country must also bear the increasing amount of work with an inadequate complement of staff. Currently, there is a brain drain of pharmacists from Trinidad and Tobago to developed countries, where pharmacists are treated and compensated as the professionals we are. Over the past recent years, over 128 pharmacists have left the country. Compare this to the present workforce in the public health sector, which is comprised of a mere 250 pharmacists. How can the government and other relevant authorities expect the pharmacists to perform optimally if they are overworked on a daily basis? Believe it or not, pharmacists are humans too! We do get tired, we do get hungry, and like the public, we do get sick. Unfortunately, this is a fact that is overlooked daily, especially when pharmacists are subjected to verbal abuse and threats (yes I have been threatened to be shot) by patients who are agreeably equally frustrated with the present system.
So what are some possible solutions to this worsening situation? Firstly, reclassification of pharmacists together with justified compensation would be a start. Secondly, the relevant authorities should seek to increase the number of pharmacists employed by the system so that we can conduct our job efficiently. There are many roles of a pharmacist, however, with the present work-load, we are unfortunately only allowed to do one, that is dispense medication. The global mandate for the pharmacy profession is pharmaceutical care. But how can we do this properly if we struggle just to finish dispensing medication daily?
Please do not think that the events of Monday and Tuesday were rash and “unjustified” as the President of the Pharmacy Board claims. These negotiations have not only just begun but have been a continuous struggle over the last 30 years. I hope that the public may come to realise this as we do have your best interest at heart. Isn’t that the reason why we chose a profession in health in the first place? It certainly could not have been the present salary!
S. B. (B.Sc. Pharmacy)
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