How do you teach professionalism in pharmacy?

Professionalism teaching and learning needs to be integrated, grounded and longitudinal throughout all four years of the pharmacy curriculum, says a new University of Manchester study.

It should start from day one in year 1 and increase towards the more professional practice elements in years 3 and 4 of the MPharm course, concludes the research report commissioned and published by the Pharmacy Practice Research Trust (PPRT).

The study, entitled Professionalism in Pharmacy Education, was headed by Dr Ellen Schafheutle, Lecturer in Law and Professionalism in Pharmacy in Manchester’s School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences and is one of three commissioned by the PPRT to investigate different areas of professionalism in pharmacy. 

The research, which was conducted in three different UK schools of pharmacy, found that both staff and students expressed difficulty in defining professionalism in pharmacy clearly and succinctly. For most, it seemed to be more of an implicit rather than explicit concept – the idea that ‘you know it when you see it’. Students, in particular, based their definitions and descriptions of professionalism on those applying, seen and experienced in practice. This was despite the relative lack of practice placements organised by the schools of pharmacy.

Evidence was found for the importance of role models, particularly those who are not only pharmacists but also retain a patient-facing element. However, learning of professionalism is informed and influenced by many factors, including practice experience often gained through part-time and vacation jobs. “Although this lies organisationally outside of the undergraduate degree, experiences around professionalism from these can still be incorporated into school teaching,” says the report.

Dr Schafheutle said: “Although the pharmacy profession has a longstanding code of ethics in which principles of good practice are laid down, it is only just beginning to engage in open discussions about the role and application of professionalism or how this is learnt or developed.

“The main aim of this study was to understand and clarify how professionalism is learned, cultivated and facilitated in the academic environment. We found that a school’s overall culture, or organisational philosophy, is important, where high standards with regards to professionalism are set, taught and enacted. Explicit statements, policies and codes appear to be an important part to support the development of professionalism (and professional identify) and it is hoped that the recently published GPhC code of conduct for pharmacy students will go some way to setting standards.”

PPRT Trustee, Peter Curphey said: “In order to nurture professional values and practice in pharmacy and create pharmacy leaders, it is important that we understand what aspects of professionalism in practice are valued by pharmacist, patient and the public alike. This is something that has not really been recognised in the past.

“To investigate this, we identified the principles and practice of professionalism in pharmacy practice as a key research priority and established the Professionalism in Practice Grants Programme for research that relates to the teaching, assessment and practice of professionalism in pharmacy. This first study has made an important contribution to the understanding of how professionalism is incorporated and learnt in the MPharm curriculum.”

The report can be accessed at: www.pprt.org.uk/Publications/2010Publications.aspx


Notes for editors

Professionalism in Pharmacy Education, Dr Ellen Schafheutle1, Lecturer in Law & Professionalism in Pharmacy, Prof Karen Hassell1, Professor of Social Pharmacy, Prof Darren Ashcroft1, Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology, Dr Jason Hall1, Senior Lecturer, Prof Stephen Harrison2, Professor of Social Policy.

1 School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences,

2 Primary Care Research & Development Centre (NPCRDC),

The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT

© Pharmacy Practice Research Trust 2010 ISBN: 978-0-9563323-4-9 www.pprt.org.uk/Publications/2010Publications.aspx


The study objectives were to:

  • examine curriculum documentation to gather information about whether and how professionalism is covered
  • examine staff perceptions about the ways the subject is taught and assessed.
  • describe what students understand by the term and what constitutes professionalism, and their perceptions about how it is taught and assessed in the educational setting.

Three research studies have been commissioned by the PPRT through its Professionalism in Pharmacy Grants programme:

  • The teaching and assessment of professionalism in pharmacy education (University of Manchester)
  • Patient-centred professionalism among newly registered pharmacists (University of Manchester)
  • Contextualising patient centred professionalism in pharmacy practice (University of Swansea)

The Pharmacy Practice Research Trust:

The Pharmacy Practice Research Trust was established by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of GB in July 1999 as an independent research charity with a broad objective to promote and develop the field of pharmacy practice research. Its trustees are drawn from senior health policy makers, leading academics, industry and retailers.

The Trust has invested around £2m in research; 30% supporting capacity building in pharmacy practice research and 70% on commissioned research. It receives financial support from the Leverhulme Trade Charities Trust and the Galen Trust, as well as a gift in kind from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. For further information and to access reports of Trust commissioned research or for funding/grant opportunities go to: www.pprt.org.uk

For further information contact:

Aeron Haworth
Media Relations
Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences
The University of Manchester

Tel: 0161 275 8383
Email: aeron.haworth@manchester.ac.uk