More than just medication experts
PHARMACISTS help to run healthcare facilities, serve the community and are also the nation’s regulatory gatekeepers. Traditionally, pharmacists are indispensable for anyone who needs to quickly consult a medical expert regarding healthcare.
While there is currently no shortage of pharmacists in Malaysia, with some 13,500 registered, the country will need at least 18,000 by 2020.
Both in Malaysia and worldwide, a career as a pharmacist is not only one that is stable but also pays well. In developed countries, being a pharmacist is one of the best-paid professions, often ranking within the top five.
We speak to some pharmacists to get their take on why they chose this career, the qualifications process they have to undergo, the longterm prospects and any downside that can be expected.
To Elyana Abdul Rahim, whose ambition since secondary school was to be in the “medical line”, studying Pharmacy fitted her needs and goals. “My late father gave me the moral support to pursue this course as he saw the role of pharmacists as an important one for working with patients,” she said, who is now an industrial pharmacist employed in SteriPack Asia Sdn Bhd.
“I believe that patients do best when pharmacists are part of their healthcare teams because pharmacists are the ‘medication specialists’.”
Yap Peng Yew is working in Hospital Wanita & Kanak-kanak Sabah in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah as an Intravenous Admixture Pharmacist.
He has long been curious about how diseases affect the human body, and his desire is to help humanity in combating diseases.
Shahrizal Sulaiman is Consultant Pharmacist at Tera Niaga (M) Plt, a pharmaceutical and food consulting firm.
He chose to become a pharmacist because of its flexible career pathways, as well as its long-term job security.
“The starting salary for fresh pharmacy graduates is also among the best across all industry sectors,” he said.
Annaliza Chandrasegar also found that being a pharmacist offered her numerous career pathways.
“I started working in a Government hospital and then expanded my experience to that of a community clinic setting,” she said.
“Subsequently, I was curious to learn the job scope of a regulatory pharmacist and so transferred to my current workplace, Bahagian Regulatori Farmasi Negara.” on to earn his Bachelor of Pharmacy (Hons) from Cyberjaya University of Medical Sciences.
To be a registered pharmacist in Malaysia, one will need a degree in Pharmacy from a university accredited by the Pharmacy Board of Malaysia.
As Shahrizal did not have the minimum SPM results to pursue Medicine, he undertook a threeyear Diploma in Science and did well enough to earn a scholarship offer to further his study in medicine or pharmacy.
He then chose to do his degree in Pharmacy in UiTM with a minor in Business Management.
To practise as a fully-registered pharmacist, one needs to complete a one-year onthe-job training as Provisional Registered Pharmacist (PRP) and pass a qualifying examination.
“For Pharmacy graduates, this is compulsory service and it mimics that which has already been implemented for the medical and dental profession,” said Elyana.
“During this time, Pharmacy graduates are required to be provisionally registered with the Pharmacy Board of Malaysia and on doing so, will engage in employment as a public servant in a listed premise for a period of not less than one year.
“PRPs will be required to pass the qualifying exams by the PBM before they can be fully registered as a pharmacist in Malaysia.”
A pharmacist’s traditional role is dispensing medication, but the profession now offers wide-ranging prospects and flexible career pathways.
Said Shahrizal: “Now the profession is constantly taking on new roles and expanding opportunities.
“One can be working in clinical practice in hospital, be a researcher or have a career in academia.
“One may also work in the industry for a manufacturer as production manager or regulatory affairs, or even be the general manager.
“In Malaysia, the government service offers opportunities to work in different practices, including in public hospitals, clinics, enforcement agencies, regulatory affairs as well as the military.
“Each setting will expose you to different specialties and knowledge.
“The pharmacist’s career progression will be relatively linear with a time-based promotion.
“A registered pharmacist can even apply to be inspector of medicine and medical equipment on a ship or oil rig.”
Added Yap: “If you like doing business or serving the community, you may become a medical product specialist, go into the sales line or even open your own retail pharmacy.”
Annaliza said that within the Bahagian Regulatori Farmasi Negara itself, there are many departments and sub-departments. “As your grade increases, and depending on vacancy of posts, you will have the opportunity to be promoted or laterally transferred to head of unit or head of department positions,” shesaid.
“You can get more information by visiting the website at www.npra.gov.my.”
“The school fees in private universities are expensive. If you are not able to secure a scholarship, you may end up paying it off over 15 to 20 years,” said Shahrizal.
“Also, with more students pursuing Pharmacy, graduates will have to compete for placement of PRP in a hospital setting — with most graduates wishing they can get a place in government hospitals.
“Since there are limited placements in government settings, the graduate is now allowed to undergo their PRP training with a retailer or manufacturer, but the starting salary in the private sector is slightly lower than that of the government one.”
Shahrizal added that a few years earlier, the private sector found it difficult to employ and retain a registered pharmacist, and pharmacy chains would offer referral fees if someone introduced a registered pharmacist.
“Back then, registered pharmacists received a better remuneration compared to today’s current market salary,” he said.
Shahrizal also observed that in Malaysia, retail pharmacists might find themselves being treated as a sales staff notwithstanding their roles and responsibilities.
“However, thanks to social media, the profession is now getting better public recognition,” hesaid.
Yap said that working in a hospital setting, the workflow can become too routine and thus, not challenging over time.
“It is important that we equip ourselves with new knowledge as well as find new approaches that can make our job more interesting.”
The starting salary for fresh pharmacy graduates is also among the best across all industry sectors.”
Consultant Pharmacist at Tera Niaga (M) Plt
Shahrizal Sulaiman (front row, third from right) and his final-year clinical attachment cohorts.
Elyana Abdul Rahim
Yap Peng Yew