For a long time, pharmacy graduates were said to have the best career prospects in the country because on average, they could expect to earn a much higher salary as compared to their peers from other programmes - Young pharmacists were ranked as the top earners among fresh graduates (1). However, over the past few years, the pharmacy profession has undergone several challenging situations in Malaysia, and aspiring pharmacists should perhaps take a step back and reassess if such views of a career in pharmacy still hold true.

Reduction in the salary of junior pharmacists

The most heated debate in the pharmacy field today revolves around the noticeable drop in the salary of junior pharmacists. Since the program to liberalise training of provisionally registered pharmacists (PRP) was introduced, there have been numerous anecdotal complaints about salary reduction by junior pharmacists.

Before the liberalisation, the government sector was fully responsible for absorbing the workforce. Therefore, salaries paid to these young pharmacists were fairly similar, barring some minor discrepancies in allowances for those who work in Sabah and Sarawak. Today, the reduction in salaries mainly affects those who choose to train in the private sector. Unfortunately, there has currently not been any systematic research carried out on the matter to provide a comprehensive view of the severity of the situation.

For those who managed to enter public service, the pharmacist salary scheme remains largely unchanged. PRPs are still required to undergo one year of rigorous training on all aspects of hospital pharmacy, where they will rise through the pay grade in a manner similar to their predecessors. Salary variations are still expected to persist for those in the private sector, and such a trend is unlikely to change significantly in the near future.

Long waiting time to enrol into the PRP programme

As the number of pharmacy graduates continues to rise, the number of training slots available has naturally started to fall. A significant backlog has built up over the years as public training hospitals struggle to accommodate the ever-increasing number of trainees that flood the pharmacy departments.

The liberalisation of the PRP training scheme was designed specifically to widen the training opportunities and to facilitate a smooth qualifying process for pharmacy graduates (2). To some extent, the liberalisation programme has served its purpose, though many graduates still find the waiting time unbearable. Indeed, it is certainly a challenging task to harmonise PRP training between the public and private sector. It is even more daunting to do so under the immense pressure to clear up the backlog within a short frame of time.

Debate of dispensing separation continues

Dispensing separation has always been a main toipc of discussion among local pharmacists, where many have expressed their disappointment with the government for failing to develop the profession in line with international standards. On the other hand, the Ministry of Health (MOH) expressed their concern over the lack of after-hour pharmacists and its potential impact on limiting access to emergency medicines.

The MOH also recently released a document to describe the newly proposed Pharmacy Bill (Rang Undang-undang Farmasi, RUUF) (3). The proposed bill stirred a significant amount of debate among pharmacists and other medical professionals. In addition to many other significant changes, the bill proposed removing the mandatory requirement for a prescription (4). Many pharmacists argued that such a change will put patients at risk, and is not the right direction of development for pharmacy.

Paradigm shift for the profession

Undoubtedly, the pharmacy profession is currently undergoing fundamental, structural changes which may impact its long-term outlook in Malaysia. Although much of such changes are still shrouded in uncertainty, the profession may eventually progress towards a better future. More than that, what Malaysia really needs are pharmacists with genuine interest in pharmacy in order help to drive the profession further in such times of change. MIMS

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the official views of MIMS or any affiliated government agencies or private companies.


Read more:
A snapshot of the Malaysian pharmaceutical industry
A snapshot of community pharmacy in Malaysia
Pharmacists: Salary increment trend within your profession

Sources:
1. JobStreet. Top 10 Best Paying Jobs in Malaysia [Internet]. JobStreet.com. 2014 [cited 2017 Jan 13]. Available from: http://www.jobstreet.com.my/career-resources/top-10-best-paying-jobs-in-malaysia/#.WHhWrbZ95E4
2. Pharmaceutical Service Divisions Malaysia. Guidelines on Liberalisation of PRP Training in Private Sector for Graduates of Pharmacy Degree Programme [Internet]. pharmacy.gov.my. 2017 [cited 2017 Jan 13]. Available from: http://www.pharmacy.gov.my/v2/en/documents/guidelines-liberalisation-prp-training-private-sector-graduates-pharmacy-degree-programme.html
3. Pharmaceutical Service Divisions Malaysia. Slide Pembentangan Penerangan Rang Undang-Undang Farmasi 2016 [Internet]. pharmacy.gov.my. 2016 [cited 2017 Jan 13]. Available from: http://www.pharmacy.gov.my/v2/ms/berita/08-jun-2016/slide-pembentangan-penerangan-rang-undang-undang-farmasi-2016.html
4. IHS Markit. Malaysia pharmacists lobby against proposed Pharmacy Bill [Internet]. ihs.com. 2016 [cited 2017 Jan 13]. Available from: https://www.ihs.com/country-industry-forecasting.html?ID=10659114530