KOTA KINABALU: The 21st century is dubbed the "women's century" with their influence being the most evident in the pharmaceutical profession – whereby their achievement in the field stands out against their male counterpart.
It is a worldwide trend, not only in Malaysia, that women are increasingly dominating university admissions, and the pharmaceutical profession is a field that the fairer sex seemingly excel in many more ways than men.
Prof Datin Nur Mariani of Cyberjaya University College of Medical Sciences, one of the many female presenters at the 25th Federation of Asian Pharmaceutical Associations Congress (Fapa), said her study shows "an association between gender and future career choices as females seem to prefer a more stable working environment".
The pharmaceutical profession is one of the well remunerated professions with great opportunities for career or business advancement.
"The profession must make the shift to being seen as provider of care in which women excel. The public and other healthcare professions primarily see pharmacists as suppliers of medicines.
"There are widespread consensus that pharmacists are an under-utilised resource," she said at the Fapa event held at Magellan Sutera Harbour on October 9-12, this year.
"Pharmacists are well placed to help address many of the issues by supporting the care of older and vulnerable people, helping people to manage multiple long term conditions, helping people to stay healthy through public health interventions, support urgent and out of hours care, and helping people to get and stay out of hospital by treating them closer to their homes."
Participants also noted that the organising chair and head of the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society Datuk Nancy Ho and the head of the Sabah Pharmaceutical Society Susan Pan are ladies as are Dr Salmah Bahri, the Director of Pharmacy Practice and Development of the Pharmaceutical Services Division, Ministry of Health Malaysia, Chief Pharmacist of Kuala Lumpur Hospital, Ministry of Health Malaysia, Adiba Haq Syed M Haq, Leonila Macuto-Ocampo, President of Asia Pacific Institute for Medication Management and Past President of the Philippine Pharmacists Association, Head Pharmacist Lita Chew of Singapore, and many others like Prof Vivian W. Y. Lee heading the Fapa's Education Bureau.
Dr Salmah said it is imperative that women pharmacists be courageous to go into politics and influence government policies especially in the interest of the profession as well as for public good. Presently there are only two women ministers in the Federal Cabinet.
Prof Vivian Lee, however, said that the profession accords equal opportunities for all through education.
"Pharmacy education is important for the training of capable future pharmacists and is crucial for the clinical pharmacy development.
"We nurture our next generation to be the future leaders of our society, and young people learn and grow academically and morally.
"The impact of university education on the development of students for the future of society cannot be underestimated.
"This is the time when they learn how to be independent and reliable individuals," she said.
"Understanding of patients' behaviour and psychology are paramount in order to achieve good outcomes from medication therapy.
"The concept of behavioural sciences and health psychology are embedded as the fundamental foundation of the field of social pharmacy and it is imperative that this field be taught and nurtured to the future pharmacy practitioners."
The practice of pharmacy, and consequently, the pharmacy curriculum had undergone significant change over the years in response to a rapidly changing economic, political and social environment.
Within this context, the role of the pharmacist now includes more direct interaction with the public in terms of the provision of health information and advice on the safe and rational use of medications.
In order to carry out this function effectively within the society, future pharmacists need to be well prepared on how to deal with patients' behaviour and psychology.
Understanding of patients' behaviour and psychology are paramount in order to achieve good outcomes from medication therapy.
Poor adherence led to increase in returned medications, escalation in healthcare costs, substantial worsening of diseases leading to increased mortality.
According to WHO study on patient medication compliance, 50 per cent of patients do not take their prescribed medication.
There is a need for the continuous training of healthcare providers, and education of patients.
Dispensing errors can harm patients. Hence, Dr Salmah outlined as one of the challenges to overcome was inadequate health literacy and lack of professional knowledge and skills which lead to lack of confidence.
"Health literacy contributes to compliance and safety practices, and differs between developed and developing countries.
"Government policy should incorporate the notion of health literacy into their design of policy with research agendas and research objectives for population health.
"Health professionals should fulfil patients' needs and also foster patients' health literacy.
"Lack of self-improvement calls for improvement on co-curriculum for training in pharmacy schools, and encourage continued professional development.
"We urge the government to implement accessible programmes to upgrade competencies by creating partnership to develop learning programmes, and promote inter and intra professional education and training.
"Developing countries face shortage of manpower which limit expansion of service as listed in 2012 WHO report on pharmacist to population ratio.
Capacity building efforts need to be carried out in all levels with a coordinated approach to forecast pharmacy workforce in order to meet the future healthcare system and the country's needs, she stressed.