Dissatisfaction with a new course structure for pharmacy students in Ireland is escalating around the country, with students launching a campaign against unpaid work placements. An online petition formed this weekend has received over 4,000 signatures at the time of publication.
The pharmacy course, which was originally a four-year undergraduate course followed by a twelve month internship, was altered in 2015 to become a five-year course with an integrated masters’ degree after former Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, signed a Statutory Instrument changing the structure of the course following an agreement reached at the National Forum for Pharmacy Education and Accreditation Interim Report in 2013.
Under the new structure, pharmacy students are not allowed to receive wages during their work placement, whether or not the employer indicates a desire to pay the student a wage.
Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) indicated their support for the petition on social media, outlining that pharmacy students are “drowning in debt” due to the changed structure.
Students claim that such changes make it extremely difficult and stressful to successfully complete the course given that now students are required to complete a four-month placement in fourth year and another eight-month placement in fifth year without any payment.
Fourth year pharmacy students at University College Cork (UCC) have released an open letter stating their concerns with the revised programme. In the letter, students point out how this new structure has become a financial strain to most students given the significant increase in fees which comes with the introduction of a mandatory masters year. Consequently, “some students are having to work near 7 days every week to financially support themselves and to be able to attend placement,” outlines the letter.
One UCC fourth-year student reported working over 50 hours a week, comprising 30 hours of unpaid placement and over 20 hours paid in a different pharmacy.
The campaign for pharmacy students to receive pay for their internships and against the rise in fees with the restructured programme has been rising on social media, with pharmacy students sharing their stories using the hashtag #employeesnotstudents.
TCDSU is mandated to support pharmacy students after a vote passed at SU Council in November. Pharmacy Convenor Lara Moehle spoke to Council in a call for support for pharmacy students regarding unpaid work placements and increased fees. Speaking to Trinity News, Moehle outlined that pharmacy students were facing “a net deficit of €25,000”.
The open letter also alluded to the lack of motivation pharmacy students have been feeling, what they considered to be a factor for their delicate mental health state as they understand that they are asked to perform the same tasks as paid Pharmacy Technicians. Moreover, the letter states that although the the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland have assured employers are not to treat students as Pharmacy technicians, “from day one, the clear majority [of students] have been in the dispensary and performing the duties of a Pharmacy Technician”.