'We're unmotivated at placement' - college to meet regulator over pharmacy students' mental health fears
Officials at University College Cork are to meet with the pharmacy regulator amid concern about mental health issues and a lack of motivation among young pharmacists coming in to the industry.
It comes as part of a remarkable row between the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland and students coming into the industry.
Students say they are being "degraded" by being forced to work as qualified technicians without being recognised adequately for their work, and have expressed concerns about mental health challenges.
In a letter to the pharmacy regulator, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI), fourth year intern pharmacists from University College Cork (UCC) express concern about the impact of changes to the course structure.
Previously, students took part in a four-year undergraduate programme followed by a one-year internship. Students were paid up to €14 per hour for this final year at the discretion of their employer.
Changes introduced in 2015 mean pharmacy students must do a five-year masters programme that includes two separate unpaid placements - a four-month placement in year four and an additional eight-month placement the following year.
An increased fee for the fifth year was also introduced, with prices rising from €3,000 to €7,500 for UCC students. Students in Trinity College and the RCSI also face an increased fifth-year cost.
The students said they are concerned because many of them are working seven days a week to support themselves and attend placements.
The Department of Health said it has raised the matter with the PSI.
Fourth-year students in UCC told the PSI they are acting and performing the same tasks as pharmacy technicians without being considered to be full-time workers. They said it has led to "a worrying amount of young pharmacists experiencing mental health issues," including anxiety and depression.
"Contributing factors to the mental health status of intern pharmacists at present is not limited to the financial strain. It is also because we are unmotivated whilst at placement," the students told the PSI.
The PSI said the letter is "receiving attention".
"We are committed to promoting the highest standards in education and training for public benefit and for the ongoing development of the profession of pharmacy in Ireland," said a spokeswoman.
A spokesman for UCC said the college has sought an urgent meeting with the PSI and other pharmacy schools to address the matter. It said the fifth-year fees are in line with other programmes.
The Department of Education said support is available for students experiencing "exceptional financial need" through the Student Assistance Fund or tax relief on postgraduate tuition fees.