“What course are you applying for, Medicine?”
This type of response to my decision to study Pharmacy plagued me throughout my final year of sixth form, so much so that I found myself doubting my choice. It was only through the confidence in myself and my own abilities and interests that I was able to brush these doubts aside and apply for Pharmacy. But my story is not a unique one. Pressure and expectations from friends, family and teachers are among the main factors that dissuade students from taking certain courses. It can’t be denied that certain courses and professions hold prestige and influence and these courses have continued to see a surge in applicants for limited places whilst others have seen steadily decreasing numbers.
Coming from a relatively small Yorkshire town and having gone to a non-selective state school, I had very limited experience of higher education and access to opportunities intended to expand understanding of higher education. My knowledge of university came from my friends, my teachers and what I researched online - something that I believe universities need to be more conscious of. Student forums such as TheStudentRoom are teeming with students who are eager to share their experiences - both good and bad. For example, my experience of the pharmacy degree on such forums was largely negative, with several people warning me against the degree and labelling it a ‘dead end’ and when you’re relatively young and haven’t quite developed the skill of discerning and perspective, these type of opinions can be extremely discouraging.
Speaking to the friendship group I’ve built at university, all from a wide range of economic backgrounds and studying very different degrees, there are several factors they took into consideration when considering whether or not to attend university. Will the degree improve their job prospects and employability? This is especially important for BAME individuals as we are often required to have higher qualifications and experience to reach the same level as our Caucasian counterparts. There is also a fear of oversubscription in a degree, with an increasing number of graduates leading to fewer job prospects and for me this was my main worry when I chose to apply for Pharmacy.
It isn’t until now, in my 2nd year of the Mpharm degree, that I really discovered the versatility of Pharmacy. In addition to the three traditional sectors you will likely hear the most about, Pharmacy offers a wide range of different opportunities. From Public Health to Oncology to Medicine Regulations and the budding world of GP pharmacy, it is what you make of it. Of course, you can research all this on the internet, however, it is a vastly different experience being able to witness these different sectors in person and being able to talk to the people in these major positions who began where you are now. I have had my fair share of Pharmacists warning me against the degree but, through opportunities such as a day visit to AstraZeneca, I have been able to experience the various pathways to rewarding and challenging roles available to Pharmacy students; it is simply a case of being aware of these opportunities and being willing to work hard to achieve them.
That’s why I am currently a student ambassador for Student Recruitment and Widening Participation. As a young black female, I rarely had role models that looked like me or had the same experiences as me and could understand my fears and worries about entering higher education. Reflecting on my own experience prior to university, I can only recall two opportunities I was involved in that helped develop my knowledge of higher education: NCS and The Sutton Trust Project. My experience with The National Citizens Service (NCS) in the summer of year 11 gave me the opportunity to spend several weeks away from home, spending time at a local university and taking part in group activities that aimed to cultivate transferable skills. Similarly, The Sutton Trust project gave high achieving students in year 12 from low performing areas/schools the opportunity to spend a week studying a degree of their interest at a Russell Group university. I was able to spend a week during summer at Durham University gaining insight about both what a pharmacy degree entitled and what experience at university would be like. To date it is still one of the best experiences of my life. It resolved a lot of my fears about university and, with experiments like synthesis of Paracetamol and applying and then observing the effects of drugs on the virtual SimMan, also further instilled in me that Pharmacy was the right degree for me,
However, not everyone is eligible for these schemes or even knows about them.
Widening participation is an excellent way of providing this experience long before students are faced with the decision to choose in year 11. Summer schools, visit days and Q&A sessions are all an immersive experience which open up the world of higher education. But the most important thing is that it gives students the opportunity to talk to university students and discover more about things that are not necessarily found in brochures and prospectus’. As a student myself, I have walked in their shoes before and known exactly what fears they may have, especially those who may not have the confidence to express their thoughts to adults or feel stupid for having certain worries.
Therefore, my advice to future university applicants is to do your research. What do you want in your future and how will the degree offer you/give you the ability to do this? At the end of the day, whatever you choose, you do not have to stick to that sector for the rest of your life. In that respect, I would recommend you to do a degree that allows you take several paths and can be utilised in different ways.
Ultimately, as important as a degree is, it is more important to be a well-rounded person. University is not only an opportunity for education but also a place to experience and enrich yourself. Although I have learnt a lot about the world of Pharmacy and about drug development and various conditions and diseases, I have learnt even more through extracurricular involvements such as my work as a BPSA competitions representative which challenged me to organise and promote several competitions to members of my Pharmacy school and through my volunteering work. Get involved in the vast number of opportunities offered to you (and ones you find yourself! Don’t be afraid to ask!) and with that, even if you do not end up in the career of your choice, you will never regret attending university.
This article was written by Kundai Gomwe