Ohio State Pharmacy Professor Helps Indian Universities Improve Clinical Pharmacy Education

Daniel Helfand

In the 1970s, Milap Nahata was among the faculty recruited by The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy to help develop and implement what was then the new doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) program, now the standard degree for pharmacists to enter the profession. Today, Nahata sees another great opportunity: helping lay the foundation for PharmD education throughout his home country of India. He recently visited the country to speak about clinical pharmacy to the first graduating class of PharmD students in India, assess the top two clinical pharmacy programs in the country and explore opportunities for collaboration with The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy.

The creation of the PharmD degree in the United States had its roots in the 1950s, with the idea that pharmacists could play a vital role in the care of patients to improve health outcomes. “Back when I first came to Ohio State, few outside of pharmacy knew what it meant when I said I had a PharmD degree,” said Nahata. “Now, the United States is seen as the leader in the world for clinical pharmacy, so it is important for us to reach out to other nations that have not emphasized the important roles pharmacists can play in clinical settings.”

India first introduced the six-year PharmD and three-year post-baccalaureate PharmD programs in 2008. This year’s first crop of about 300 graduates are optimistic about the future impact of clinical pharmacists in India, but there will be challenges for many as they enter a healthcare system that has not seen the value of pharmacists in clinical settings.

“This first class of graduating students was kept small intentionally so the new roles for PharmD graduates can be created,” said Nahata. “As of now, regulation in India does not require pharmacists to have a PharmD degree to practice, so this class will lay the foundation for future generations of clinical pharmacists in India. They must show how their training will help reduce costs and improve patient outcomes.”

Most bachelor of pharmacy (BPharm) graduates work in industry and government. Indian law does not require hospitals to employ pharmacists and only a two-year diploma in pharmacy is required to work in a community pharmacy. Nahata said more than 90 percent of Indian citizens do not have health insurance. Many patients or caregivers first go to a community pharmacy for assistance. He knows from personal experiences that his family could have benefited from the clinical knowledge of pharmacists working in both hospital and community pharmacies.

“In India, the laws for acquiring prescription drugs may be similar to how they are in the United States: You must obtain a prescription from a physician to get a prescription medication,” said Nahata. “However, enforcement of this regulation is extremely uneven. India definitely needs more qualified pharmacists like the PharmD programs can provide to improve medication use by its citizens.”

Jagadguru Sri Shivaratreeswara (JSS), a university in India, offers what is seen by many as the best PharmD program on two of its campuses in Mysore and Ooty. The school is the first in India to seek a certification from an international body to evaluate the quality of its PharmD program. The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), which accredits PharmD programs in the United States, is conducting the assessment of JSS's program to assure it meets international standards for PharmD education.

“Currently, there is no regulatory body for accreditation of PharmD programs in India,” said Nahata. “JSS taking the initiative for its program to be evaluated by ACPE is a major step in the right direction and will serve as an exemplar for future pharmacy education and regulation in India.”  

College of Pharmacy, Sri Ramakrishna Institute of Paramedical Sciences in Coimbatore, also invited Nahata to share his experiences in clinical pharmacy education, practice and research to advance its PharmD education and training.   

Part of Nahata’s trip was spent speaking at the inaugural annual conference for the Indian Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, which hopes to serve a similar role in India that the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) serves in America. His lecture highlighted the many opportunities and challenges PharmD students will face in changing the healthcare culture and delivery in their country.

While he certainly knows the challenges that await these graduates, Nahata is still bullish about clinical pharmacy’s future in India. “The PharmD has quickly become the most competitive pharmacy program in terms of applications for admission in India,” said Nahata. “Students and educators are excited about this program not only because they believe it offers them more opportunities, but also because they want to apply their knowledge in clinical settings to make a difference in people’s lives.”