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The British Pharmacological Society and its role in education

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Published: 06 Nov 2019
Category: Education and training
By Lisa Wallace

The British Pharmacological Society (BPS) is the primary UK learned society concerned with the science of drugs and their use as medicines and therapeutics, as well as tools in scientific discovery. Our community of members and staff are at the cutting edge of research, clinical practice, and teaching. As outlined in our Five Year Strategy 2018–2022, a key part of the BPS’s mission is to increase ‘the visibility and influence of pharmacology and therapeutics through excellence in education’ and ‘promote and encourage the education and training of pharmacologists’.  As I come to the end of my term as the Vice President for Academic Development, it is fantastic to see the educational strides the Society has made in a few short years. To provide just a glimpse, some highlights have been the development and implementation of Prescribing Safety Assessment (PSA), the  inclusion of pharmacology as a subject in the Quality Assurance Agency’s (QAA) Subject Benchmark Statements, the Undergraduate Pharmacology Core Curriculum, the Curriculum for the use of research animals, and the ever-popular training workshops and educator events. The Society is proving to be a driving force in pharmacology education and a focus point for the pharmacology teaching community – in the UK and, ever increasingly, internationally.


Prescribing Safety Assessment

The EQUIP study by the General Medical Council (GMC) in 2009 showed that nearly one in ten NHS prescriptions contain an error, with early-career doctors citing prescribing as being a particular challenge. The Society and the Medical Schools’ Council have been working extraordinarily hard to develop and deliver the Prescribing Safety Assessment (PSA). This educational resource was in development long before my term as Vice President for Academic Development. However, as of 2016, all new doctors will be required to take the PSA, an assessment that allows candidates to demonstrate prescribing competency before their first year of practice (foundation year 1). To date, over 36,000 UK medical students have participated in the PSA. This will help reduce prescription errors, reduce NHS costs and, crucially, improve patient care. 

QAA Benchmark, core curricula and growth

Initiated by former Society President, Professor Humphrey Rang in 2014, the Society’s Focus on Pharmacology project highlighted scope for the development of new UK BSc Honours programmes in pharmacology. That same year, through Society efforts, pharmacology was included as a core subject and specific discipline in the QAA Biomedical Sciences Benchmark Statement. This meant that the field of pharmacology was now recognised by the independent body entrusted with monitoring and advising on standards and quality in UK higher education.  

These two things raised an additional challenge; how could the BPS help educators deliver quality existing programmes as well as develop new ones that align with the Benchmark? The Society developed an Undergraduate Core Curriculum in 2004 and many institutions found it very helpful in developing course content. To update this curriculum and support the Benchmark, we began an ambitious, collaborative project. Using leading pharmacology educators and stakeholders from over 25 different institutions, companies, and organisations, we developed a revised Undergraduate Core Curriculum, which was launched in 2016. It outlines the core knowledge, skills and attitudes expected of newly graduated pharmacologists.

This curriculum has assisted in the revision and quality assurance of current pharmacology programmes as well as the development of entirely new pharmacology degrees. The Society’s Chief Executive Officer, Jonathan (Jono) Brüün, recently commented on how Society members are developing novel and engaging new pharmacology courses around the UK in response to the Focus on Pharmacology Project and the skills gap first identified by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). To name a few: Queen Mary, Swansea, and Worcester Universities all have new undergraduate pharmacology programmes with the revised core curriculum at their heart. St George’s University has a new programme that incorporates the curriculum and extends into clinical pharmacology, addressing a skills gap identified through the Clinical Pharmacology Skills Alliance – a collaborative project between the Society, ABPI, the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine and Health Education England.

Through dialogues with colleagues involved in developing the undergraduate curriculum and training needs identified by the In-Vivo Integrative Pharmacology Fund and the Animal Welfare and Integrative Pharmacology Sub-committee, it became apparent that educators were struggling to provide in-vivo training opportunities.  This represented yet another widening skills gap. To answer this need, using a similar expert-focused development strategy, the Society developed a Curriculum for the use of research animals, which was launched in 2018 and is now supported by 30 organisations

Training workshops

Last year, 89 delegates attended our workshops and numbers continue to grow. In addition to these popular training workshops, we recently held an educators’ workshop in Manchester in May 2019. This event profiled teaching innovations in support of the Undergraduate Pharmacology and Research Animals Curricula while encouraging the exchange of ideas and providing a networking opportunity for educator colleagues in the UK and as far away as Tibet.

Our training workshops are integral to the Society’s educational mission. We look forward to another educators’ workshop in spring of 2020. Until then, the Society’s event pages offer a host of new and exciting meetings throughout the year. If you have any ideas for future training workshops, please let us know. These events are, of course, in addition to the fabulous scientific, education and networking opportunities to be had at Pharmacology 2019.



In a few short years, the Society has made great strides in our delivery of educational resources and the continuing education of our members, in all aspects of pharmacology, ranging from education to pharmacogenomics, no matter what their career stage.  Education is key to the future of our field and thus the health of our population and the world. 

Through our accomplishments in education, we have increased the strength and impact of our discipline. And we have fun! These accomplishments reflect the extraordinary efforts of the Society’s staff (in particular the education team, to whom I am personally grateful), as well as the members of multiple committees. Essential to our success has been and continues to be the enthusiastic support of our members, who have formed an innovative, energised education community. 

Keep up the good work and see you in Edinburgh for Pharmacology 2019!


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Published: 06 Nov 2019
Category: Education and training
By Lisa Wallace

About the author

Lisa Wallace

Lisa is a Professor of Medical Sciences and Medical Pharmacology Education at Swansea University Medical School. Her research focuses on the development of novel invertebrate pharmacological models. She is a Fellow of the British Pharmacological Society and is the current Vice President of Academic Development.
Having served on the Education and Training Committee since 2014 and as the current Chair, Lisa played a leading role in development of the Society’s Undergraduate Core Curriculum. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology and Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, she has been extensively involved in higher education quality assurance and has participated in the review over 30 undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

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