Home Health & Food How poor pay, limited opportunities frustrate pharmacy graduates from becoming production pharmacists

How poor pay, limited opportunities frustrate pharmacy graduates from becoming production pharmacists

by James Davies


The Nigerian pharmaceutical industry is heavily dependent on importation. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control recently confirmed that not less than 70 per cent of drugs used in Nigeria are imported. Yet, young pharmacists expected to champion the evolution of the country’s drug-manufacturing sector to change the narrative are shunning becoming production pharmacists due to poor remuneration, limited career growth opportunities among other factorsALFRED OLUFEMI reports:

Folorunsho Tijesu’s dream to own a drug manufacturing company informed his decision to study pharmacy at the University of Ibadan. Before securing admission to study pharmacy, the young pharmacist had hoped to work with a pharmaceutical manufacturing company before eventually setting up his own company. But things took a different turn after he graduated in 2017. 

After the mandatory one-year internship, which he undertook with a Lagos-based pharmaceutical company, he jettisoned the idea of taking a full-time role as an industrial production pharmacist.

Drug manufacturing. Image credit: Linkedin

It is noteworthy to state that pharmacy students are trained to practice in different subspecialties of the profession while in school. After graduation, a trained pharmacist can choose to be a community pharmacist, hospital pharmacist, academic pharmacist, or industrial pharmacist among other options in the pharmaceutical sector.

They can also practice in other sectors of the economy upon graduation as there are cases of pharmacists in the banking, oil, and telecommunication sectors. However, if there is one area of pharmacy that these drug experts cannot afford to abdicate for others, it is in the actual production of drugs.

That is why the lack of interest in real drug production by young pharmacy graduates should be a cause of concern.

“During my IT days, I worked majorly in the factory, I passed through different units. I started work in the liquid preparation unit where we manufactured suspensions, syrups, and all of that. I also worked in the laboratory unit where quality control analysis was done,” Folorunsho told our correspondent.

He said, although the time spent at the company was eye-opening and engaging, he decided not to pursue an interest in industrial pharmacy and switched areas of practice.

Folorunsho, who now works as an inventory manager in a private hospital, said he made the drastic U-turn based on the low remuneration of the pharmacists working in the industrial production sector whom he worked with during his internship days.

Their monthly pay, according to him, is paltry when compared with those of pharmacists practicing in hospitals or those in pharmaceutical marketing.

“I noticed that the pay was not so encouraging. I was an IT student so the pay then was nothing compared to a graduate. But I compared what one of the pharmacists there told me he was earning to what others in other areas of pharmacy practice were earning. What he was earning as a full-fledged production pharmacist is less than what he even earned as an intern. I got to hear other peoples’ experiences too,” he told PUNCH Healthwise.

He also noted that the career prospects in industrial pharmacy are limited compared to other branches of pharmacy, adding that the challenge of working for long hours is also discouraging.

Folorunsho Tijesu

“Some companies might require you to work 8 am to 5 pm or 6 pm and not all of us will like to work that way.”

Folorunsho appears to have temporarily shelved his dream of owning a pharmaceutical manufacturing company, saying that it is also a capital-intensive endeavour.

He said his current role as an inventory manager involves the supply chain part of pharmacy and pays better than working as a production pharmacist in industrial practice.

Who is a production pharmacist?

Production pharmacists deal with the development, production, and quality control of drugs and pharmaceutical-related products. They work mostly in pharmaceutical manufacturing plants.

Also referred to as industrial pharmacists, production pharmacists make invaluable contributions to the production of quality medicines. They are thus important to the growth of the pharmaceutical manufacturing sub-sector of the pharmaceutical industry in any nation.

PUNCH HealthWise’s finding, however, revealed that due to too much focus of the Nigerian pharmaceutical sector on the importation of finished products, more pharmacists are concentrating on the business aspect of pharmacy by going into marketing and sales of drugs.

According to the United Nations COMTRADE, which is a database on global trade, Nigeria imported drugs and pharmaceutical-related products valued at N2.97bn in 2020.

A previous analysis by PUNCH Financials which referenced a set of data compiled by CEIC, a global data firm, also noted that Nigeria imported medicinal and pharmaceutical products worth $417.523m in 2020, higher than most African countries.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, in 2019, estimated that over 70 per cent of drugs consumed in the country are imported, leaving the local drug manufacturing industries at a disadvantage in competing with foreign companies.

Commenting on this, a former President of PSN, Sam Ohuabunwa, during an interview with PUNCH Healthwise, said despite some interventions from the government, the industry is still struggling to meet up.

“Many people are still depending on importation. We run a risk that we are not able to reach the goals that have been set regarding the ratio between locally and internationally manufactured medicines. We thought we should subdue it.

“As I speak to you, the estimate (of drugs produced locally) is about 40 or even just 30 per cent.

“That has been challenging. For example, the intervention we got from CBN during this COVID period when CBN started supporting pharmaceutical investors long-term funding even though the funding support is not all that we need but at least it was the right move,” he told our correspondent,” Ohuavunwa said.

Former PSN president, Sam Ohuabunwa & National Chairman, Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria, Ken Onuegbu

While there are calls and efforts to scale up local production to meet the medicine demands of 200 million Nigerians, PUNCH HealthWise investigation revealed that the shortage of industrial production pharmacists in the manufacturing line may pose another challenge to local drug production if not properly and strategically addressed.

According to a 2018 study, first published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Policy and Practice, only 1.8 per cent of Nigerian pharmacists work in the industries.

The researchers analysed a data set extracted from the 2016 Pharmacists’ register in Nigeria, which is managed by the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria.

The study stated that Nigeria had 21,892 registered pharmacists then, adding that only 12,807 (58.5%) were in active professional practice.

Data on distribution per area of pharmacy practice showed that only 227 (1.8) are in the industry while a bulk of them work as clinical and community pharmacists.

Discouraged from undergraduate days

Speaking to PUNCH HealthWise, Jesujoba Ojelabi, a pharmacist who graduated from Obafemi Awolowo University in 2019, said there are chances that only one or two in the class of about a hundred may show interest in industrial pharmacy.

Many would prefer community pharmacy, clinical practice, and other aspects of pharmacy, he said.

Ojelabi, currently working as a Marketing and Communications officer at Advantage Health Africa, a medical platform that offers a couple of healthcare solutions, explained that many students are exposed to industrial pharmacy practice during their undergraduate days, yet chose not to become production pharmacists.

“Well as undergraduates in pharmacy we get to take courses in compounding and dispensing. The institution does its best but right from there you can start to even suspect and see that the quality of our production capacity is not optimal because some of the machines used for the training are from way back. There have been developments in drug production beyond these machines. But we are unable to learn about those developments even as an undergraduate.

So some of our colleagues as young pharmacists get discouraged even from then to considering industrial pharmacy as a career choice right from the undergraduate days in pharmacy school. Maybe that is also a contributing factor.”

Industry dominated by manual labourers, slim career growth

Mfonobong Udoinyang, a pharmacist and researcher at a leading pharmaceutical company, noted that the industry is dominated by manual labourers, leaving a few spaces for industrial pharmacists.

“We do not have enough production pharmacists because the job description for the production pharmacist is done by manual staff. What the pharmacist now does is just to supervise and make sure they are doing it according to the regulations.”

Udoinyang explained that because hiring unskilled workers is cheaper than getting professionals, companies give the former a preference.

“Of course the salary they will pay the pharmacist is going to be like what they are going to use to employ like ten or fifteen manual labourers.”

She said the situation is not the same in other areas of pharmacy and healthcare where the professionals must be engaged to do the work.

“What is happening is not the same thing when compared to what happens in hospitals. 95 per cent of staff in the hospital are professionals. They don’t need a lot of manual labour in the hospital because everybody is a professional dealing with human lives. The manual labour you can see there is in a hospital is probably a cleaner and all of that but it’s not the same in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry.”

Corroborating Folorunsho’s view, Udoinyang stressed that the shortage of pharmacists in pharmaceutical production is because the prospect of career growth in the industry, especially local industry, is very slim.

She noted that some companies only employ two or three production pharmacists.

“What is the career growth going to be like for them? Because even with promotions their job description is still the same.”

Udoinyang further said many industrial pharmacists look forward to working for international firms for a career breakthrough, which may be very competitive.

Remuneration better in the past, Ohuabunwa says

Ohuabunwa, a former CEO of Pfizer, a leading pharmaceutical multinational, said industrial pharmacists used to be one of those enjoying better pay, which is now a thing of the past.

According to him, apart from their salaries, they got other incentives like official cars.

“It’s the question of the attraction, people are logical they go where the returns are highest. Today it looks like pay and rewards are higher in private practice, in community practice, or even in some hospital practice so I believe that is what is causing this.

“People are going where they are getting better pay. This is the problem right now as the pay is not as attractive in the industry. The companies need to improve their compensation to attract more pharmacists. Human beings are lured to where there are incentives to keep them in that loop,” he said.

Also speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, the Chairman of the Association of Industrial Pharmacists of Nigeria, Kenneth Onuegbu, said the remuneration and incentive system is based on companies’ policies. 

He, however, mentioned that the economy has affected pharmaceutical companies like other businesses, noting that this has made a lot of companies rethink their incentives.

“The companies will have to prioritise the sales and marketing because they need to move from one point to the other. Sometimes, they will have to observe your performance for six months to one year before giving cars, unlike before when this decision was automatic.”

“I know the pharmacy industry is still evolving and there’s still a lot to do,” he said.

Onuegbu noted that some young pharmacists probably decided on their preferred area of practice out of interest.

“This thing is about interest. As they say, you can take the horse to the river but can’t force it to drink water.

These young people, you know, have what they want to do and it’s hard trying to convince them to do something else.”

He stated that members of NAIP are doing a lot on awareness and education to ensure that young pharmacists are aware of diverse opportunities in the industries.

The need for investment

Also speaking with our correspondent, the Chairman of Young Pharmacists’ Group, Ethel Mba, told PUNCH Healthwise that the group recently conducted a study as part of efforts to deal with the challenges facing young pharmacists.

The outcome of the survey, she said, will determine the steps the group will take to address the challenge of inadequate production pharmacists.

Pharmaceutical experts are, however, urging the scaling up investment in the industrial sector, noting that this will go a long way in getting the attention of young pharmacists.

“As a country, we are yet to live up to capacity and this explains why some young people are not interested in the industries. It can get better with investment,” said the NAIP National Chairman.

Jesujoba also shared the same view.

“I think capital invested is a huge contributing factor and industrial pharmacy manufacturing and compounding is not a small capital investment project.

“Oftentimes, it requires a significant if not huge investment to properly grow a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility.

“So it’s not where you go in with a few million and think you can go big. It requires a lot of investment and that’s a significant limitation in the industry even aside from some limitations due to the number of professionals.

“I think with more investment you can even attract more pharmacists into the space,” an optimistic Ojelabi said.

Beyond investment, Ojelabi suggested that stakeholders in the private and public sectors should look at investing in the education sector to improve pharmacy training, where he claimed more of the teachings are more theories and less practical.

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