This in not an official U.S. Department of State (DOS) blog and the views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the DOS.
Although I’ve been here for the past month working on clinical skills curriculum for the pharmacy program, I’m not sure that I’ve told you much about the entire process to become a pharmacist in Uganda. The decision for a student to pursue pharmacy actually starts back in about the equivalent of 11th grade in the USA or at about 16-17 years old. Ok, let me back up a bit further and tell you about the entire school system. The formal school system starts with Primary school, although they do have an optional pre-primary program. Students are about 6 years old when they enter P1, which is like our 1st grade. Primary goes up through P7. At the end of the school year there are final exams that determine whether or not the students can progress to the next level. After P7, students enter Secondary school. These four years are called S1-S4 and are also called the Ordinary Level, or “O” Level for short. At the end of every year, students take their “O” level exams to progress to the next grade, but in order to progress from S4 to S5, they take a final “O” level exam that is scored by the Ugandan National Examinations Board (UNEB). If they pass with high enough marks, students are allowed to progress into S5. This starts the final 2 years of secondary school, which is also called Advanced Level or “A” Level. It is at this point that students have no compulsory subjects and have to choose whether to study Arts or Sciences. Within the discipline chosen, students will choose 3 specific courses. For example a student whose dream is to go into the medical field might choose Math, Biology and Chemistry.
At the very end of S6, which is actually the 13th year of school- one year beyond normal High School in the USA, students take their final “A” level exams, which are the qualifying exams for University. These are scored by the UNEB. To qualify for entry to Pharmacy school, students must achieve the highest scores. In fact, the scores to enter pharmacy school at Makerere are actually higher than the scores to enter Medical School.
Once a student qualifies for the pharmacy program, they also have to wait and see if they qualify for a government or private scholarship to school. University is very expensive and most students study with the help of full scholarships, which pay for tuition, room, board, and books. Very few students are self-pay. If students don’t get a scholarship to go to school in Uganda, there are many countries that offer scholarships for Ugandan students to go to school in places like China or Cuba. Can you imagine going to China for pharmacy school where you will be taught in CHINESE? This is exactly what a Ugandan faculty friend of mine did. Her scholarship included a year of language study prior to entry to pharmacy school and then she did her entire pharmacy program in Chinese.
The entry-level degree for pharmacists in Uganda is a Bachelors of Pharmacy (BPharm). It is a 4-year degree but after graduating, there is a mandatory 1-year Internship prior to being eligible for licensure. Immediately after graduating, a pre-licensure exam is taken and passing this allows a student to be placed in Internship. Internship occurs primarily in the hospital setting although some Interns are able to take a month or two of electives in Industry or the National Drug Authority. After finishing Internship, a licensure exam is taken. And finally, upon passing with high enough marks, the dream of becoming a Pharmacist is made reality.