Council member Azra Sumar blogs about her experience of being invited to speak at the 13th EPSA Autumn Assembly.
It was an absolute privilege and pleasure to represent the CMHP at the European Pharmacy Students (EPSA) Autumn Assembly held from 1st to the 6th of November 2016.
EPSA is an umbrella organisation of all European pharmacy students' associations, representing more than 160,000 students in 34 European countries. It conducts its activities through regular congresses, traiing events, publications and collaboration with professional organisations. Its mission is to bring pharmacy, knowledge and students together while promoting personal development. The assembly was attended by 300 students from 27 European countries. I was there on part of day two and day three.
CMHP was approached by Raluca Radu (Vice President for education). EPSA were interested in a speaker at their assembly because the theme this year was ‘Mental health - from substance to society’; to showcase the work of pharmacists working in mental health. The event took place in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
I was truly touched by the warm welcome from the organisers and delegates. The enthusiasm emanating from these young future pharmacists was clearly evident. The programme was interesting and diverse, ranging from traditional topics like neurotransmitter pathways of the brain, to workshops like ‘we are what we eat’, ‘stress and depression awareness campaign’ and ‘European affairs’ to training on soft skills like ‘developing and maintaining a resilient mind-set for life’. I picked-up some really useful tips from the training I attended, ‘public speaking’, for my presentation the following morning.
‘A career in mental health pharmacy’
I presented a symposium entitled ‘A career in mental health pharmacy’. It was a rather personalised narrative, with the aim to inspire future pharmacists. I spoke about why and how I became a specialist mental health pharmacist. I highlighted the ways in which mental health is different to physical health, illustrating it through case studies, with some reference to my role as a non-medical prescriber. I mentioned ways for credentialing in the United Kingdom.
The symposium was followed by a panel discussion with two other speakers from that morning. The feedback so far has been positive; formal feedback will follow at a later date. I was in awe at the grasp of mental health issues that these young people demonstrated; this was apparent from the questions to the panel and also individual discussions during breaks. They spoke about, ‘emergency mental health’, the high prevalence of mental illness and the need for improved training for healthcare professionals in this important area. To be honest, compared to what pharmacy was like when I first graduated, which was many moons ago, training and international partnerships have developed considerably in current times, which is really promising for the profession.
Cluj-Napoca is situated at the heart of Transylvania. I would have loved to visit “Draculas’ castle” but I didn’t have time. It is a delightful city filled with history, art and culture, and despite the lack of free time for exploring I noticed several old churches and squares. I visited the “History of pharmacy” museum, one of the oldest buildings in Cluj. It dates back to 1573; still exhibiting items from old apothecary. One of the most bizarre exhibits was a black “mummy powder” derived from crushing Egyptian mummies , which had been sold for centuries for its weight in gold and believed to heal all diseases and prolong life. I sampled some of the delicious local cuisine; I liked a dish called “sarlmale”, a cabbage roll filled with meat or vegetables, rice and herbs served with sour cream. I became familiar a few words of the Romanian dialect- Multemesc (thank you) EPSA and Cluj for your hospitality!
Hopes for future collaboration
A favourable outcome from attendance at EPSA assembly was the formation of stronger links. This is not the first time that the college has been involved with an EPSA event, and I hope that this will lead to future collaborative work between between EPSA and the CMHP to help improve education and training for future pharmacists.
By Azra Sumar (CMHP Lead for consultations)