The Start of a New Career: Robert’s Story
Robert Phiri is part of the first class of graduates from the Pharmacy Assistant Training Program in Malawi, the result of a collaboration between the Malawi Ministry of Health, the U.S. Government through the USAID | Deliver Project, the Malawi College of Health Sciences, University of Washington Global Medicines Program, and Seattle-based NGO VillageReach. The program produces a dedicated cadre of individuals with enhanced training in medicines management and supply chain practices with a plan to eventually support each of Malawi’s 650 rural health centers.
Robert graduated in June 2015 and was placed at Lidzulu Health Center in Ntcheu District in June 2015 which serves a population of 45,000.
I enrolled into this program because I have a heart to serve the people, especially those in rural areas mainly in the health sector.
This program has trained me on how to manage medicines at the health center level. I have learned how to order medicines from central medical stores, how to provide good storage conditions to maximize the shelf life of the medicines, and how to control use of these medicines. This program has also given us skills to use existing structures to manage medicines in a transparent and accountable manner.
“During my attachment I could clearly see the contribution I was making in terms of management of medicines at the health center level …”
During the program, the practical training we received at the health centers was most valuable. I enjoyed that part of the training as it gave me an opportunity to practice what I had learned in class and at the district hospital attachment- and to apply that in the real environment that I will be working in after graduating.
During my attachment I could clearly see the contribution I was making in terms of management of medicines at the health center level — processing transactions, arrangement of stocks, physical counting and also production of accurate and timely logistics management information system reports. I could compare the reports which were produced by myself and those that were submitted before I came to the facility. Mostly the reports were submitted after the deadline date and from the stock card, I could also tell that physical inventories were not being conducted, raising doubts of the quality of reports that were being submitted.
Despite all the good things that I am anticipating when deployed to the facility, I am still anticipating that we are going to face a number of challenges. One challenge is change management. Because this is a new cadre in the health sector, it will then require people to change the way they are doing things at the moment. We will transition management of the pharmacy and dispensing areas from others currently working in those stations. Secondly, we will also be required to set controls and internal procedures to make sure that use of medicines is controlled and following guidelines set by the Ministry of Health. Changes to processes like these are often not easy, so I imagine we may encounter some difficulties at first.
I would encourage those that have the ambition and interest to pursue a career in pharmacy to enroll in this program. After completing the program, there is employment already waiting with the Ministry and secondly, the career path for this program is very clear. One can grow from Pharmacy Assistant to Pharmacy Technician and even up to becoming a Pharmacist.
In the long term, I would like to take advantage of this career path, become a pharmacist, and take a decision-making position in the Ministry of Health.
Since placement, Robert has been instrumental in his new role, implementing new practices and procedures to reduce stockouts in his clinic, as well as training the medicine store clerks and other health workers, sharing the knowledge he gained through the Pharmacy Assistant Training program. Through consistent application of pharmaceutical standard operations procedures and self-motivated efforts to come up with safety stock levels he has been able to re-order in time and reduce avoidable stock outs tremendously.
Robert’s supervisor has this to say about his contribution:
“We never knew that having specialized skills like those of Robert Phiri will eliminate disruptions due to stock outs of essential commodities. We have a person that knows how to manage stocks and makes them available all the time with minimal or no stock outs.”