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Manchester has an impressive history of achievement in both medical and scientific fields. The pharmacy department was first established at the university in 1883 and in 1904, Manchester became the first university in the UK to offer an Honours degree in pharmacy. In the 1990s, the department was renamed the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences to reflecting its growth in size and the teaching activities expansion in Pharmacy Practice and Pharmaceutical Science research. The School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science was originally based in the Coupland 3 Building,in 2007 department moved to a new £20 million teaching and research facility housed in the Stopford medical building. These modern facilities enable staff to collaborate with scientists and professionals working within the School of Medicine.
The Manchester School of Pharmacy aims to attract the best candidates at all levels of study, regardless of background or gender. In this current environment with an ever increasing number of students studying pharmacy, it is vital that Manchester employs an application process appropriate for selecting the very best candidates.
The Manchester School of Pharmacy application process
The Manchester School of pharmacy utilises a multi-step admission process in order to select the best candidates. For undergraduates, all UCAS (University and Colleges Application Services) forms are screened by the undergraduate admissions tutor and undergraduate administrator to check that the candidate meets the basic academic requirements and to read their personal statements and references to determine the prospective students’ commitment and potential to study pharmacy.
Home candidates who satisfy a predicated threshold A-level score (or equivalent) of grades ABB are invited to interview. Applicants who are invited for interview are expected to attend the visit day from 1-4pm, although the interview itself should last no longer than 15 minutes and is held with an academic member of staff and a final year student. During the interview the student interviewer will ask 2-3 questions under the heading of ‘personality/personal interests’ and will award the candidate a mark out of four based on the quality of their answers. The member of academic staff also marks these questions and the two marks are later averaged and used in the calculation of the final score.
The academic member of staff asks further questions under the headings of science, situation and ethics and the prospective students answer to each of these questions are also marked out of four. This means that the prospective students can be awarded a maximum score of 16 for their performance in the interview.
During the visit day, applicants are asked to complete two assignments which are used to assess written communication ability and numeracy skills. The written assessment poses a question to the student about pharmacy, health in general or perhaps an ethical dilemma. Candidates are given a mark out of four depending on how well they have dealt with the question; spelling, grammar and punctuation is also taken into account. The numeracy assessment consists of 10 questions and requires candidates to work out dosage regimes, half-life, percentages and multiplications. A calculator is permitted to complete these questions. These assessments are used to gauge current knowledge and are not something that the applicants can revise for.
Each applicant is given a total score out of 30, and those with a score of over 22 are usually given an offer. If an applicant receives an exceptional score of 29 or 30 they will usually receive an unconditional offer to study pharmacy.
Admission processes used in other schools of pharmacy
Out of the 26 universities in the UK that offer the 4 year MPharm course, only 14 of these use an interview as part of the selection process. The other 12 schools of pharmacy make their decision solely based on the students’ A Level examination results and personal statements. It could be argued that the newer schools of pharmacy tend not to interview students but there are several established schools of pharmacy which do not interview prospective students, for example, University of Brighton, De Montfort University and Aston University. The table below shows which currently use interviews and which do not.
SCHOOL OF PHARMACY
University College London
John Moores Liverpool
University of Manchester
University of Cardiff
Kings College London
Queens University, Belfast
University of Bradford
University of East Anglia
University of Hertfordshire
University of Reading
University of Huddersfield
University of Ulster
University of Portsmouth
Robert Gordon University Aberdeen
University of Strathclyde
The schools of pharmacy which choose not to interview believe that the most important considerations for entry into the MPharm degree are the candidates A Level examination results in the specified science subjects, because if scientific skills are not strong then students will struggle on such a demanding course. It is possible that if they do not have a full understanding of these subjects that they may put patients at risk at some point in their career and this could compromise their fitness to practice as Pharmacists.
The 14 schools of pharmacy that do interview prospective students are of the opinion that the information provided on UCAS application forms is very limited. Apart from personal details and the results of previous examinations there is little information provided of a reliable and objective nature. By conducting interviews and aptitude tests the School is able to form its own judgement on the applicants oral and written communication skills and their ability to apply reason and logic when solving problems. These skills and abilities are deemed to be important attributes when undertaking a demanding masters degree and when practising as a successful pharmacist .
Of the 14 schools of pharmacy that do conduct interviews most of them are structured interviews, conducted on a one-on-one basis with one member of academic staff. However, two schools of pharmacy; Liverpool John Moores University and Huddersfield use group interviews in addition to the one-on-one interview. Currently only four Schools of Pharmacy use aptitude tests such as written assessments and calculation tests as part of their selection process.
Admission processes used in similar healthcare courses at the University of Manchester
All applicants applying to study medicine at the University of Manchester must sit the UKCAT aptitude test. UKCAT scores are not available at the time of application therefore they do not determine who is invited for interview however they are used when allocating offers and cut-off scores will be used. If invited for interview, the prospective student will take part in a multiple mini interview, completing three short, completely different interviews with different members of staff. The panel of 3 interviewers are drawn from both the university and clinical environment and have undergone specific training and guidance for interviewing medical school applicants including issues related to equal opportunities and the benefits of diversity. The aim of the interview is to explore the non-academic criteria as well as to and to demonstrate that they have the interpersonal skills to be able to communicate effectively and show that they are well-rounded individuals. In this way they can show that they meet the academic and non-academic attributes required of a prospective doctor. The interview process is in two parts: 30 minute group task with up to 9 candidates and one-to-one interviews of 8 minutes each at three separate stations. After the interview, the panel will complete their assessment and decide whether to make the candidate an offer, put them on hold or reject them completely.
All students wishing to study dentistry at the University of Manchester are required to sit the UKCAT test. Unlike the school of medicine, the dentistry school does not have a cut-off score for the UKCAT test. The actual raw UKCAT score is not used but each applicant is also given a percentile score which can be used to show how they performed compared to other applicants. It is this percentile score that is utilised as part of the assessment of the UCAS application. All applicants who meet the minimum required entrance criteria are invited to an interviews at the School of Dentistry. The interview aims to be relaxed and is imply used to gives the School an opportunity to find out more about the candidate as a person. It should not be seen as a test of academic knowledge.
All shortlisted applicants are required to attend a group interview, involving up to 10 candidates lasting for one hour. Students will be interviewed by a member of academic staff, a service user or carer and a practice based colleague. They are also required to complete a standardised online numeracy test which will take about one hour and an English written test lasting approximately 30 minutes. Similarly to the school of pharmacy, an offer of a place will be based on the students’ performance during the interview and the scores from the numeracy and written tests.
Are interviews worth the time and expense?
Interviews are very costly, both in terms of time and expense. At the school of pharmacy in Manchester twelve Wednesday afternoon interviewing sessions are carried out each year (six before Christmas and six after Christmas). There is a great deal of organising involved in each session and many members of staff and students are involved in these sessions. The main responsibility falls on the undergraduate admissions tutor and administrator but there is a member of staff who must deliver a presentation to the students and their parents and another staff member who compiles and supervise the calculations test and written assignment. Academic staff who have heavy workloads and many other responsibilities often feel they don’t have time to be involved in interviewing students. However, it is vital that all members of staff are represented in the process; male and female, those from a science background and those from a practice background.
The decision as to whether an interview is worth the time and expense must be based on whether the interview yields something that cannot be obtained from reading the applicants UCAS application. As the use of interviews in the admissions procedure is time consuming and costly, the interview must be designed to produce maximum reliability and validity.
It has been argued by Powis and Rolfe that although the admissions procedure may be costly, the indirect benefits to the university and the community by admitting candidates who have been specially selected should not be overlooked. When costs for the individual student are high after admission, especially now that tuition fees have risen to £9000 a year, then surely it is worth investing time and money before applicants enter the course.
Importance of assessing non-cognitive factors
As Pharmacy is a healthcare profession, many universities believe that assessing applicants on a variety of standards to ensure that they will have the personal commitment and necessary attitude, as well as the academic ability, to be a pharmacist.
Evaluation of qualitative parameters such as students verbal communication skills, maturity, integrity, compassion and leadership qualities have proven valuable in selecting candidates for admission into pharmacy school.
The interview process can be an effective method to evaluate parameters or attributes of pharmacy school candidates such as ethics, relevant life or work experience, emotional maturity, commitment to patient care, leadership and understanding of the pharmacy profession.
Equally, by inviting the applicant to attend an interview this gives them an opportunity to decide if the University and course offered will provide a suitable ‘learning environment’ for them to become a successful Pharmacist. When candidates are invited to interview at the School of Pharmacy they will be brought on a tour of the department by current third year students. This gives them to see all the top-class facilities such as the dispensary, modern lecture theatres, newly renovated library and aspetic suite. The tour also gives them an opportunity to ask any questions to the current third year students, as they may have been too nervous to ask them during the interview.
Use of the structured interview in pharmacy
Structured interviews are preferred over unstructured interviews because they have better reliability and validity and they are more scientifically and ethically defensible than unstructured interviews. The structured interview process typically includes a set od standardized questions given to each candidate, a standardized scoring system, and a panel of at least 2 interviewers evaluating each candidate. Additionally, structuring the interview can decrease bias which is more common in unstructured interviews. Bias refers to leniency, severity or favouritism shown to candidates by an interviewer when rating them. Ongoing interviewer training is essential to elicit interview information in a consistent and fair manner, minimize rating bias and enhance overall interviewer performance.
Use of students in interviews
Since November 2011, the Manchester School of Pharmacy has used final year students as interviewers as part of the undergraduate application process. This is not something seen often in the recruitment of pharmacy students but it has been used in the recruitment of other healthcare professionals, for example in medicine and dentisitry.
Studies carried out by Gelmann and Steward showed that in no way were the students perceived to be inferior compared to academic staff as interviewers. They reported that applicants were very satisfied with student interviewers. It is hoped that the presence of a student would make the applicant feel more at ease and encourage them to speak freely and ask questions.
The admission interview provides information from the interviewer to the applicant as well as the reverse.
Furthermore the presence of students as interviewers sends out a clear message that the school respects students as rising professionals in their field. According to previous research, students are particularly well placed to detect answers which have been prepared or insincere answers because they have been through the same process themselves only a few years ago.
Students also have a greater understanding of online communities such as ‘the studentroom’ in which prospective students use to communicate and give each other hints and tips. Student interviewers can also gain personal benefit from the experience. In a study by Koc and colleagues one of the study participants said that “I gained insight into my own qualities and have become more confident in communication.”
The admission interview provides information from the interviewer to the applicant as well as the reverse. As a representative of the pharmacy school, the interviewer should be able to point out the institution attributes, provide answers or sources of information for the applicants questions, and volunteer additional information pertinent to an interviewees interests. Applicants invariably ask about academic aspects of the course which students and academic are equally able these questions. However, it is in the area of residences and social life that applicants reported a significant difference in the expertise of students and faculty members. Student interviewers, might as expected, be more likely to provide satisfactory answers of student life. Furthermore interviewees tended to broach this subject more often with the students. It is in the area of non-academic concerns that students best complement faculty members in interviewing.
Everyone involved in interviewing (staff and students) has undertaken
equality and diversity training. All the final year MPharm students, for example, have
completed the University ‘Equality and Diversity for Students’ online course. We
believe involving 4th year students in admissions interviews not only helps to promote
a positive gender-balanced image of the School and the profession to prospective
students, but it also helps raise and hopefully embed their awareness about equality
and diversity issues in a very practical way early in their career. We are one of the few
Schools in the University that incorporate this training into the curriculum.
Interviews as predictors of academic success
It was also noted that the interview score of the students did not contribute significantly to academic performance during the pharmacy program. This is explainable because the characteristics being assessed in the interviews are noncognitive and nonacademic factors that include motivation, leadership skills, team skills, problem-solving skills, compassion, and professionalism. These characteristics may not play significant roles in academic performance in a pharmacy program; however, they are critically valuable attributes for competent pharmacists to have. Furthermore, interview
ratings may be highly subjective because of the large numbers of interviewers, including both faculty and
students, and a potentially high rate of student interviewer turnover.procedure
Several researchers have argued that students accepted through interview seem to be more highly motivated than students admitted by grades alone. It is further argued that motivation could be a good predictor of clinical performance. The main objective of an admissions essentially based on test and interview is to seek out, from a pool of applicants with good academic standards, highly motivated students with the potential to become good pharmacists. It can be argues that the most important purpose of the interview is to gather non-academic information about candidates that would be difficult or impossible to obtain by other means. In a study by roding comparing students selected by individualised admissions procedure and those admitted on other grounds such as exam results, the former seem to have greater professional competence in terms of the criteria assessed, such as the knowledge, initiative, responsibility and judgement, clinical skills and motivation.
A positive side-effect found in the same study reported that some students said that their experience from the admission interview have been valuable when as graduating students they are now applying for positions as pharmacists and are called for an interview.
Selection researchers have suggested that females tend to experience significantly higher levels of anxiety than do males on selection tests. However, anxiety may actually be more detrimental to males performance in a hiring context, despite the stronger anxiety levels femlaes are challenge with. This interesting paradox has led to the advancement of the sex-linked anxiety coping theory. This theory proposes that selection anxirty (eg. interview anxiety, test-taking anxiety) may not impair females in the same way as males because females tend to engage in more adaptive coping strategies. Importantly there has been a suggestion that this bias may be introducing irrelevant variance into the prediction of selection test performance such as admissions interview. An ineffective process can also result in poor admission choices and for those who matriculate a poor start to the university.
Findings of the Athena swan award -admission process bias towards males only
The School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Manchester recently received the prestigious Athena Swan award. The Athena swan charter recognises and celebrates good employment practice for women working in science, engineering and technology (SET) in higher technology and research. Universities and individual schools and departments can apply for an Athena SWAN award at three different levels (bronze, silver and gold). The award acknowledges good practice on recruiting, retaining and promoting women (staff and students) in SET in higher education. The School of Pharmacy is one of only four schools within the University of Manchester to hold a departmental level award, and one of only three Schools of Pharmacy nationally to receive the award.
To achieve this award, a team lead by Professor Karen Hasssell investigated current procedures in recruiting, retaining and promoting women (both staff and students) in the school of pharmacy, including the recruitment process for new undergraduate students.
They found that females are very well represented among undergraduate pharmacy students (Table 1a). Over the last five years females have accounted for 64.2% of the undergraduate students, and they consistently outnumber males year-on-year by almost 2:1. The proportion of females in Pharmacy is consistently higher than in other SET departments and for the University as a whole (e.g., 63%, 54% and 55% respectively in 2010/11). The figure is also slightly higher than the average for Schools of Pharmacy nationally, and for the B2 JACs category where pharmacy is combined with pharmacology and toxicology (Table 1b).
When they looking at admissions data they found that there are more applications to study a pharmacy degree from females. Greater numbers and proportions of females are offered a place on the undergraduate course, while similar proportions of females and males accept their offers.
Table: Applications, offers and acceptances for study in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Manchester, by gender, 2008/9 to 2010/11
Data in offers and accept cells relate to the number and % in each case that was successful to the next stage
While female students do very well in applying to and securing a place to study pharmacy, there are some concerns around recruitment of male students. For example, the undergraduate data suggest females are more likely to be made an offer, which may indicate that the interview and recruitment process is somehow biased against males. Actions to explore these concerns, and to evaluate the pairing initiative and the equality and diversity training, were outlined in the action plan produced for the application to Athena Swan. This project will help to address one of the aims of this work:
To evaluate perceptions of the recruitment process
While the overall aim of the project is to see whether it is possible to identify reasons why male applicants are less likely to be made an offer to study pharmacy, more generally the project is concerned with perceptions of the recruitment process and whether these might vary according to students’ gender.
Aims and objectives of project
The aim of this project is to see if it is possible to identify why male applicants are less likely to be made an offer to study at Manchester than females. Objectives include interviews with academic members of staff and final year student interviewers to explore perceptions of differences between male and female performances at interview.
We plan to undertake work to explore these
issues further and to explore what can be done to ensure males are given the right opportunity to perform well during the recruitment process
First, our initiative of pairing UGs with staff during UCAS interviews will be evaluated in
relation to both process and outcomes on student admissions. Second, we will evaluate the impact of the E & D training given to the students and whether it has any positive impact on gender awareness
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