Back to Pharmacy School, Part 3: Interview with a Pharmacy Student

MARCH 08, 2018
Welcome back! We have learned so much about how pharmacy school has changed over the years in part 1 and part 2, and I thought the perfect way to tie it all together would be to talk to a current PharmD student, Eric Kinney. 

Q: Hi Eric! Thanks for joining us! What made you decide to go to pharmacy school? Have you always wanted to be a pharmacist?

A: Early in high school, I knew that I wanted to be involved in the health sciences. To find the right fit, I shadowed an orthopedic surgeon and a nuclear pharmacist (go big or go home!). While both piqued my interest, it was the pharmacist’s explanation of his profession outside the specialty that stuck. A career as a medication expert, well-versed in that broad world of unpronounceable drug names and indistinguishable little white pills would be ideal for someone like myself, someone interested in helping others by utilizing practical skills and clinical knowledge cultivated during my education. The son of a teacher and a chemical engineer, I had no preconceived inclination toward the field and so my motivations were all my own. I haven’t regretted my decision once in all the years since.

Q: How do you feel about the 'flipped classroom' and team-based learning vs. traditional classroom lectures? Which type of teaching/learning do you prefer?

A: 'Flipped classroom' is a useful tool that can be difficult to implement well. When done correctly, it opens the door to a class session rich with rehearsal and discussion of real-life scenarios in which the concepts being covered would be used. For this to occur, however, three important expectations must be met.

First, comprehensive preparatory material must be provided—comprehensive here is important because we, as students, are almost wholly relying on this information to gain a grasp on a topic to which we have likely never been exposed. Focusing our independent learning on key concepts and the materials essential for a solid foundation on the subject—exceptions to the rule and anecdotes can always be brought up in class later.

Second, the class session should avoid simply reiterating word-for-word the preparatory material. Absolutely reemphasize key points, but steer away from spending an abundance of time on the basic information. Instead, the class should be focused on case-based, critical thinking examples, preferably multiple choice. Why multiple choice? Because by using this method, you can then discuss with the class why each answer is correct or, more importantly, incorrect (or somewhere in that dreaded gray-area). This is vital, the discussion, because it is just as useful for students to learn why one choice is more optimal than another as it is for us to see that multiple answers may be correct, opening our eyes to actual practice where this is not only possible but it is the norm.

Finally, the students must play their part. Likely the most difficult and uncontrollable aspect, students need to prepare for the class session and participate in discussion. Participation is important – this means each student puts forth the effort to talk with their team and debate each answer, all while providing their rationale behind it. Because these are consequence-free examples, this is the time to air your thought process and determine how far off the mark you are. In this way, students can adjust their understanding and consequently feel more prepared to tackle high-stake situations, like exams and APPE rotations.

Should all three expectations be met, flipped classroom teaching can be immensely effective. Personally, when done properly, team-based learning is preferable to traditional didactic lectures. We, as students, have the ability to prepare the fundamentals on our own, but we rely on our instructors to provide insight from clinical experience we have yet to gain.

Please note that these opinions are guided more toward pharmacotherapeutics courses.

Q: For courses that used the flipped classroom, what did you usually do to prepare before class?

A: To prepare for flipped classroom courses, I would thoroughly read/watch the pre-class material as instructed. This often included a therapeutics chapter, posted journal articles, and/or a brief recording with supplemental information. I would browse through each component and take notes along the way, creating an outline. In this way, I was able to order my thoughts and find trends in the material that made retention easier. It allowed me to see, for example, that only one drug of an entire class didn’t have a certain side effect or that different stages of a disease varied by the same margin in lab values. Preparation was akin to studying, it just took motivation to get it done.

Q: How much time did you spend per week in class? How much time did you spend outside class preparing for class and studying for exams?

A: We were often scheduled for around 16-18 hours per semester. Focusing on flipped classroom therapeutics, we spent around 4 hours weekly in class. Outside of this, time spent preparing varied by the topic and the provided material—for dense concepts, like diabetes and neurology, I probably spent 3 hours per topic (usually one topic per class session) whereas with lighter subjects I likely only spent an hour and a half per topic.

Q: What electives did you take and how did they help you in terms of pharmacy? 

A: Pediatric Pharmacotherapy—This elective was effectively a semester-long therapeutics module covering everything from fevers and analgesics for infants to neonatology to medication errors in children. This was my first exposure to the realm of clinical pharmacy specialists and, while pediatrics is not my main interest, it led me down a road that now has me pursuing a PGY-1 and subsequent PGY-2 residency to become a clinical pharmacy specialist.

Weapons of Mass Destruction and Disaster Planning—This elective demonstrated the national and global roles pharmacists can play, given their skills as the medication experts. I learned how to establish and work disaster relief efforts, as well as what procedures to use during a terrorist attack involving lethal biological weapons, all while receiving a more in-depth education on the pharmacy behind such chemicals.

Graduate Seminar—During this elective, I was able to both present my research to the pharmaceutical sciences department, as well as listen to and critique other graduate students as they presented their research. It was a helpful lesson on different styles that I could incorporate into my own research and presentation style, as well as an opportunity to receive feedback on the work I had been doing.

Pharmacy Advocacy and Leadership—This elective was a refresher on the legal system in our country, along with an introduction to how pharmacists can influence legislature being drafted and signed into law. I learned valuable skills necessary to become a well-informed pharmacist and bring about change that will benefit our profession. I had the opportunity to travel to Charleston, WV and Washington D.C. to speak with legislators about bills that were currently proposed and their potential impact on pharmacy.

Acute Care Case Studies—An incredible learning experience and a prime example of flipped classroom, this elective began each session with a discussion of the required reading, after which a mini-lecture was performed that examined in-depth a topic covered during therapeutics. For example, one mini-lecture was on all of the nuances of warfarin dosing, something only touched upon in the core classes. Afterward, each student worked on a case study which was later discussed in-depth to further clarify any confusing topics.

Preparing Residency Applicants—A recently developed elective, this was an opportunity to learn about the process of applying for residencies. It aided me in developing letter of intent and CV writing skills as well as providing me with the chance to practice interviewing. We met with current residents in an open forum and were walked through all of the steps in the process of the Match.

Q: Do you think the practicum sessions, case studies, skills labs, and other active learning sessions were valuable?

A: I found practicum sessions and skills labs valuable because they were our first hands-on exposure to providing vaccines, CPR, finger sticks, and blood pressure readings. Additionally, they often provided an opportunity for interprofessional education. Case studies were valuable opportunities to apply the concepts learned in class to a more real-life scenario, and active learning allowed for a similar application of current material to examples that encouraged students to think critically.

Q: What was your favorite thing about pharmacy school? 

A: While the education and training I have received at WVU has been of the highest caliber, one cannot ignore the relationships I’ve made along the way. I have met amazing people, from my girlfriend to incredible classmates that I couldn’t have made it through pharmacy school without. The faculty, I respect immensely, both professionally and personally, and I hope to emulate them in my career. It is the people, not the building or the city, that makes a pharmacy school great and we have great people in spades.

Q: What was your least favorite thing about pharmacy school? 

A: Would I sound too much like a stereotypical student to say 'tests?' It was a stressful three years of long nights and busy days, but P4 year was certainly a reward. There’s nothing compared to the (moderately) stress-free exhilaration of putting years of hard work to use as I complete my rotations. It was nerve-racking to progress through the courses, but now I’m prepared to apply the knowledge and skills I’ve gained to a residency in the near future.

Q: Do you value the introductory pharmacy practice experiences (IPPE) in P1-P3, the P2 service learning project, the simulation center activities with mannequins and standardized patients, and interprofessional education (IPE) activities with other students at the health sciences center? What do you think you learned the most from these experiences? 

A: The IPPEs were wonderful exposures to areas that students might not have visited yet. Having worked in a hospital throughout pharmacy school, I found my Community IPPE particularly insightful, just as I’m sure students who interned in community settings found their Institutional IPPE eye-opening. The service learning projects were impactful opportunities to put our newly developed skills to use for the good of the community. Being able to speak with high school students about abused drugs and their impact on the developing brain was amazing, and having the chance to do it as a student without the relative 'red tape' of being a teacher definitely helped us connect with the students.

Exercises with standardized patients and mannequins allowed a flexing of our still-developing patient interaction skills and provided the chance to make recommendations to patients without harming anyone (or scaring customers away from a store). IPE activities allowed students from all fields the incredible opportunity to learn about each profession that we will likely interact with for the rest of our careers. It helped break down misconceptions and build stronger bonds between healthcare professionals that will need to work well together in the future to provide optimal treatment to their patients. I think my ability to interact with others in a professional setting, one in which pharmacists would likely find themselves in their day-to-day business, was ultimately the most helpful because it will make such conversations and counseling easier in the future.

Q: How did you use technology—did you view the recorded classroom lectures? 

A: Technology was more than a luxury, it was a staple of everyday life in pharmacy school. From the ease of taking notes faster by typing to the ability to pull up and highlight a document beside those notes, our laptops were our whole world. From time to time I would view recorded classroom lectures when I missed something during class or when I was uncertain about a subject weeks later when studying for the exam.

Q: When I went to school, we had basic phones for calling only! Did you get distracted by texting/social media/other websites during class time? Or did you see your classmates have a hard time putting down their phones to concentrate? 

A: Honestly, it’s pretty hard not to get caught up in the Facebook feed of the person one row in front of you. It’s human. However, other than the girl whose MacBook suddenly started playing Maroon 5 on max volume (and wouldn’t turn off), it’s not difficult to tune out the distractions and stay focused when you get into the groove of the class session. Still, on those Friday afternoons before Spring Break, you’d be hard pressed to find a handful of students not online shopping or browsing Buzzfeed. Our laptops were our greatest resource and we spent an abundance of time on them to work, but they were also our greatest distraction. Realistically though, as it’s likely been even when pen and paper were the norm for notetaking, if you want to stay focused you do and if you don’t then you don’t. Motivations haven’t changed, just the medium through which we procrastinate and daydream.

Q: How did you like taking exams electronically?

A: Taking exams electronically was enjoyable for most courses. In any subject involving math, I, along with most students, preferred paper—working out problems is somehow always better when it’s done on a sheet of paper in open space below the question. Electronic exams, however, were convenient for all other courses because they were quick and efficient and the expedited return of grades allowed us to celebrate or grieve right then and there and move on.

Q: Do you work at nights or on weekends? If so, what kind of job, how many hours, and was it hard to juggle work with schoolwork?

A: I worked at WVU Medicine Ruby Memorial Hospital as an inpatient pharmacy intern while in pharmacy school. I would work weekends during the semester and I had the option to pick up extra shifts during the week over summer. Luckily my supervisor, Dr. Hare, was a strong proponent of students (and residents) having a healthy work-life(-school) balance and made the time commitment manageable. While it could be difficult on those weeks where you finished a therapeutics exam to then go into work and subsequently enter the next week slightly less prepared for your next exam than you’d prefer, the experience I received in the hospital and the exposure to such an environment solidified my decision to pursue a career in a hospital setting. It was well worth it.

Q: Do you plan to pursue a residency? If so, why did you make that decision? What kind of residency are you seeking?

A: I am currently applying for residencies in a hospital setting. I’ve planned on pursuing residency training since beginning pharmacy school when I saw the career opportunities available to those who complete two years of postgraduate training. Having an interest in direct patient care as well as academia, completing two years of residency will allow me to function as a clinical pharmacist rounding in a hospital and as faculty, teaching in a school of pharmacy and/or precepting students and residents on rotation.

Q: What are your long-term career goals?

A- Ideally my career will encompass three components: rounding with a team at a hospital, teaching students in a classroom, and precepting students and/or residents on rotation.

Q: Do you think the curriculum prepared you well to be a pharmacist, enter a postgraduate residency, and ultimately achieve your career goals? 

A: I think the curriculum allowed me to build a strong foundation from which I will continue my education. Furthermore, my rotations have helped me bolster my knowledge, improve my confidence, and gain experience applying what I’ve learned to treat my patients. West Virginia University and WVU Medicine have both done an amazing job recruiting pharmacists whose talent and intellect are well meshed with their ability to impart knowledge to their students. Additionally, their strong relationships with other healthcare providers is a sterling example for students, like myself, beginning to navigate the tricky waters of an interprofessional team. It is because of them that I feel prepared to tackle the next part of my education.

Q: What advice would you give someone just starting pharmacy school?

A: Academics, leadership, service—each is important. However, before any of them, your health comes first. Eat, sleep, exercise. Have an outlet. Do something for fun! Find the balance that will allow you to be ambitious and, more importantly, healthy.

Thank you, Eric, for your time and great insight!

If all pharmacy school students are like Eric, I think we have a very promising future, full of well-rounded, competent pharmacists. Best of lucky to Eric and his fellow classmates, and all PharmD students, as you finish out the school year.

Karen Berger, PharmD
Karen Berger, PharmD
Karen Berger, PharmD, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy in 2001. She has worked in community pharmacies for over 16 years as a Pharmacist in Charge, staff, and floater pharmacist for a large chain. Currently, she is a pharmacist at an independent pharmacy in Northern NJ. She can be reached at karenmichelleberger@gmail.com
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