Everyone has been affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. It has changed nearly every aspect of our daily schedules, making much of our lives more cumbersome and difficult.

Currently, I am entering my second year of the pharmacy program at the Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy (AUHSOP). Following my program being switched to satellite instruction this year, I have found numerous challenges that come with that style of learning.

When I first received the email in March that we would be transitioning to mostly online coursework, I was excited. I would be able to take classes from the comfort of my home and would not have to waste any time getting dressed for class every morning.

However, once grades were released for our first couple of online assignments, I went into a panic. I was struggling, big time. During class via Zoom, I was having difficulty paying attention, I was not absorbing much instruction, and I was easily confused. I was also not actively doing anything to make myself a better candidate for residency programs that I found interesting.

To begin to work on my grades and professional development, I sat down and began to assess where I was struggling. Then I built an action plan for myself.

GOAL SETTING
During my first year at AUHSOP, I was introduced to the practice of building SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timebound.1

The action plan that I made for myself contained SMART goals that ensured I was efficiently setting out to adapt to online pharmacy school during the pandemic. This is an excellent practice for students generally, but it is especially helpful for students while receiving online instruction, as professors are less able to hold students accountable over platforms such as Zoom and Webex.

HONOR PROFESSIONALISM
As students, we often roll our eyes when we hear professors and faculty members talk about professionalism. However, recently I have realized the actual benefits professionalism offers students.

When we were still receiving instruction in person, we had a business casual dress code. Every morning I would wake up at 7 AM, take a shower, eat some breakfast, put on my school clothes, and head to class. Once I got to class, it did not matter if the subject matter was something that really caught my curiosity—I always paid attention.

Part of the reason I paid attention was that I had invested a good portion of my morning preparing for class. Once we were in class online, I often found myself rolling out of bed and opening my laptop for class, making this process the entirety of my morning schedule. In essence, it was professionalism that I found was lacking in my new routine.

Since then, I have treated every day like I am going on campus. It gives me more motivation to pay attention by investing time and effort into preparing for online instruction.

GET INVOLVED
Involvement has always been important for pharmacy students. Not only is it essential for our development as future pharmacists, but it is also vital for future employment, as it offers an outlet for connections to be built.

In the current pandemic, there are not as many opportunities for us as students to build connections with the people who will eventually be our employers and colleagues. Getting involved can be achieved in numerous ways, whether it be with professional organizations, clinical or laboratory research with a professor, or directly involved with admissions or your schools’ operations.

Furthermore, officer positions within schools or organizations offer opportunities for collaboration with faculty members and pharmacists that are valuable while we are limited to online instruction.

Additionally, many organizations, such as the National Community Pharmacists Association, the American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists, and the American College of Clinical Pharmacology are conducting their national meetings online this year, which offers students the opportunity to attend meetings without the high cost of travel that may have hindered some from attending previously.

STAY CONNECTED
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become hard to build relationships with others within our schools. Our relationships with professors and fellow pharmacy students are valuable resources in our coursework and professional development. We are training to become members of a health care team, which requires us to be connected and work with others to provide the best care possible for our patients.

For example, professors want to know the person behind the face mask. They want to offer advice and help when we need it. I recently reached out to one of my professors who is in my interest field. I was pleasantly surprised by how excited and ready she was to offer me advice about my future career. In the pre-pandemic world, interactions like this were much more numerous, but now the responsibility is on the student to build connections with professors.
 
ANDREW ALLAN GWALTNEY is a 2023 PharmD candidate at Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy, where he is the president-elect of the Student Chapter of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy.


REFERENCE
  1. The Mind Tools Content Team. SMART goals: how to make your goals achievable. Mind Tools. Accessed September 8, 2020. Mindtools.com/pages/article/ smart-goals.htm