Advanced Pharmacy Practice Rotation Experience During a Global Pandemic

COVID-19 has not stolen my final year of pharmacy school from me, but rather, has given me once in lifetime learning opportunities unique to this time in my life and in the world.

I had been looking forward to starting my sixth and final year of pharmacy school since I first got a taste of direct patient care years ago in one of my classes at the University of the Sciences Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. Although the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic altered these plans, it also made many new learning opportunities possible.

The course that first introduced me to patient care was designed to prepare students in their first professional year of pharmacy school for patient care experiences that we may be exposed to on our experiential rotations. For the class, my fellow pharmacy students and I visited a local West Philadelphia nursing home and were able to talk to residents about their medications.

The conversations with the residents whet my appetite for future patient care experiences and were part of the reason why I was so excited to get out of the classroom during my sixth year and start putting my knowledge into practice. That was, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. COVID-19 not only canceled in-person classes but also threatened to cancel many of my experiential rotations.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, I have completed a variety of rotations thus far, including experiences in community, industry, ambulatory, and acute care pharmacy settings. The pandemic has touched each rotation in different ways but has also offered many amazing learning opportunities during my final year of pharmacy school. I will be able to tell my children that I was on the front lines of a global pandemic, learning alongside some of the greatest minds in medicine about how to treat patients afflicted with a potentially life-altering illness that has never been seen before this past year.

Right before going on rotations, during the height of the COVID-19 restrictions, I attended a lecture at my school. The lecture was delivered by a critical care pharmacist regarding all of the cutting-edge medications being used to treat COVID-19, as well as the types of abnormal lab values that medical professionals should look for when caring for patients with COVID-19. This lecture prepared me for all of the new treatment options I saw in person while on rotation in the intensive care unit (ICU), including remdesivir, convalescent plasma, and tocilizumab.

I was in the ICU at a community hospital over the summer when remdesivir, the antiviral that is now approved for treatment of patients with COVID-19, was just receiving Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. I was able to see this drug being used for the first time on many patients. This rotation taught me how important it is to keep up with the newest scientific literature.

However, it also drove home the point that although it is crucial that we are constantly learning how to treat patients with COVID-19, other patients still need our care too. Unfortunately, people do not stop having heart attacks just because it is a global pandemic. I was able to work alongside a team of intensivists, medical residents, respiratory therapists, nurses, dieticians, and pharmacists to provide patients in the cardiac ICU with essential care.

During another rotation, I had the opportunity to work with a clinical pharmacist in a primary care clinic. Because the risk would have been too high for us to see patients in person, we met with them via a telehealth phone or video call.

Although some of the more comforting aspects of human connection between patients and health care providers are lost over the phone, I truly believe that telehealth is the future of health care, especially ambulatory care pharmacy. This experience showed me that health care providers may be able to provide increased access to care to patients through telehealth even after the pandemic is over. Many barriers to care are eliminated when a patient is able to call their health care provider over the phone and receive almost the same quality of treatment as they would if they were seen in person.

Finally, I also had the opportunity to work with a pharmaceutical company in their oncology department. While I was there, the company was working on different products related to COVID-19 treatments and vaccine technologies.

I did not have direct exposure to any of this information at the time, but I was able to learn about the process of getting a new drug to market and was able to talk to many of the people in different departments who were involved. This rotation highlighted how amazing it is that all of the new drug therapies that are being put out on the market are able to be developed so precisely and at lightning speed.

Despite the world’s attention being focused on the pandemic, physicians are still working to perfect pacemaker surgeries, pharmacists are still managing insulin requirements of patients with diabetes, and patients with stage 4 cancer still need to be enrolled in clinical trials with potentially lifesaving medications.

I am happy to report that I have been able to experience all of these facets of the health care world, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has not stolen my final year of pharmacy school from me, but rather, has given me once in lifetime learning opportunities unique to this time in my life and in the world.