Innovative experiential learning can provide students with skills necessary to launch successful careers, keeping the pharmacy profession trusted by patients.
The pharmacy profession is constantly evolving die to legislative changes, FDA guidance and requirements, corporate pressures, and the demands of patients. The training of pharmacists must also change to match the demand, law, or policy. Experiential education, although not new in the required pharmacy school curriculum, can be the source of innovation that enables students to feel confident to take on the ever-changing world of pharmacy after graduation. There are many ways innovative experiential learning is changing pharmacy education; however, 3 stand out as timely and impactful.
Mental Health Awareness
The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need to prepare future pharmacists for the rigorous demands of the profession that can take a toll on mental health and cause burnout. A way many universities, including Chicago State University College of Health Sciences and Pharmacy (CSUCOP), are addressing this is by incorporating mental health awareness in experiential education and teaching students to balance their work and school schedules, and self-care. Elective courses focus on mindfulness, aimed at giving students tools to understand their emotions and how to care for their patients. Many schools also host guest speakers who share ways they have overcome transitions or barriers to success while fighting for their mental well-being; in addition, optional workshops focus on understanding mental health and the tools available to address concerns.
Another unique way experiential education is preparing students is with artificial intelligence (AI)-centric virtual classes and field training. AI can benefit pharmacists every day by helping them make more informed decisions, as well as managing medication inventory, predicting medication demand, monitoring patient adherence, and identifying potential drug interactions and adverse events.1
AI-Empowered Learning: The use of virtual platforms, such as Zoom for classes or office hours or Kahoot for interactive quizzes, is accepted and commonplace. Excitingly, new platforms powered by AI are transforming the way students are learning. For example, Bevinzey uses AI to help students and educators quickly summarize text into key points, as well as generate multiple-choice, true/ false, short answer, and fill-in-the-blank questions and study guides.2
ChatGPT: ChatGPT is becoming a widely known language model that has proven to be a valuable resource, although it is a new frontier for health care technology and pharmacy education. ChatGPT could revolutionize health care by developing virtual assistants that help patients in managing their health via lifestyle recommendations, scheduling of appointments, follow-up care reminders, and simplified communication with physicians, as well as helping health care providers by generating insight into information about treatment options.3 In pharmacy education, ChatGPT can be used to simulate a virtual clinic where student pharmacists learn to treat patients in a real-life scenario, practice appropriate interaction with patients, and accurately manage medication dosages. More articles on the topic are being published as the profession adjusts to AI’s use and applications.
Student-Led Initiatives: Many students at institutions across the country are going beyond formal classroom experiences to explore how digital health, technology, and pharmacy intersect. One example is the student group Pharmacists for Digital Health (PDH), which was founded at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Pharmacy.4 PDH students have created a VCU Health Way Finder app geared toward increasing access to medical technologiesfor low-income patients. Digital health labs alsoare becoming more common and give students access to hardware such as 3-dimensional printers or virtual reality headgear so they can independently turn their ideas for improving patient outcomes through tech into reality.
The professional practice modules and Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) opportunities at colleges expose students to the numerous fields of pharmacy practice and are critical in helping to determine career choices. Notably, we have seen a rise in elective APPEs that focus on telehealth. For example, at CSU-COP, students can opt to take a mail-order elective rotation via PillPack by Amazon Pharmacy or an advanced ambulatory care elective rotation through PremierPharmaMentors. The students on these rotations learn the flow of operations and can take a deep dive into reviewing patient profiles for drug appropriateness and interactions before counseling, and allow other teams to package the goods delivered to patients. The students walk away with a greater insight as to how technology can be used to service more patients in a shorter period.
Change is a guaranteed constant, as evidenced by the daily evolution in big and small ways across the pharmacy world. Innovative experiential learning is changing the pharmacy school experience for the better, preparing students with the skills and experiences necessary to launch successful careers that help keep the pharmacy profession a trusted resource for other health care professionals and patients.
About The Author
Tiffany P. Brown, PharmD, is a clinical specialty pharmacist for CVS Specialty. She has been a registered pharmacist for 10 years, including more than 5 years as a pharmacy manager. She graduated with her PharmD from Chicago State University in Illinois.