Despite the stressors of the past year, students said the health care crisis has only reinforced the value of the pharmacist and their desire to enter the field.
Although the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted the normal activities of pharmacy students, recent Pharmacy Times® Student Café interviews illustrate how students adapted to the new learning environment and began searching for ways to help their communities.
Transitioning to virtual classes was stressful, said Amy Kallo, a PharmD candidate at Midwestern University’s College of Pharmacy in Downers Grove, Illinois. She relied heavily on her adviser, who told her it was difficult for faculty and staff, as well.
“I think one of the bigger things we all did was take it with a grain of salt and perform academically as best we could,” Kallo said.
Kallo said students taking pharmacy laboratory classes were affected because the labs are an important opportunity for hands-on learning. In the first year of pharmacy, Kallo said students typically learn how to prepare IVs, which drugs are compatible, and how to safely and properly use syringes. When her laboratory class was moved online, Kallo said, her professor did a live demonstration of these skills, which worked well.
Several students said that although the switch to virtual learning was intimidating at first, the spread of telemedicine during the pandemic made it an essential skill.
“We didn’t realize it, of course, at the start of the quarter, but being able to explain things through a computer to a patient, making sure that they understood—those were the sorts of labs that we did have,” Audra Melton, a PharmD candidate at Midwestern University, explained.
Students at the Washington State University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Spokane said that although their academic experiences changed as a result of the pandemic, they have found ways to productively use their knowledge. Several students said they have been involved with COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts, which helps the community and furthers their hands-on experience.
Shannon Patterson, a PharmD candidate at Washington State University, has been involved with vaccination events at the Spokane Arena. Patterson said she has worked on other vaccination outreach events as well, in assisted-living facilities and cancer centers.
“In my role with Operation Immunization, I have planned a lot of [influenza] clinics and a lot of [influenza] immunizations, so I’m familiar with these events,” Patterson said. “But COVID-19 immunization clinics have completely changed how we plan and how we use our resources. For example, at the Spokane Arena, this is the first time that some of these groups are working together....It’s put me in a different role, absolutely.”
Washington State University has been supporting students with regular immunization training and opportunities to put their knowledge into practice. Shayne Fontes, a PharmD candidate, said many students already were trained in immunization practices as well as nasopharyngeal swabbing and basic testing methods, although he said first-year students may have needed additional training to work in testing or vaccination clinics.
“We did provide online review sessions where we had one of our professors go over the nasopharyngeal swab, and how that stuff looks and how it’s done,” Fontes said. “And for those who didn’t get that hands-on training, the virtual training was the best we could provide.”
Despite the stressors of the past year, most students said the pandemic has only reinforced the value of the pharmacist and their desire to enter the field. Patterson said she believes pharmacists are one of the most important sources for information and support within a community, especially during a time such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The value of a pharmacist is [inestimable] right now,” Patterson said. “[Pharmacists are] able to engage with the community, help vaccinate, give them resources and education, and be the most accessible health care provider.”