Pharmacy Students, Professors Continue to Adjust to COVID-19

COVID-19 has caused major upheavals across the country and pharmacy schools are no exception, as many institutions have been closed, causing professors and students to seek out innovative ways to complete their coursework for the semester.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has caused major upheavals across the country as many states take preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus. Pharmacy schools are no exception, as many institutions have been closed, causing professors and students to seek out innovative ways to complete their coursework for the semester.

In an interview with Pharmacy Times®, Angela Kashuba, BScPhm, PharmD, DABCP, FCP, dean of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Eshelman School of Pharmacy, noted that UNC was well prepared to deal with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic due to existing remote-learning programs.

“At the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, we already had distance learning technology in place for our dual-campus model,” Kashuba said. “This allowed us to swiftly move more than 800 PharmD, PhD, and MS students to online teaching and limit disruptions in the classroom. We are currently teaching over 50 courses remotely.”

In addition, Kashuba said that their preceptors have been very understanding and generous with those students who are in clinical rotations.

“For those students at health care centers that needed to be removed from direct patient care activities in March, our preceptors ensured that our students were able to complete their rotations at a distance,” Kashuba said in an interview with Pharmacy Times®.

At the University of Kentucky’s School of Pharmacy, the impact on the pharmacy students has been minimal and the coursework will see more of a shift, according to Joseph L. Fink III, PharmD, professor of Pharmacy Law and Policy at the university.

“When classes resume after spring break, they will all be done by being technologically mediated,” Fink said in an interview with Pharmacy Times®. “On a personal note, I am trying to decide how to handle the remaining course requirements in 2 health law courses I teach this semester. I am seriously considering dropping the in-class presentation and only having them do the paper. However, that will ‘up the ante’ on the paper assignment. We have been given flexibility to modify course syllabi in this way by the provost so long as it [was] announced to the students by March 31.”

Unlike UNC Eshleman’s School of Pharmacy, Fink said that fourth year pharmacy students on rotations may not be able to go to their last rotations scheduled for the semester. “Many clinical sites have said ‘no students!’” Fink said in an interview with Pharmacy Times®. “Fourth year students with us must complete 4 mandatory rotations, plus at least 3 elective rotations, to graduate at [Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE)] standards.”

As for pharmacy school graduation, each school is taking a different approach.

For example, Rutgers University’s Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy had recently announced that a quarter of its final year pharmacy doctorate students will graduate early and will be ready to license to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic on the frontlines. It is among the first pharmacy programs in the United States to graduate qualified students early to provide practice-ready health care personnel to serve the growing demands of community-based pharmacies, hospital and health care systems, and the pharmaceutical industry, according to the university.1

Kashuba said that all pharmacy schools have been working with the ACPE and their state licensing bodies to ensure that their PY4 students are able to graduate on time.

“We are focused on graduating our student pharmacists so they can enter the workforce and provide much-needed patient care relief,” Kashuba said in an interview with Pharmacy Times®.

As for the University of Kentucky, commencement does not seem promising to Fink.

“All indications are that our commencement ceremonies will not be held as usual at the university,” Fink told Pharmacy Times®. “This will deprive the students and their families of the opportunity to collectively celebrate their very substantial accomplishments. But the faculty will be disappointed as well, because that is the capstone of our efforts to prepare and welcome new colleagues into the profession we love.”

Even with the negative effects caused by COVID-19, both Fink and Kashuba are optimistic about the opportunity the pandemic presents to teach the students valuable lessons for their future and professors on how to adapt with the circumstances.

“This uncomfortable turn of events has created some terrific learning opportunities for students—how to collaborate, how to communicate, how to be flexible and creative in the face of adversity, all the while keeping the patient at the center of all they do,” Fink said to Pharmacy Times®. “They are well positioned now and into the future. What looks like a very substantial bump in the road for them right now could in fact pay long-term dividends.”

Kashuba agreed, noting that the pandemic is forcing educators to seek out innovative solutions to support students as they are needed to quickly provide help on the frontlines in the battle with COVID-19

“In many areas, students are being asked to assist with COVID-19 activities in the community, which is an unprecedented learning opportunity for them,” Kashuba said in an interview with Pharmacy Times®. “We continue to see many other opportunities for students to complete their hours.”

Kashuba added that community pharmacies are welcoming students for training and to assist with additional screening and telehealth services.

“Our health care centers also understand the critical role they play in training our students as the next generation of health care providers,” she said. “As such, many are working on guidance to get all health profession students back into hospitals and clinics to continue their training and provide care.”

REFERENCE

  • Makin, Bob. Coronavirus: Rutgers to graduate pharmacy students early to help on front lines. My Central Jersey. https://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/education/college/rutgers/2020/04/02/coronavirus-nj-rutgers-school-pharmacy-move-up-graduation/5117180002/. Published April 2, 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.