PLEI Perspectives: Building the Foundation of Future Pharmacy Practice

Pharmacy CareersPharmacy Careers Fall 2015

Since Albert Benjamin Prescott revolutionized our practice in the early 19th century with the abandonment of the apprenticeship model in favor of didactic learning, the process of developing pharmacists has undergone many changes.

Pharmacy education is a greatly debated topic. Since Albert Benjamin Prescott revolutionized our practice in the early 19th century with the abandonment of the apprenticeship model in favor of didactic learning, the process of developing pharmacists has undergone many changes.1

We have advanced from a bachelor of science degree to a doctor of pharmacy degree, revisited apprenticeships through advanced pharmacy practice experiences, and begun to offer specialized training in the form of the postgraduate year 1 (PGY1), PGY2, and specialized fellowships. Our profession has advanced greatly since the days of Prescott, but recent events show it is time for another monumental change to support the leadership and advanced communication required for a successful future and the type of progressive thinking that will provide a foundation for the expansion of pharmacy practice.

When I look at my fellow students, I see great talent. My colleagues are a unique group of individuals who can write, organize, lead, collaborate, and most importantly, create! I fear that these abilities, however, are not being cultivated by many existing pharmacy curriculums. From admission to graduation, a heavy focus is put upon individual possession of a specific body of knowledge, reaffirmed through standardized testing. We promote memorization over understanding and emphasize attendance in lectures that “teach to exams.” Our exam practices often rely upon multiple-choice questions concerning selected areas of knowledge instead of testing critical-thinking skills by asking students to solve complicated problems that reflect real-world issues. True optimization of patient care through safe and effective use of medications requires the application of knowledge, not the mere regurgitation of facts. This idea is in keeping with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and is powerfully detailed by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe in their book, Practical Wisdom.

Though some colleges of pharmacy have recognized and responded to the need for pedagogical change, many institutions still hold fast to content-heavy lectures and fail to sufficiently develop leadership and communication skills in students.2Students who desire extensive professional development and a more complex understanding of pharmacy practice often seek these through alternative means (eg, student organizations and extracurricular work assignments).3Extensive leadership and communication training should be an integral part of pharmacy education, not an experiential addendum for motivated students. Future pharmacy curricula must include activities that develop critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, and empathy when communicating with patients. Learning experiences should foster interprofessional collaboration and develop the student’s ability to professionally communicate with other health care providers for the improvement of patient care. Pharmacy education should also teach students to harness creativity in problem solving.

The complicated issues in our health care system require innovative solutions that cannot be memorized or taught. If problem-solving ability and communication skills are the basis for improving current health care models, our profession cannot afford to simply hope that these essential skills are learned. By failing to help students develop their ability to communicate, adapt, and think profoundly, we are severely limiting our future success as pharmacists.

Though the origin of our profession is in the technique and practice of dispensing medications, our focus has recently shifted to a model of pharmacy practice centered on patient relations, knowledge utilization, and adaptation into various health care environments. We are rapidly traversing into unchartered territory in our endeavors for provider status, implementation of widespread medication therapy management services, and collaborative environments. To achieve this modernization of pharmacy practice, curricula must harness students’ natural talent, refine their skills as professionals, and prepare them to create a future of their own. Graduates must be able to use drug information and innovative technology to enhance patient care and correct the inadequacies dealt with by existing practitioners. Our learning institutions must create an environment that develops and applauds progressive and innovative minds in order to optimize the health care system and provide the highest quality care for the people who matter: our patients.

The success of the pharmacy profession hinges upon our ability to adapt and advance pharmacy practice to meet the needs of subsequent generations. Choosing to embrace this change demands a reevaluation of the education methods that equip and develop graduates to create a brighter future for pharmacy practice.

Devlin V. Smith is a 2016 PharmD candidate at the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy in Memphis, Tennessee, and a proud Phi Delta Chi brother. She currently works as a pharmacy intern with Hospital Corporation of America’s Clinical Pharmacy Services Group and with Methodist University Hospital.


1. Worthen DB. Albert Benjamin Prescott (1832-1905): pharmacy education's revolutionary spark. J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2004;44(3):407-410. doi:10.1331/154434504323064066.

2. Blouin RA, Joyner PU, Pollack GM. Preparing for a Renaissance in pharmacy education: the need, opportunity, and capacity for change. Am J Pharm Educ. 2008;72(2):42.

3. Roth MT, Mumper RJ, Singleton SF, et al. A renaissance in pharmacy education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. N C Med J. 2014;75(1):48-52. doi: 10.18043/ncm.75.1.48.

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