PLEI Perspectives: Flipping Your Idea of Education

Pharmacy CareersPharmacy Careers February 2016

The pharmacy profession continues to expand its scope of practice, and some may argue that current PharmD curricula inadequately prepare students for this rapidly growing career.

The pharmacy profession continues to expand its scope of practice, and some may argue that current PharmD curricula inadequately prepare students for this rapidly growing career.

As you may have read in previous Pharmacy Leadership & Education Institute (PLEI) Perspectives written by fellow fourth-year students Kevin Anderson and Devlin Smith, some questions remain: Who will step up to lead the next generation of pharmacists? How do we develop more leaders to push our profession to new heights?

The pharmacy profession, including current practitioners and pharmacists in academia, must foster and promote leadership from the start of didactic education if we wish to continue our advancements as essential health care professionals. I offer 2 recommendations for PharmD curricula to consider implementing.

The flipped classroom

The term flipped classroom has become a hot topic in many educational programs over the past several years. What does it really mean, and how can it promote leader development? Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching outlines 4 key elements that a flipped classroom offers1:

  • An opportunity for students to gain their first exposure to lessons prior to class
  • An incentive for students to prepare for class
  • A mechanism to assess student understanding
  • In-class activities that focus on higher-level cognitive activities

A flipped classroom requires students to complete various assignments or studies prior to the scheduled class period. The idea behind this is to use in-class time to focus on higher cognitive work such as patient case discussions that provide real-world clinical information via the instructor. By receiving first exposure prior to entering the classroom, students can focus on processing the necessary information in class with immediate feedback from peers and instructors.

How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice states that “to develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must: a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.”2 The active learning portion of these sessions may be done primarily via group work on cases, which allows the instructor to float between groups and provide clarification where necessary.

A flipped classroom approach to teaching has been implemented in several medical and pharmacy programs across the country as a means to promote higher thinking. By mentoring students via active learning, the goal is to improve self-confidence when faced with real-world patients.

As the profession of pharmacy continues to expand, we must confidently participate in collaborative practices to solidify our impact as part of the health care team. This education style encourages students to discuss patient care among their peers, thereby refining their communication skills. Immediate feedback from peers, as well as professors, allows students to improve not only their clinical knowledge, but also their communication skills, professionalism, and self-awareness. It also enables students to reason through a problem by providing them with critical thinking skills, so that when presented with new problems they can assemble the facts of a case and develop novel solutions. Competence in this mix of skills will positively impact patient outcomes.

Leadership development integration

In a recent article in the American Journal of Pharmacy Education, Kristin K. Janke, PhD, and colleagues provide great insight from professors of pharmacy across the country.3 Students, faculty, and administrators can integrate leadership development into their PharmD curricula from the interview process through graduation. Many of the ideas below are discussed in more detail within this informative article.

I believe one of the best ways to foster leadership within a student group is to have faculty members or other pharmacists serve as role models, mentors, and advisors to students and student organizations. These leaders should make themselves easily accessible to any student while promoting leader development for students at all levels. One sign of a great leader is the ability to effectively exert influential reach that will, in turn, create a continuous cycle of leader development.

Leadership is a core element of professionalism. This element may be discussed by examining the oath of a pharmacist and the pharmacist’s code of ethics—documents that emphasize and highlight the leadership expected of pharmacists and pharmacy students. Examination and discussion activities around these documents can serve to impact those individuals who feel that leadership is not for them.

These documents promote self-awareness to all students because they outline the expectations of health care professionals to lead those around them with the goal of improving patient outcomes. Pharmacists’ roles are rapidly expanding to meet the evolving demands of transforming health care. Pharmacists are well positioned to increase access, improve quality of care, and decrease costs by helping patients optimize medication use. Thus, it is vital that the next generation of pharmacists is able to not only meet, but exceed current boundaries on our profession.

Going forward

Opportunities must be provided for student pharmacists to develop and practice their leadership skills. As mentioned above, a flipped classroom dynamic would allow student pharmacists to hone their skills with a group of their peers via case discussion. Leadership opportunities should be made available in curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular settings.

Key points to emphasize to all current and prospective students include recognizing that leadership does not come only from those with a title, describing the characteristics of effective leaders, helping students become aware of their own leadership abilities, and understanding that it takes a team with diverse abilities to enhance patient outcomes. Through these activities, the needs and expectations for future leaders in pharmacy may be openly discussed.

Brandon Hill is a fourth-year student pharmacist at Campbell University College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences. Brandon currently serves Phi Delta Chi as the grand vice president for student affairs.


1. Brame CJ. Flipping the classroom. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching website. Published 2013. Accessed January 4, 2016.

2. Bransford JD, Brown AL, Cocking RR. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2000.

3. Janke KK, Nelson MH, Bzowyckyj AS, et al. Deliberate integration of student leadership development in doctor of pharmacy programs. 2014. Unpublished manuscript.

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