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The Experiential Education Crunch

Despite Surge in Students, Residency Preceptors Point to Tangible Benefits

Oct 09, 2009

A GROWING NEED for experiential pharmacy education sites is running into the reality of a limited amount of available
rotations, according to residency preceptors around the country.
“Experiential education these days is challenging all the way around with more and more schools opening up,” said Kim I. Leadon, M.Ed., director of the professional experience program and clinical assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Eshelman School of Pharmacy. “The capacity issues are real. There are only so many sites, and it’s very competitive out there.”

A Numbers Game
A demand for the clinical services of pharmacists is fueling growth in new schools and swelling enrollments at existing schools. That means more students are in need of experiential education. The number of students enrolled in pharmacy professional degree programs jumped from 43,047 in 2003 to 50,691 in 2007, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP).

Additionally, a new Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) requirement instituted in 2007 mandates that pharmacy school curricula include 300 contact hours of introductory pharmacy practice experience. Introductory experiences are defined as those that occur during the first three professional years of the pharmacy school curriculum. They must permit students, under appropriate supervision and as permitted by state practice regulations, to assume direct patient-care responsibilities.

A joint ASHP/AACP survey conducted in 2007 focused on determining future capacity for experiential education in the U.S. Although the survey found that hospitals have the capacity to meet demand for advanced experiential rotations and expand introductory experiences through 2012, hospitals will have to create new programs to keep pace with subsequent needs.

The Good News

Although questions of capacity and a growing number of students are challenging hospitals and health systems to keep pace, the tangible benefits that come with experiential education continue to motivate institutions to offer it.

Preceptors across the country attest to the very real benefits for hospitals and health systems that offer these types of rotations. And they are motivated by a number of factors, including the opportunity to mentor new practitioners and give back to the pharmacy profession.

Pharmacy students Michael Sprengler and Kati Ovik, talk with preceptor Debbie Sisson, M.S., Pharm.D.

Experiential education is a two-way street for learning, wherein preceptors and students share knowledge and insights. Rotations also serve as a prescreening and recruitment tool for future residents and staff pharmacists. Students who have a positive experience are often motivated to continue to pursue a career in the field, according to preceptors.

“I see experiential education having more of an impact on students early in their careers, and it may also help down the road for recruitment purposes,” said Craig Cox, Pharm.D., BCPS, associate professor of the pharmacy practice department and vice chair for experiential programs at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at Lubbock. “If you’re able to touch students in their first year, second year, third year, and then fourth year, they may be more interested in pursuing a health-system career in the future.”

Ninety percent of the respondents to the AJHP survey agreed or strongly agreed that being placed in preceptor roles stimulated staff members to maintain their professional knowledge. Eighty-two percent found value in assigning students to activities beneficial to both the students and the sites (e.g., medication reconciliation, service improvement projects, or assisting with literature searches).

A Win-Win for Students and Institutions

Some hospitals, such as North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, offer both introductory and advanced experiential education. The center plans to expand its offerings in 2011, when it will begin training an additional 50 students from Union University School of Pharmacy in Jackson, Tennessee.

The experiential education rotations at North Mississippi are designed to ensure that students are integrated into the practice and work to improve patient care.

“Students help us teach patients and interview patients about their medications. They also present patient cases in clinical rotation,” said Kristie Gholson, Pharm.D., FASHP, North Mississippi Medical Center’s assistant director of pharmacy, pointing to the importance of handson experience.

The hospital offers long-term care, women’s health, neonatal, and informatics rotations, among others, ensuring that students can come back again and again and have a different experience each time.

In 2007, the medical center and the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy in Oxford won an AACP Crystal APPLE (Academic-Practice Partnerships for Learning Excellence) Award, which honors exemplary pharmacy practice sites. Most of the students in the hospital’s program attend the university.

Gholson believes the strong partnership between the hospital and the school helped them win the award. “We’re both committed to teaching, we have good communication, and we’re driven by ACPE standards,” she said.

The Importance of Partnerships

Debbie Sisson, M.S., Pharm.D., in her previous role as associate director of experiential education and assistant professor at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy at Duluth, arranged for rotations throughout the state. Sisson believes that rural rotation sites benefit from college resources, such as free access to the university’s biomedical library.

Sisson is absolutely convinced of the value of experiential education, for students and for the hospitals in which they work.

“I’ve driven all over the state. I’ve done site visits to meet people. I’ve conducted educational programs at the sites,” she said.

Sisson and other pharmacists point to ASHP as an important resource for schools, hospitals, and health systems that want to launch new experiential education sites.

ASHP’s Web site offers a wealth of information on the important role of preceptor as well as resources to help start a new student rotation.

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