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Integrating practice and science is central to new course at East Anglia

Pharmacy students at the University of East Anglia have now completed their first semester of teaching. Dawn Connelly visited the school to find out what is different about the course and whether all is going to plan

The University of East Anglia’s school of chemical sciences and pharmacy appears to have made it through its first semester of pharmacy teaching unscathed. UEA is providing the first new pharmacy degree to be approved by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in over 30 years. It opened its doors to pharmacy students in September 2003 and so far everything seems to be running smoothly.

The school currently has six full-time members of pharmacy staff and three teacher practitioners, as well as 22 members of the chemistry faculty, many of whom are involved in teaching pharmacy students. The pharmacy team is led by Duncan Craig, who was appointed head of pharmacy in June last year. Before his appointment Professor Craig was at the Queen’s University of Belfast, where he held the chair in biophysical pharmacy.

UEA pharmacy’s philosophy is one of integrated learning and an early emphasis on relevance to practice. “We are trying to put the practice side, and the reality of working at the coalface, into the degree course as much as is humanly possible. We see the science and practice aspects of pharmacy as a continuum rather than as separate issues and are trying to teach accordingly,” said Professor Craig.

Developing the course

The design of the course was largely the responsibility of Bob Shaw, director of undergraduate studies, who now spends half of his time at the academic pharmacy practice unit located within the university and half at the school of pharmacy. 

“I did all sorts of cross checks to make sure that all 51 criteria of the indicative syllabus were included and with the right sort of weighting. I also think that we have probably come out with more practice than most other courses because we were starting from scratch.” Mr Shaw explained that he had tried not to look at other courses while developing the curriculum. “I preferred to do it on a clean sheet of paper rather than being constrained or led by what others were doing. Inevitably there is a lot of overlap, you have to cover the same topics but I think we have probably got a fairly novel order of doing things,” he said.

Practice placements

One of the innovations of the course is that students attend placements in practice right from the beginning. Most students have already experienced two placements in their first semester. Up to a total of 16 visits will be undertaken throughout the course, and these will include visits to hospitals, community pharmacies, pharmaceutical manufacturers and a local pharmacy wholesaler. A significant number of the visits are conducted in groups of one or two students, and visits last for half a day. Students are set learning objectives for each placement and are required to record their observations and complete a set of tasks, which will then make up a portfolio for assessment. And there is no shortage of offers from local pharmacists.

“ The thing to bear in mind is that we are the only school of pharmacy within almost 100 miles of here. The local pharmaceutical community really wanted this school and so now that we are here, they have been unbelievably supportive and given up a lot of their time and effort in order to assist us,” said Professor Craig.

Currently, all nearby hospitals and 30 local community pharmacies (all the multiples and five independents) have joined the programme of practice placements.

Professor Craig added that feedback from the students has been uniformly positive. “I think it has also contributed to their academic attitude to the harder science subjects, because they are seeing pharmacy as an integrated subject … they are able to see why learning thermodynamics or acid-base equilibria is ultimately of relevance to what they will be doing as pharmacists in the future,” he said.

Interprofessional learning

Another aspect of the course is interprofessional learning. These sessions involve pharmacy undergraduates working in small groups with students from nursing and midwifery, occupational therapy and medicine, on problem-based patient scenarios.  

Pharmacy students also share lectures with students from other disciplines, such as biology and biochemistry. “One of the interesting things about UEA is that there is a big emphasis on collaboration and shared resources, both with research and also with the teaching. There are mechanisms in place within the university whereby you can transfer your students if another school has got a course which is relevant,” said Professor Craig.

Problem-based learning

Problem-based learning sessions are run as part of the pharmacy practice course. “We do not use this as a mechanism whereby [students] will necessarily gain core information that is not being covered elsewhere. What we do use it for is training in thinking, approaching problems in a creative way and learning to work together as a group,” explained Professor Craig. 

Pharmacy practice and science courses run through all four years of the degree. “As time progresses … you can see [students] starting to bring the science into the practice questions, which is exactly what we were hoping for,” said Professor Craig. 

David Wright, senior lecturer in pharmacy practice, explained that students are given between four and six scenarios each year, and each is designed to complement existing teaching and allow students to apply knowledge to real life situations. “Problem-based learning is an integrated way of learning. It makes the students think laterally,” he commented.

Staff-student liaison committee

The establishment of a staff-student liaison committee at the beginning of the course has allowed students to discuss with staff any minor glitches that they have experienced. It has been of great benefit in terms of creating a good relationship between the student body and the staff, said Professor Craig.

It seems that the move from paper to reality at UEA has been accomplished without too many major problems. Let us hope that the other new schools enjoy the same smooth transition.


Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20011087

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