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Shaping a pharmacy practice syllabus at Kingston University

Parastou Donyai and Chris Cairns describe how they tackled the challenges of developing a pharmacy practice syllabus at Kingston University since the university began teaching its MPharm course in 2004

by Parastou Donyai and Chris Cairns

Parastou Donyai and Chris Cairns describe how they tackled the challenges of developing a pharmacy practice syllabus at Kingston University since the university began teaching its MPharm course in 2004


Kingston University began teaching an undergraduate master’s pharmacy degree course (MPharm) in September 2004. The first head of department, John E. Brown (now head of school) had visualised a course that would integrate the sciences with a comprehensive clinical and practice component — Kingston was pioneering a pharmacy partnership between the faculties of science at Penrhyn Road and the medical school at St George’s Hospital in London.

And a few years earlier, the course team had developed a set of modules in line with the department’s emerging philosophy. As the programme for the four-year degree was refined, pharmacy practice and clinical pharmacy modules and pharmacy placements became key features.

Developing the programme

Starting with a “blank sheet of paper”, and following the department’s ethos, one pharmacy practice module was placed in each of the two semesters in years 1 and 2, with one practice module and one clinical module included in each of the latter two years. Placements were embedded in these modules starting in semester 1 of year 1.

In years 1 and 2, the students would attend one-day placements each semester, alternating between community and hospital settings. The purpose at this stage was to introduce students to the profession by enabling them to shadow pharmacy staff. Placements in year three were designed to complement the teaching of clinical pharmacy. They involved a two-week placement in community, hospital, or primary care trust pharmacy settings, or a combination.

The core of the clinical and practice curriculum was apportioned into modules and an outline was generated for further development. For example, the basis of law and ethics was to be taught and examined in years 1 and 2 with more complex material and updates covered in year 4.

Communication skills and social pharmacy were to be introduced early to provide a foundation for more complex issues relating to health promotion and advice-giving in year 3. Rather than developing a teaching programme based on distinct categories, there was a concerted effort to interweave the material and layer the teaching.

We were keen to provide students with the underpinning knowledge — but mindful that we needed to achieve a complexity of learning to ensure that year 4 modules met the standards required at master’s level and that key skills were adequately covered.

This vertical integration was considered in detail for the following five themes in the pharmacy practice programme: numeracy skills, communication skills, ethical decision-making, research methods and reflective learning.

Students are introduced to research methods through information retrieval workshops and an essay assignment on scientific reporting in year 1. We build on this in the second year by locating pharmacy practice in the wider context of qualitative and quantitative research and by linking the creation of social pharmacy knowledge to qualitative methods.

In year 3, lectures and workshops guide students through the quantitative methods of evidence-based medicine then, in clinical pharmacy, students learn to use evidence to support, for example, their own patient management plans.

In the year 4 clinical pharmacy module, students need to assimilate a large body of primary references for their learning, building on their critical appraisal skills. The project module in year 4 includes workshops that encourage students to refine their own projects’ aims in line with the overarching philosophy of their research.

The project forms a substantial element of the final year and engages the students in a number of modes of assessment, which look for evidence of originality of thought, students’ ability to demonstrate analytical and critical thinking, and the ability to synthesise material effectively.

Reacting to external change

Agenda for Change and changes in the profession have affected pharmacy since the launch of the Kingston MPharm, creating opportunities and challenges.

We have encouraged students in developing an interest in the wider aspects of pharmacy and a fitting illustration of success in this regard has been the involvement of Kingston University pharmacy students in the activities of the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association: in spring 2008, Kingston was the first “new” school of pharmacy to host the BPSA annual conference.

By keeping pace with legislative changes, we have strived to use the most up-to-date material, making sure that we provide updates to earlier cohorts. For example, when the new community pharmacy contract came into effect in the second semester of the first year of the course, we incorporated this change into the learning, teaching and assessment of that semester’s professional practice module.

Gradual structural developments

Since the start of the course, the practical elements of pharmacy practice have been taught in a bespoke dispensing laboratory and adjacent pharmacy “shop”. With one academic leading each practical class, we work with a team of teaching fellows to deliver the classes.

Teaching fellows work part-time at the university and arrange their other employment in a range of pharmacy practice environments, including community pharmacy. This allows us to maintain staffing levels in the absence of traditional joint teacher-practitioner posts.

Our joint post with Boots UK is for a research practitioner and this has proved to be a highly successful union. The post-holder teaches on the MPharm degree and is investigating medicines use reviews in communitypharmacy.

Thanks to our partnership with St George’s Hospital, we have secured a clinical lecturer. This provides both expert pharmacy teaching and support for students during their two-week clinical pharmacy placements. We have come a long way since introducing placements into the course on paper.

We now place 250 students a year in hospital and community pharmacies for one-day placements, through our expanding network of contacts. Students can also take the lead in arranging their own placements within specified conditions.

Four years on, we are in the final stages of building a new pharmacy practice suite — among other matters, we had found that traditional tutorial rooms were not ideal for teaching clinical pharmacy.

Our new facilities include individual dispensing workstations, a pharmacy shop and a storeroom, a hospital ward area and a workstation area fully equipped with computer facilities.

Earlier this year, Kingston became a fully accredited school of pharmacy and we now look forward to other challenges that may be in store.


Parastou Donyai, MRPharmS, is now lecturer at Reading School of Pharmacy and Chris Cairns, FRPharmS, is professor of pharmacy practice and head of the department of pharmacy at Kingston University

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10043905

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