Assessment Tool for Pharmacy Students Helpful for Community Experience


An assessment tool called the objective structured clinical examination has been shown to improve pharmacy education for students.

Objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs) have been shown to be a reliable and valid form of assessment used in pharmacy education.

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy, the results of a standardized questionnaire showed that most pharmacy students found OSCEs to be a valuable tool to assess clinical skills.1 Although the OSCEs were designed to evaluate health care professionals in a clinical setting, there has been limited data on its use in testing skills required in community pharmacies.

Bernadette Cornelison, PharmD, MS, BCPS, and Beth Zerr, PharmD, BCACP, assistant professors at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy, sought to understand how to best assess clinical skills taught during a self-care pharmacotherapeutics course. The course teaches students about the appropriate use of medications for self-care in the community setting––an important skill considering the community pharmacists’ role in guiding the patient selection of OTC products. According to a recent survey from the American Pharmacists Association, pharmacists make an average of 29 OTC recommendations each week, and approximately 81% of consumers purchase an OTC product their pharmacists recommended.2

According to Cornelison and Zerr, “OSCEs provide students with hands-on experiences prior to providing patient care to an actual patient. In the simulation setting, community pharmacists are able to spend the time needed to focus on evaluating student performance and provide feedback that will develop skills that are necessary to have in the community pharmacy setting.”

Cornelison and Zerr evaluated the use of a community pharmacy-based OSCE in assessing pharmacy students in their first year using a standardized questionnaire. The questionnaire asked 41 questions and focused on 4 areas including attributes of the OSCE, quality of the OSCE performance, OSCE scoring and objectivity, and comparison with other assessment methods. A total of 88 pharmacy students completed the questionnaire.

Students reported that the OSCE was fair (91%) and covered a wide range of skills (76%). The majority of the students (91%) agreed that the OSCE provided opportunities to learn and was a practical and useful experience (86%). Approximately 2-thirds (66%) of the students felt that the OSCE provided a true measure of essential clinical skills needed in self-care therapeutics. Fourteen facilitators participated in the OSCE and completed the questionnaire. Community pharmacists represented most of the facilitators (57%). Facilitators agreed that the OSCE tests the knowledge and skills needed to practice in community pharmacy (100%), according to the results.

“Community pharmacists spend a large portion of their time interacting directly with patients,” coauthors Cornelison and Zerr continued. “Assessing students’ ability to interact with patients, including their ability to gather information from the patient, is difficult to do with traditional assessment methods.  The OSCE allows evaluation of a student’s entire interaction with a patient from start to finish, including gathering information, assessing their problem, creating a plan, and implementing the care plan for the patient.”

The study findings also demonstrated that the design of the simulation reflected the accurate amount of time a student intern would have to complete the Pharmacist’ Patient Care Process (PPCP). This finding further demonstrates that the PPCP can be applied to patients even when time may seem limited. The standardization of this process is an important step in advancing pharmacists as recognized patient care providers across the country.

“The high daily volume of face-to-face interactions with multiple patients sets community pharmacy practices apart from other health care providers,” Cornelison and Zerr said. “However, utilizing the PPCP is not unique to the community pharmacy setting and can be applied by any health care provider.  Incorporating the PPCP and utilizing an OSCE to assess the students’ ability to apply the PPCP to a patient, teaches the students the correct approach to evaluating a patient, regardless of setting.”

“OSCEs provide students with hands-on learning and the ability to learn from their mistakes without harming a patient. Traditional exams may encourage students to just do enough to pass the class. The pressure of an OSCE is similar to pressure students would have while completing their IPPE rotations, during their internships, or when a family member asks them a question about an OTC medication.  Numerous first-year students have shared experiences in which they applied what was learned in the class and the OSCE to their patients or family members,” Zerr and Cornelison explained.

In conclusion, a community-based pharmacy OSCE can provide a learning experience for pharmacy students and may be valuable.


1. Cornelison B, Zerr B. Experiences and perceptions of pharmacy students and pharmacists with a community pharmacy-based objective structured clinical examination. J Am Coll Clin Pharm. 2021;1–8.

2. Assessment Tool Helps Future Pharmacists Prepare for Work in the Community. News release. University of Arizona Health Sciences; June 25, 2021.  Accessed July 8, 2021.

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