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A pharmacy student shares his first semester.
When I went home for winter break at the end of my first semester in pharmacy school, I found that my friends who were nursing students knew more names and uses of drugs than I did. This startled me until I realized that I was being exposed to far more than just this one aspect of pharmacy practice. Here are a few highlights of my experience so far.
On only our fourth day of class, we were divided into groups and bussed with first-year medical students out to rural Minnesota communities. We spent a day at different locations in our respective towns, talking with people about each community’s characteristics and needs. Back at school, we made presentations about the towns we visited, focusing on eight critical assessment domains. Then we engaged in a semester-long project, using similar criteria to evaluate our own hometowns.
Pharmacists are among the most accessible health professionals. The impact they can make in their communities cannot be overstated. This starts with identifying underserved populations and unmet needs, and then taking steps to address them.
In Duluth, for example, one unique area of attention is the underserved Native American population. In areas highly populated with Spanish speakers, increasing numbers of pharmacy schools are adding Pharmacy Spanish to their curricula to enable future pharmacists to provide better care for these patients.
Whether the focus is on educating young children about safe use of medications, providing programs on drug abuse, or putting on flu clinics and health fairs, across the country examples abound to show that meeting community needs is a core component of every pharmacy school curriculum.
I have experience working as a pharmacy technician in a retail setting. Early on, I found myself overwhelmed when I plugged a patient’s insurance card information into the computer to bill for a prescription. After I helplessly watched the pharmacist do it for me, I asked whether I would learn how to do that in pharmacy school. He chuckled and said, “Of course not.”
As if navigating the healthcare system weren’t difficult enough for trained professionals, patients with far less experience are burdened with this challenge every day. We are taught that as pharmacists, it is our duty to advocate for patients dealing with this system.
In one semester we have already had courses that include both the history and contemporary state of the U.S. healthcare system (including the Affordable Care Act and a wide range of current payer models) and have examined international healthcare systems. We will continue to revisit this topic from various perspectives throughout the curriculum.
As studies are showing, “medical homes” or a team-based approach to healthcare provide the best outcomes for patients, and as pharmacists we have a lot to offer in terms of both patient care and cost savings. Collaboration with other professionals is a key focus of the healthcare professional curriculum.
Already, in my first semester, I have engaged in a semester-long course with students from the other health professions on campus that focused on understanding each discipline’s unique contribution to patient care and on working together to optimize outcomes.
The profession of pharmacy has adopted pharmaceutical care as the practice of a pharmacist, and pharmacy schools are updating curricula to prepare student pharmacists to practice. This starts with adopting a philosophy of practice that sees it as the pharmacist’s responsibility to meet society’s medication-related needs through identification, prevention, and resolution of drug-therapy problems.
In our first-semester pharmaceutical care course we began assessing real patients and patient cases using a systematic patient-care process designed to ensure that medications (whether Rx, OTC, or herbal) are indicated, effective, safe, and convenient for the patient, and that all nonpharmacological and referral alternatives be considered. All of this is done while keeping the patient at the center of the decision-making process.
So far, my most important take-away from pharmacy school has been that as pharmacists we must strive to practice at the top of our education, which will inevitability exceed the top of our license.
Only by working toward practices and policies that encompass our full education can we drive the innovation that broadens the benefits that pharmacy offers to patients and society as a whole.
Derek Borkowskiis a first-year PharmD student at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, Duluth. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.