Regional groups are forming to set up standards for experiential training of students.
Said Jeffrey W. Wadelin, Ph.D., ACPE director of professional degree program accreditation, "There is an increasing interest in preceptors being better equipped as educators and an increasing burden on the schools to take up that mantle."
Wadelin said that collaboration between schools achieves improved preceptor training by creating uniform educational tools and the coordination of logistical requirements, such as lengths of rotation, preceptor on-site start and stop dates, and standardized evaluation and assessment forms. "In forming the coalitions, the schools wrestle with issues of efficacy and efficiency versus academic freedom," said Wadelin. "We are encouraging these efforts, not mandating them."
"The new standards have certainly changed things for the schools," commented Nora Stelter, Pharm.D., director of education and training for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. The NACDS Foundation and the American Pharmacists Association, with financial support from Merck & Co., recently created the Community Pharmacist Preceptor Education Program to help pharmacies and preceptors meet the new standards. About 50,000 copies of the program manual have been distributed to community pharmacies and pharmacy schools nationwide. "The changes aren't just in training, but in paperwork. We realize the importance of community pharmacies meeting these needs," she said.
MacKinnon said it remains unclear how many coalitions have formed or are in the process of forming, "but I am aware of it happening across the country." Most of them are state-based. Colleges have formed coalitions to improve experiential training in Arizona, Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, Ohio, Texas, Florida, Iowa, and other states, according to MacKinnon and others.
The new ACPE standards robustly affect preceptor training, said MacKinnon. For example, the 1,440 hours of experiential training required by ACPE, known as the Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE), have historically occurred after the fourth year, "after students have completed a rigorous didactic program," he noted. The 2007 standards have added 300 hours of early practice experience, called Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience (IPPE).
Scheduling benefits most
It is in scheduling that coalitions are most helpful, said MacKinnon. Because the number of preceptors is limited-AACP estimates there are about 20,000 shared among the nation's approximately 100 schools of pharmacy-it benefits the schools to coordinate their rotation schedules, he added.
MacKinnon is correct, said Philip Hritcko, Pharm.D., CACP, director of experiential education and assistant clinical professor at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy. The new standards do create new burdens for the schools in relation to preceptor training, evaluation, and scheduling.
That's why his school helped form the New England Regional Departments of Experiential Education (NERDEE). "We decided we wanted to pool our resources to improve compliance and training," said Hritcko. Formed in 2005, NERDEE includes the University of Connecticut, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences (Boston and Worcester campuses), Northeastern University Bouve College of Health Sciences, and the University of Rhode Island.
They meet quarterly to discuss execution of both the IPPE and the APPE. In June 2006, the group hosted 14 major chain pharmacies to introduce them to its work. "We develop and examine best practices and share resources to solve common challenges," said Hritcko. "We've had some notable success, I believe, including schedule coordination. This kind of coordination is beginning to happen nationwide. Our efforts could serve as a model for other colleges, perhaps."
THE AUTHOR is a writer based in Gettysburg, Pa.