December 8, 2020
AUBURN, Alabama - Education, particularly higher education, has a different look as colleges and universities navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. With an emphasis on virtual instruction, faculty face their own challenges of how to deliver a curriculum and educate their students with minimal face-to-face interaction.
That challenge is no different at the Harrison School of Pharmacy, or HSOP, where faculty and staff have worked to adapt the Practice Ready Curriculum to virtual learning while still including in-person instruction in key areas.
The result was a hybrid model that utilized live virtual lectures over Zoom with students coming on to campus one day per week to participate in lab activities, take assessments and address any other academic needs.
“With so much uncertainty entering the semester, I could not be happier with how our faculty and students responded and embraced our curricular model,” said Dr. Richard A. Hansen, dean of the Harrison School of Pharmacy. “The professionalism shown by our students and the flexibility and innovation shown by our faculty were vital to pulling off a successful semester and I applaud them for all their work.”
The integrated curriculum at HSOP involves students taking foundational knowledge along with learning the clinical sciences and behavioral sciences, and putting it into real world practice. This practice comes in the Skills Lab where students get the hands-on application of what they have learned in the classroom.
“What they learn in the classroom or their online platform gives them the theoretical basis behind the medical conditions or the particular skill itself,” said Dr. Erika Kleppinger, associate clinical professor. “Coming into the lab and practicing that skill gives them the hands-on experience so they can confidently perform that when interacting with patients.”
Activities in the Skills Lab include giving immunizations, checking blood glucose and blood pressure, using inhalers, opioid conversions, managing opioids, emulsion compounding and sterile compounding. Additionally, students practiced skills related to nutrition support and patient care related to renal diseases through the incorporation of gaming concepts in the skills lab setting.
Class of 2023 students opened the semester with an immunization workshop.
Various types of compounding made the list of Skills Lab activities students participated in.
“One of the reasons I really enjoy teaching in the Skills Lab is that these are activities that are built to be real-life to what students are going to be expected to do as a practice-ready graduate,” said Dr. Amber Hutchison, associate clinical professor. “This provides them an opportunity to get feedback and get some experience in a safe environment while also making sure we are taking care with the pandemic and making sure we are providing students with all the experiences they need.”
For students, the opportunity to come on campus was a welcome change of pace, providing an opportunity to engage with fellow students and faculty.
“Having in person skills labs was my favorite part of the week. I really enjoyed interacting with my peers and professors through the different hands-on activities we had,” said Kaitlin Beyler, a member of the Class of 2023. “The skills labs are very beneficial because we actually get to practice what we are taught. I am very grateful that HSOP was able to allow us to safely have in person labs where we could learn how to become a skilled pharmacist.”
To help facilitate the safe delivery of instruction is the addition of a second lab space on the Auburn campus. While it was already under way prior to the pandemic, the additional learning space proved to be integral in adjusting to the alternate operations.
“This secondary lab space has been integral to us being able to provide good, hands-on experiences for students that are coming to campus,” Hutchison said. “We are able to actually accommodate more students, still in a socially-distanced setting, and able to provide them with things like a little bit longer time to be able to practice those experiences and we honestly would not have been able to do everything we have been able to do without this secondary lab space.”
An unintended consequence has been the ability to work one-on-one with students more often. While normal labs are 24-32 students, this year saw them reduced to no more than 12 students to provide for distancing, allowing faculty more opportunities to work directly with students.
“As a teacher, I have always enjoyed interacting with students,” Kleppinger said. “It is nice to interact over Zoom or an online environment, but working with students face-to-face and seeing that light bulb go off and seeing them actually be able to overcome some of their fears and perform a skill, such as giving an injection, is just the most rewarding experience for me as a faculty member.”
The safely-spaced lab setting and additional attention from faculty was also appreciated by students.
“The smaller lab sizes created more relaxed lab environments and you have more time to engage with the lab instructors on a personal level,” said Dre Buford, a member of the Class of 2021 on the Mobile campus. “Your time is not shared with more students and neither is your personal space. You can focus and understand the concepts at hand more thoroughly and I think this restructuring has really helped me grasped the material that we discussed in lab a lot better."
Living during a pandemic has highlighted the importance of health care workers and the training of health care workers. At HSOP, students are treated as junior colleagues in the profession, making their education a top priority among the faculty.
“One of the reasons to me it has been most important to get face-to-face time with students and still be able to work with them on these skills activities is currently these are our junior colleagues and they are going to be our colleagues after pharmacy school,” Hutchison said. “Being able to develop those relationships with those students while they are still in school is such an important part of Auburn pharmacy and the Harrison School of Pharmacy.”
Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 25 percent of all pharmacy schools in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the School offers doctoral degrees in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and pharmaceutical sciences (Ph.D.) while also offering a master’s in pharmaceutical sciences. The School's commitment to world-class scholarship and interdisciplinary research speaks to Auburn's overarching Carnegie R1 designation that places Auburn among the top 100 doctoral research universities in the nation. For more information about the School, please call 334.844.8348 or visit http://pharmacy.auburn.edu.