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Try these strategies to develop the most useful student pharmacist program
All benefit when students' time is well-planned
Hospital pharmacies can stretch staffing hours and budgets with the use of highly motivated student interns and residents. But these extra hands and minds are best utilized if the pharmacy director develops a well-thought-out student education program.
The first step is to determine what your department wants to accomplish, looking at goals not necessarily tied to student training, suggests Jill S. Burkiewicz, PharmD, BCPS, a professor and PGY1 residency program director at Midwestern University Chicago College of Pharmacy in Downers Grove, IL.
"Think about how we as a department can have students help us to achieve these goals," she adds. "Sometimes people go backwards and think of what is good for students to do."
For example, a hospital pharmacy might want to meet new service goals in medication reconciliation, but lacks the staff to implement a program. Students could be trained to help with the medication reconciliation process, she suggests.
Another example might be a goal to include pharmacy students in quality improvements to the hospital's IV-to-PO conversion program. Or pharmacy students could assist with developing antibiotic services and warfarin protocols.
Here are some steps a hospital pharmacy can take ensure the student training program is useful to both the pharmacy and students:
Improve student orientation and training: A pharmacy might have a set training process, but does it reflect the department's goals, as well as goals for the trainees?
One suggestion would be to develop an orientation and training program that helps students quickly get up to speed in the department.
A hospital's orientation program should include a detailed policies and procedures manual with step-by-step instructions for various tasks done by pharmacists and pharmacy students.
Pharmacy students could even help to write the orientation program and help develop training manuals for future pharmacy students. As new rotations of pharmacy students work at a site, they can be in charge of updating and tweaking the manuals as needed, Burkiewicz says.
Use different prefectors: Hospital pharmacies should have more than one person involved with student training. Everyone might share in this responsibility, Burkiewicz says.
Some hospitals have pharmacy students in 6-week rotations throughout the year, and this would be a time-consuming job if one person always is in charge of their training.
Still, student programs that are intermittent or held only a couple of times a year might lose valuable momentum.
"One of the keys to effectively having students help you achieve these goals is to have students consistently there," Burkiewicz says. "If you have them for 6 weeks, and then they leave you and you can't meet those goals, then you're not achieving what the department needs to have done."
Have students teach staff: Pharmacy students can help with staff competency testing, inservices, and staff training.
These could be integrated into the student training.
For example, if there's a new drug on the market, and the pharmacy director would like to make certain hospital staff is educated about this medication, then a student could provide the inservice, Burkiewicz suggests.
"Or you could have the preceptor do the inservice on the drug and teach the staff, as well as the student about it," she adds.
Often pharmacy departments will hold reviews before competency testing, and students could lead those reviews or sit with staff leading those reviews, she says.
Structure student time to include independent work: "A lot of times preceptors think students need to be there 40 hours a week with the preceptor, attached to the hip," Burkiewicz says.
"But this isn't necessarily true," she says. "They just need to set aside a few minutes each day."
Preceptors can ask students to write down their questions as the day progresses, and then at the end of the day, the preceptor and student can meet to discuss the questions.
"You can incorporate students in committee meetings, such as the pharmacy and therapeutics (P&T) committee or medication safety committee, so they can get an idea of what it means to be a pharmacist," Burkiewicz adds.
Give students real work not busy work: "Students always enjoy it when they can help do something real that has tangible outcomes," Burkiewicz says. "They don't like to do work that's designed just for them."
For instance, students do not care to be saddled with administrative tasks where they are unlikely to learn new skills. Instead, they should be integrated into the pharmacy department's real work, just like new employees.
This is where the department's goals can also mesh with the student's learning objectives. If the department has short-term projects that need to be done, then these can become pharmacy students' work and learning experiences.
When setting up these projects for students, preceptors and pharmacy directors need to be careful about setting expectations and communicating these to students to avoid misunderstandings and disappointments when the student's rotation is complete, Burkiewicz says.
"Sometimes it takes students a long time to accomplish a project, so you need to give them realistic expectations for the timeline," she notes. "And make sure you recognize the student's contribution to the project."