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Navigating the Pandemic: Academic Prospective, What is Next?

Nelly G. Adel, PharmD, BCOP, BCPS
Chair Pharmacy Practice,
Associate Professor, Oncology
Touro College of Pharmacy
New York, NY

In March 2020 we were all hit by the reality of moving to a virtual presence. With the support of the college, everyone was obligated to get the necessary training to be able to upload, record, and deliver a meaningful lecture virtually. The questions remained: Can faculty deliver Problem Based Learning (PBL) or Team Based Learning (TBL) virtually without having the ample time to prepare for it? Can faculty deliver an effective lecture without seeing students on camera and ensuring students are truly present and participating?

The challenge was even harder for pharmacy students as they sought availability of computers and internet access; balanced family responsibilities, house situations, various obligations, and college work; and still had to be present for synchronized teaching. It was almost impossible to keep up with the continuous changes and demands. Many students went through tough times, losing family members, and were subjected to unforeseen hardships.

More Questions than Answers
Another challenge in academia was the assessment. We wondered how to assess the students’ performance while they were home with access to their learning resources during exams. Fortunately, many examination software programs have implemented new ways to proctor students while they take exams at home. This by itself added a tremendous element of training for both faculty and students that added to the workload on both sides.

The Office of Pharmacy Experience (OPE) was not exempt from this huge crisis. How can OPE create various experiences for students to graduate on time? How can OPE create Ambulatory Care experiences utilizing Telehealth, taking into consideration the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) requirements and student access to medical records “virtually”? Retail pharmacies were sending students home and hospital sites refused to accept any students for a long time period (more than one advanced pharmacy practice experience; APPE.) Families were concerned about the health of their students going to sites that were loaded with COVID-19 cases. It was a true nightmare with huge disappointments for many students who were awaiting their graduation.

Surviving Early Challenges
During the early time of the pandemic, the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) began to set expectations for virtual rotations and provide guidance to pharmacy schools.

In the northeast, as we awaited ACPE guidance, the pandemic hit states at various points, and the timeline was different for all of us. When New York State was in the peak of the pandemic other pharmacy schools in the country were not yet affected. By the time New York was out of risk, other states started to shut down.

The guidance delivered by ACPE was not timely to all of us; individuals needed to tailor their programs, which led to creativity in delivering experiential education without consistency. For many of us, having to experience the virtual world brought a new perspective to our careers, workload, and work environment; we had a sense that there is more to life than just work. Many pharmacists are reconsidering new opportunities or finding new jobs with more flexible hours. Faculty are leaving colleges, retail pharmacists are looking for other opportunities, and clinical pharmacists are leaving into early retirement.

Improving the Future
During the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists Midyear Clinical Meeting (ASHP-MCM) in 2019, there was a meeting with all the Deans of pharmacy schools to address the decreased number of applicants. At that time, the impression was that pharmacists in general were not satisfied or impressed by their work, the burnout was intolerable. Imagine now, two years later, with more and more responsibilities and more challenges. Is there still going to be a good number of applicants to have a better selection process? Or are we stuck with a limited number of well-prepared student applicants?

We have been in this situation for almost two years. What is puzzling is the fact that we human beings with all these advancements, cannot control a virus! This is the reality, no denial there. We are still in the middle of the pandemic with the COVID-19 omicron variant threatening to hit the US with its high contagious rates and fast spread, we will continue to face other new challenges.

The questions for the New Year 2022, are many: are classes and schools going to go virtual for a short time until things are in better control? Are we going to be wearing masks for a longer time? Are the experiential education and expectations of pharmacy schools and clinical experiences going to remain the same? Can pharmacists hold their jobs for a little bit longer with more vaccine doses to be administered and more prescriptions for new oral therapies to be filled?

I want to end with a positive note, the only way to have a better control is to adapt to this reality, we must create new ways to deliver better education and accept that old ways cannot be replicated. We live in a new world and we should be up to this challenge. We can do better.