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A different school of thought

Our focus is very much on integrating practice with theory. We’re going to relate everything the students cover to how they will experience it in practice,” says Educational Designer in the Graduate School of Health Jim Woulfe.


In summary:

  • UTS's pharmaceutical academics are hard at working developing the curriculum for 2012's first student intake in the new UTS Pharmacy school
  • The school opens for postgraduate students and is aiming to turn out work-ready graduates who will be able to push the boundaries in their profession

As the UTS Pharmacy school prepares for its first intake of graduate-entry master’s and postgraduate PhD students in 2012, the team behind the new school are working to tailor the curriculum to better meet the profession’s current needs.

Through their own market research, the team identified students weren’t understanding the relevance of the pharmaceutical sciences they were learning to practice. Recognising a need for a purposefully practice-focused pharmacy degree, Woulfe was brought in as part of the school’s new team of five to analyse the learning outcomes for the courses and design for their delivery.

“The Pharmacy school decided specific support would be provided for academics in setting up their curriculum so that it moves seamlessly from learning outcome, to learning activity, to assessment, to practice. My job is to make sure everything we do and put into the learning process contributes to that sequence of events.”

Woulfe says it’s a complicated process due to the school’s varied curriculum. Aside from teaching the students ethical practice, practice considerations and dealing with patients and clients, they also have to teach pharmaceutical sciences such as pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry – a very different body of hard-science knowledge.

“Pharmaceutical chemistry is the science of drug structure, and pharmaceutics is the science of drug delivery. Therapeutics, on the other hand, relates to how medicines are used in the management of illness and disease, and how pharmacists use their expertise to support patients. We’re balancing all these areas so that we get the mix right and produce practice-ready graduates.”

Unlike traditional approaches to program development (largely based on a one-hour lecture, a two-hour tutorial, two-hour lab practical and an exam), the new degree will instead respond to the profession’s demand for work-ready graduates by ensuring the curriculum is future-focused with a higher level of practice.

“Our approach is pro-active – we’re grabbing those students who’ll respond to a more practice-focused curriculum because that’s the way they want to learn, and we believe we’re going to help them become very good pharmacists.”

A core component of the course will be relating everything to practice, making sure the students understand the way it connects to how they will function everyday as a pharmacy practitioner.

To do this, the school will house purpose-designed teaching spaces to allow for different learning needs and styles throughout the program, both group and self-directed. This includes a simulated community pharmacy set up with a dispensary area to facilitate role-plays with mock patients.

“As much as possible, we’ll try to simulate that practice environment in our teaching space. It’s about helping students transition from the coursework to the real life setting – this simulated environment provides that bridge between settings to help orientate the students,” says Woulfe’s colleague, Associate Professor Beata Bajorek.

Bajorek’s portfolio of expertise lies in integrating coursework learning into live clinical-practice settings. Whether it’s a community retail pharmacy or a hospital pharmacy department, she says students need to go out and experience the real world.

“Most professional degrees have the coursework standing alone and then you have the clinical placement standing alone. Somehow there’s an assumption that, by osmosis, the students will know that the coursework content is what they need to apply in the practice setting.

“What we want to do, right up front in the development of our curriculum, is bring all the elements together and structure it in such a way that students will see how professional pharmacy services should work, using integration and simulation and following this through to the live setting. It’ll mean a smoother transition for graduates when they enter the work force.”

The school will also use technology to track patient pathways and map them back to the curriculum materials, practical exercises and assessments.

Woulfe is quick to point out the common error people make when talking about e-learning as a separate method of teaching.

“I personally have a problem with the term ‘online learning’. We’re not talking about online learning – we’re talking about learning. Like a fish doesn’t see the water it swims in, students don’t see the use of electronic media as something different in their lives. Computer-based media are the water our students are swimming in. It’s all integrated.

“We’re going to use e-portfolios for students to assemble a set of evidence of what they can do, and we’re going to use other technologies to track our delivery of the learning outcomes we set up.”

Bajorek believes most other institutions offering pharmacy train students to be predominantly community pharmacists. In contrast, she says the UTS Pharmacy school is planning to take its students to the cutting-edge of practice, looking at some of the advanced services and clinical roles pharmacists are taking on.

“We’ll still look at community and hospital practice, but we’ll also be focusing on pharmacists who work in non-traditional settings, especially consultant pharmacists who offer specialist services in primary care, such as general practice and dedicated clinics.”

Bajorek says making students research-ready is also a focus. They’ll undertake research training activities looking at the quality use of medicines throughout their clinical practice program.

“It really is different to what most universities offer. We think the students will be excited by it too. They’ll actually come out with an understanding that pharmacy is not just about dispensing medicines in a community pharmacy – there’s a whole lot more they can do.”


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