Pharmacy Education and Millennials

Over the holiday, I began reading one of the William Osler biographies. While reading his inspiring and influential journey, which to this day continues to guide and lead others, I paused to reflect on my own profession. Although I’m searching for the pharmacy equivalent to such influential figures in medicine, our education methods are far more interesting.

Though books and lectures were a component of the late 19th century and early 20th-century medical education, Osler saw them more as tools opposed to staples.  Introducing “clerkships” to medical education in America, students were thrust into practice to study “…individuals – not diseases.”  No doubt, a reflection of the existing education of physicians in other countries during that time, but paving the way for today’s education model and future directions (ie, Khan Academy, flipping the classroom, etc).

Pharmacy education, on the other hand, lags behind. Specifically, in the amount of practical experience, the average pharmacy student accumulates before graduation and the over-reliance on lectures and textbooks. Just recently, more focus on pharmacy clerkships was implemented by increasing the required hours of practical experience.  Unfortunately, there are few teachers out there that can accommodate the vast class sizes of today’s schools of pharmacy.  Speaking from personal experience, one is left to either sit in the back of a pharmacy to ‘observe’ inappropriate habits of overwhelmed community pharmacists or be put to work counting and labeling.  Certainly, students with initiative can create their own learning opportunities, seeking volunteer clerkship with faculty, pursuing PGY1 and PGY2 residency, but similarly, the deficiency of opportunities lags behind the need of the students, and the profession.  The figure is in the neighborhood of 1 residency position for every 2 to 3 pharmacy students seeking a residency. Mind you, only about 20% of graduating pharmacists seek residency/post-graduate training.

Pharmacy education needs to change, both prior to graduation and post-graduation. Through the evolution of medical education led by pioneering figures, medicine itself has advanced remarkably over the past 120 years. Pharmacy education can do the same.  Pharmacy education must do the same.

Since Doctor Who saved the universe from oblivion on Dec 21st (…cough, cough…), 2013 provides us, and the years to come, an opportunity to make a difference.  For me it is, among other things, the need for an evolution (perhaps a revolution) of pharmacy education.


“A difference, to be a difference, must make a difference.” –Gertrude Stein


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