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College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences adapts experiential learning to pandemic conditions

Pharmacy Student in White Coat

Despite a pandemic, final-year Drake University pharmacy and occupational therapy (OT) students are still gaining real-world experience through their experiential education. 

Every year, the experiential education team for the Drake College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (CPHS) places students throughout the country at hospitals, clinics, community organizations, pharmacies, and medical offices. When the pandemic hit, many of these experiential learning sites needed to suspend the training of healthcare students.

This sudden shift required the CPHS experiential team to quickly make contingency plans. One strategy was allowing students to complete learning experiences remotely, but it was necessary to ensure the changes still delivered the necessary opportunities to prepare students for their careers and to meet licensure and accreditation standards.

So they defined the criteria necessary for an acceptable remote experience and worked with the experiential learning sites to determine if they could meet those standards.

“Nearly 90 percent of P4—final year—pharmacy students had a site or schedule change between spring break and graduation,” said Cheryl Clarke, associate professor of pharmacy practice and CPHS assistant dean for clinical affairs. “And, all of the final year occupational therapy students had changes in their sites or moved to remote learning.”

In addition to keeping the students on track for graduation and licensure, the remote learning experiences have also provided exposure to telehealth practices and remote working, which was growing before the impact of the pandemic and is likely to continue to increase in the future.

“We have witnessed the inspiring commitment that our preceptors and site mentors have shown to our students, especially since many of their practices were very busy during the pandemic. Without their creativity and adaptability, our final-year students would not have graduated on time,” said Clarke. “We are also appreciative of the flexibility and grace of our students during a time of uncertainty and the changes that were made to the final weeks of their planned experiences.”

Thanks to the efforts of the CPHS experiential team as well as their site partners, all eligible 2020 Drake pharmacy and OT students graduated without any delays. The team is currently adjusting schedules and working with their site partners to ensure that next year’s class will also be able to graduate on time should COVID-19 surge again. “We continue to expand remote learning options as many sites are still unable to have student trainees in the near future,” Clarke said. “These efforts are part of ensuring our next cohort of students will graduate in a timely manner—as well as pandemic-proofing our curriculum.”

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