November 28, 2009

The Importance of Mentoring

by Joshua Raub, Pharm.D., Pharmacy Practice Resident, Johns Hopkins Hospital

Thinking back over the past five years when I first step foot in Wayne State University’s college of pharmacy to my current residency at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, I cannot help but think of all the influential people that have helped guide me along the way. Throughout this journey, there were many instances where I was faced with decisions ranging from trivial choices such as which elective to take, to life changing decisions such as moving away to pursue a pharmacy practice residency 500 miles from home. With all of the difficult decisions however, one individual in particular stands out as a teacher, a preceptor, and most importantly, my mentor.

The formal definition of a mentor is an individual who serves as a trusted counselor, guide, tutor, or coach1. A mentor is someone with tenured experience within a certain field of practice or profession who lends their knowledge, experience and wisdom to a novice counterpart. The act of mentoring has a longstanding history dating back to the Ancient Greeks with Socrates serving as mentor and teacher to his student, Plato, and throughout the centuries, mentoring has been utilized in many specialized professions including academia, business, the arts, and pharmacy.

Upon graduation and licensure, the new pharmacist entering the workforce has an armamentarium of pharmaceutical knowledge, access to a plethora of primary literature databases, and specialized skills gained during their pharmacy education. Even with this impressive background however, the new pharmacist lacks one key characteristic, wisdom and experience in the profession. The involvement of a mentor not only ameliorates the angst in bridging the academic to the practice world, it allows the mentee to learn from years or decades of practical and personal experience. Mentorship is often described as a symbiotic relationship between two adults who assist each other to meet mutual career objectives in an organization or professional discipline2. Anderson and Shannon further define mentoring as: a nurturing process in which a more skilled or more experience person, serving as a role model, teaches, sponsors, encourages, counsels, and befriends a less skilled or less experienced person for the purpose of promoting the latter’s professional and personal development. The definition of mentorship proposed by Anderson and Shannon highlight five main characteristics a successful mentor must provide:

  • Teaching – assist in acquiring new knowledge, skills, and attitudes for success
  • Sponsoring – use of the mentor’s power and professional status to help the mentee attain their career goals and objectives
  • Encouraging – through affirming, challenging and inspiring the mentee
  • Counseling – serving as advisor and mediator in times of conflict and distress
  • Befriending – creating a longstanding professional and personal relationship

The importance of having a mentor can be seen at every level of ones pharmacy career. Starting pharmacy school can be a daunting task for the first year student. The bar is set high and the expectations are raised due to the graduate level of classes. A new vocabulary emerges, filled with Latin medical terminology, and sentences comprised entirely of acronyms. This transition from undergraduate to graduate level can be quite intimidating, however having a mentor to help adjust to the rigors of the program can prove to be very beneficial. As the student progresses through the pharmacy curriculum and enters into experiential education, a new mentor emerges: the preceptor. Providing a unique and clinical perspective, the preceptor serves as the bridge from pharmacy education to pharmacy practice. Finally, as the pharmacy graduate enters the workforce, they are welcomed with a new mentor, a pharmacist with tenured experience in the field who can help acclimate the new practitioner to the pharmacy practice setting.

I have always valued my mentoring relationships. This form of teaching however, I feel is largely underused. When I think back to my first two years of pharmacy school, I remember having so many questions that went unanswered. The new college, the self-directed learning process, the proliferating responsibilities; all sent me in a whirlwind of confusion and I found myself drowning in the chaos after my first year. I soon discovered I was not alone in this state of uncertainty as many of my classmates felt the same frustration and confusion with no one to turn to. The situation necessitated change and needed an answer. As a result, my colleague, Trevor Wood and I created a student driven mentoring program. The program consisted of matching a third year pharmacy student with an incoming first year student. The third year student serves as a mentor and guide to the new pharmacy student, providing helpful information in the transition to the college, coursework, and opportunities within the profession. The mentor role aided in the professional development of the third year student and also provided a “preceptor-like” role to the mentee; two crucial characteristics of a practicing pharmacist. We also discovered a method to bridge the student-faculty relationship by assigning the mentor and mentee with the same faculty advisor, thus incorporating another level of mentoring in the process. Our program, The Keys to Successful Mentorship was widely accepted, and I am proud to say was adopted by the college and added to the pharmacy curriculum.

Finally, I feel mentoring holds two very important characteristics. First, having one mentor does not preclude someone from having additional mentors. More often than not, an individual will encounter many mentors in their lifetime, each offering a unique vantage point for the mentee. Second, mentoring is a continual process. The lessons, skills, and wisdom obtained by the mentee from their mentor not only aides in personal growth and development, but also prepares the individual to assume the role of a mentor for the next generation. The value of mentorship is great and every individual should be encouraged to utilize the act of mentoring to its fullest potential.


1. Ladd EM. The value of mentorship. J Am Pharm Assc 2008;48:335.

2. Haines ST. The mentor-protégé relationship. Am J Pham Educ 2003;67(3):1-7.

[Editor's Commentary: Having written a review article on this subject some years ago, I too believe that mentoring has a special place in education. Some mentoring relationships exist for a single purpose (e.g. related to specific project or job or organization) - while other mentoring relationships transcend traditional professional boundaries, maturing into deep friendships, and continuing for a lifetime. Similar to a parenting relationship, good mentoring relationships are INTENTIONAL - where the mentor and mentee (or protege) purposefully engage in mutually beneficial activities. In most mentoring relationships, the mentor is responsible for sending the welcoming messages (verbal and non-verbal) that initiates the relationship. Some people seem more able and/or perhaps more willing to enter into mentoring relationships. Some are more capable of nurturing and maintaining many mentoring relationships simultaneously. Mentoring, like teaching, requires the mentor to be mindful of the mentee's capabilities and needs ... and to "let go" when the appropriate time comes. But unlike a typical teacher-student relationship, the mentee enhances the mentor's career by contributing to their mutual work in substantive ways. Everyone should be fortunate enough during their professional lives to have a (at least one) mentor .. .and should be willing to serve as a mentor to others. It is through mentoring that our professional life becomes more satisfying ... and our profession advances. -S.H.]

November 19, 2009

Inspiring Dreams

by Patricia Ross, Pharm.D., Clinical Pharmacy Specialist, Johns Hopkins Hospital

I am a dreamer. I have been since age 13 when my father passed away. As you can imagine, my father’s death had a profound impact on me. It inspired me to set goals for myself and dream big. These goals and dreams have helped me get to where I am today.

I first heard about the book “The Last Lecture” by Dr. Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, two years ago. Reading Dr. Pausch’s book has been on my to-do list ever since. When I discovered there was a video of the lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” I finally made time to sit and watch it.

I have watched Dr. Pausch’s last lecture twice now. Prior to pressing the play button, I was not certain what to expect. Within the first five minutes of the video, I realized it was nothing like I expected. Dr. Pausch first takes the opportunity to remove the “giant elephant in the room” by discussing his cancer diagnosis, displaying his CT scans and stating his prognosis (three to six months at the time of the lecture). The next 75 minutes are filled with personal stories, photos, live props, a lot of laughter and a few tears.

Dr. Pausch’s lecture is personal to me because shortly after he delivered it, his children suffered a loss that will change them forever, just as I had 22 years ago. At the end of his lecture, Dr. Pausch points out two “head fakes.” First, it is not about achieving your dreams; it is about how to lead your life. The second “head fake” is that he wrote and delivered his last lecture for his children, not for the audience in front of him that day. When the time is right for his children to watch their father’s lecture, I am hopeful they will understand the first “head fake,” just as Randy had envisioned.

Like the millions that have watched the last lecture and have been inspired, I too learned many things. Most importantly, the brick wall theory. Dr. Pausch weaves this concept throughout his lecture. He teaches that brick walls are there for a few reasons. They are not there to keep us out, but simply to let us prove how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who do not want it bad enough, the “other people.”

Realizing that this one lecture is a snapshot of Dr. Pausch’s teaching style, I believe there is a lot for present and future teachers to learn from it. It is easy to see that Dr. Pausch is an effective teacher. In this one lecture, he used humor, real life stories, photos, and props all to deliver his message. His teaching style was very comfortable and engaging, he took command of the stage and never looked rigid. Dr. Pausch also demonstrated an effective way of pausing, timed just perfectly, to allow the audience to process the message he was trying to deliver. He was also not afraid of showing emotion, excitement mostly, which made him more real to the audience.

Dr. Pausch’s central message is that achieving dreams and goals are possible if you get tough enough with yourself and do not give up. That is one of the main reasons Randy Pausch loved to teach. He created courses to help students achieve their dreams. After all, isn’t that one of the main reasons teachers become teachers?

Lastly, Dr. Pausch provided advice that I will carry with me forever. “You just have to decide if you’re a Tiger or an Eeyore? Never lose the childlike wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us.” In the end, Randy Pausch was not only trying to teach his students, he was trying to make them happier people. He has inspired me to try and do the same.

[Editor's Commentary: If you haven't seen "The Last Lecture" yet ... well, you should. The message is inspirational and Dr. Pausch's book expounds on his central messages in greater detail. So, if for no other reason than your own personal growth, you should watch the presentation and read the book. But as teachers, I think there are important lessons that we can derive from "The Last Lecture." For me these include: your enthusiasm and passion are critical ingredients to success; delivering simple messages and illustrating them with stories is a powerful teaching tool; and teaching is less about the content ... and more about inspiring people to do more related to the content and helping them to organize the journey to see the big picture. In Dr. Pausch's case, the content was an examination of the "important values in life." Lecturing is but one instructional methodology teachers have in their tool chest and Dr. Pausch is truly a gifted lecturer. But during his presentation he explores other teaching methodologies that are equally important including discovery learning, mentoring, and performance feedback. So check out "The Last Lecture" - and view it from two perspectives: as a student listening to Dr. Pausch's lesson and as a teacher observing Dr. Pausch's techniques and methods. -S.H.]

Professional Attire And Professional Attitude

by Noella Mbah, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Resident, Shady Grove Adventist Hospital

Being well groomed and wearing the appropriate clothing is evidence that a person takes his or her professional responsibilities seriously. This is especially true for practitioners in the health care professions. A majority of studies evaluating a patient’s perception of a health care professional’s appearance have found that patients care about their provider’s appearance.(Goodsman-Snikoff G. International Journal of Pharmacy Education 2003 (Spring); 1(1). Available at: These studies have found that patients use appearance to judge the provider’s competency and credibility. It is for this reason that the majority of colleges or schools of pharmacy implement a dress code for all experiential rotations. Patients trust pharmacists as a source of accurate medical information and depend upon them to act in their best interest while providing pharmaceutical services. Each student and graduate pharmacist inherits this time-honored legacy to dress and act professional at all times.

After acceptance into a doctor of pharmacy program, the students begin a process of developing the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are the fundamental core of the profession. Implementing a professional dress code amongst pharmacy students, even during the classroom-based portion of the pharmacy curriculum may help prepare students for the practice of pharmacy. The impact of formal dress codes in pharmacy school have a demonstrable effect on student attitudes regarding professional behaviors.(Gorham, J et al; Communication Quarterly 1999; 47(3): 281-299)

Many colleges and schools of pharmacy have attempted to emphasize the importance of student professional development by establishing ceremonies and policies that place value on professional appearance and behavior such as white coat ceremonies, pinning ceremonies, and codes of professional conduct. During the classroom-based portion of the curriculum, some schools require their students to dress professionally with white coat on campus at all times while other schools haven’t implemented such a requirement yet. However, all schools require students to dress professionally during their experiential practice rotations. Is there a difference between the performance of students who were required to dress professionally on campus when compared to those who were not required to do so? Do preceptors see a difference in their professional attitudes and their desire to uphold the oath they took during their white coat ceremony?

Professional socialization within pharmacy has been described by Duke et al as ‘‘the general process whereby students learn about the professional role of pharmacists and the expectations of performance in that role”.(American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 2005; 69(5); 104) The article goes on to list the factors affecting the professional attitude of students such as, individual student values, reason for selecting pharmacy as a profession, role models (including faculty members and practicing pharmacists), ideology and culture of the College of Pharmacy, curricular content and design, past and current practice-based experiences, and peers. Many colleges or schools of pharmacy teach professionalism to their students by emphasizing the “Oath of the Pharmacist”, encouraging students to observe and learn from role models, and assigning faculty or staff to students to serve as mentors.

Although professional behaviors may be addressed in professional schools through dress code requirements and other practices, it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to develop an appropriate professional attitude and to demonstrate this in his/her professional life after graduation. Personally, as a new practitioner, I strive to implement the virtues of professionalism which I learned from my years in the Doctor of Pharmacy curriculum.

[Editor's Commentary: Whether pharmacy students are more likely to develop professional behaviors by wearing professional attire in the classroom is an unanswered question. It seems doubtful that the mere act of wearing a neatly pressed shirt/blouse with dress pants is going to lead to other behaviors we often associate with professionals - such as initiative, self-confidence, timeliness, persuasiveness, and possession of advanced knowledge and skill. However, by bringing conscious attention to these professional behaviors - including attire - we heighten awareness about what it "means" to be a professional. Humans quickly ascribe "meaning" to objects. Uniforms are a clear example. The police uniform represent authority. For some, the mere sight of someone wearing a police uniform evokes respect and trust. For others, it evokes distrust and anger. Thus, the object (in this case, a police uniform) is imbued with meaning that leads to cognitive responses ... which leads to behaviors. These responses occur not only in the person seeing the police uniform, but also in the person WEARING the uniform. We invest deeper meaning in these objects through ceremony and rituals (e.g. graduation from the police academy or burial ceremonies for slain officers). Similarly, medicine, nursing, and pharmacy have uniforms, symbols, and ceremonies - to instill meaning (for us and our patients) and to formally acknowledge our societal obligations. And these symbols and ceremonies are an important part of adopting an attitude ... which often leads to professional behaviors. -S.H.]

November 10, 2009

Duty Hours and Their Effect on Learning

by Elizabeth A. Sinclair, Pharm.D., PGY1 Resident, Johns Hopkins Hospital

The beginning of my PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice Residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital was filled with days and days of orientation. We covered everything from fire safety to service excellence. One day, as we reviewed the Pharmacy Residency Handbook and residency-specific policies, the topic of duty hours came up. In order to be eligible for accreditation, the American Society of Health Systems Pharmacists requires that pharmacy residency programs follow the duty hour requirements set forth by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). These requirements, which became effective July 1, 2003, were issued in an effort to prevent excessive fatigue, which could potentially lead to medical errors. Residency duty hours are limited as follows:

  • Duty hours must not exceed 80 hours per week, averaged over a 4-week period.
  • Every 7 days had to contain at least one 24-hour period free of clinical responsibilities.
  • In-house call could not be more than every 3rd night, averaged over a 4-week period.
  • In-house call could not last more than 24 hours (plus 6 hours for continuity of care) per shift.
  • A minimum of 10 hours between daily duty periods and after in-house call must be allowed.
  • No new patients may be accepted after 24 hours of continuous duty.
  • Vacation days may not count as “days off”.
  • Home call must count toward the 80 hours if the resident comes to the hospital.

Duty hours were defined as: all clinical and academic activities related to the program; i.e., patient care (both inpatient and outpatient), administrative duties relative to patient care, the provision for transfer of patient care, time spent in-house during call activities, and scheduled activities, such as conferences. Duty hours do not include reading and preparation time spent away from the duty site.

After my initial review of these requirements, I found them reasonable, and I did not feel that I would be affected greatly by them. I was expecting that 80 hours per week would be the maximum I would ever need or want to work (oh, new resident, so young and naïve!). However, as I have progressed through my residency, I have discovered that I was quite mistaken. It is incredibly easy to come dangerously close to that 80-hour mark. When non-duty hours are included, I guarantee that I, along with all my fellow residents, exceed 80 hours on a weekly basis. However, as much of our work is not related to patient care, e.g. educational presentations, committee responsibilities, research activities, course work for classes not required for completion of the residency, etc., we remain within the ACGME requirements. Although I appreciate the ACGME requirements, especially when they allow me to sleep until 7:30 or 8 AM on a post-call day, there are times when they seem to make life a bit more difficult. For example, on post-call days, although it is nice to have the built in rest time, one often ends up joining rounds somewhere in the middle, not having had the opportunity to pre-round. This makes it very difficult to contribute to the team and also results in the resident spending a good portion of the day playing catch-up. Overall, I feel the effects of ACGME duty hour requirements are beneficial for my educational experience, but there are times when learning might be enhanced if they were not followed.

My mixed feelings toward the ACGME requirements are consistent with what’s been documented in the literature. In a survey of chief residents and neurosurgical program directors examining the impact of ACGME duty hour requirements on neurosurgical residents, 96% of the respondents believed that the requirements had compromised resident training, and 98% thought that it had decreased resident surgical experience. Most thought that the requirements negatively affected patient safety and access to care, and that the residents’ cognitive development and education had been compromised (Jagannathan, et al. J Neurosurg. 2009;100:820-7). Similar sentiments were seen in another study which compared the operative experience of chief residents before and after duty-hour restrictions were in effect (Damadi, et al. J Surg Ed. 2007;64:256-9). This study, which included general surgery residents, found that residents experienced an approximately 25% decrease in the number of cases during their chief-year and an approximately 15% decrease in number of cases during their non-chief years. A survey of internal medicine residents found that about 25% of residents reported spending less time teaching patients. However, these residents did report being less emotionally exhausted, and, in contrast to the previously cited studies, were more satisfied with the patient care they provided (J Hosp Med. 2009;4:476-80).

Overall, the ACGME requirements seem to have both positive and negative impact on residency training. Further study is needed to discern if training under these restrictions leads to inferior or superior job performance as residents move into independent practice.

[Editor's Commentary: Whether the ACGME duty hour restrictions has had the intended effect - reduce the risk of patient harm due to medical errors cause by fatigue - has not, to my knowledge, been clearly shown. However, there is a significant body of literature that demonstrates that excessive fatigue adversely impacts learning. The relationship between stress and learning is an interesting one. Similar to the Frank-Starling Curve of the heart, low to moderate levels of stress can improve performance and accelerate learning.

But, similar to the heart muscle, there is a point of diminishing returns. As the graph illustrates, initially, stress (end diastolic pressure) has a positive influence on learning (peak systolic pressure) .... but excessive stress results in (brain and muscle) fatigue and eventually learning (peak systolic pressure) begins to decline. But where is the point of diminishing returns (you may be asking)? Similar to the heart muscle, the point of diminishing returns depends on a number of factors and varies from person to person. A young heart (or brain) is generally more resilient than an older heart (or brain) ... and can withstand greater pressure over longer periods of time. But do we really want to push people to their limits? Duty hour limits are a good idea - even if they (occasionally) result in missed opportunities for learning. -S.H.]

November 3, 2009

The Clinical Pharmacy Movement

By Dachelle Johnson, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Johns Hopkins Hospital

The profession of pharmacy has undergone many changes. The pharmacist is no longer confined to a strict dispensing role but now has multiple responsibilities including consultative services to health care professionals regarding general and patient-specific issues related to drug therapy. In preparing for these new roles, pharmacy education has changed as well. An article by John A Biles published in 1983 (JAMA. 1983; 259(9): 1157-1160) addressed the evolution of pharmacy in the context of the clinical pharmacy movement. This commentary and accompanying editorial (Lundberg GD. The Clinical Pharmacist. JAMA. 1983; 249(9): 1193) were interesting to me because it provided some insights regarding the history of my profession. As a clinician in training I found it fascinating to evaluate where the profession of pharmacy has come from, where it is going, and what education methods have been applied at different time points.

Clinical pharmacy services were developed in the 1960’s after extensive reports in the medical literature regarding drug interactions and medication errors. A group of “forward thinking educators” at the University of California, San Francisco, the University of the Pacific at Stockton, California, and the University of Southern California are credited with coming up with the concept of "the clinical pharmacist." In order to successfully prepare pharmacists for this new role, the pharmacy curriculum had to change. The degree program transitioned from a baccalaureate to a doctor of pharmacy. This transition is reminiscent of andragogy in that a subset of educators during that time did not feel as though the pedagogy methods were sufficient. The implementation of clinical rotations as a requirement for the Doctor of Pharmacy degree utilizes many adult learning principles. Learners are involved in planning there course of study by choosing which electives and rotations they would prefer, rather than a strict assignment. Also, self directed learning is important during clinical rotations. Learners must ask questions, identify their own knowledge and skill gaps, and utilize the resources available to make interventions and get the most out of their experience.

In addition to the new degree program and the additional clinical rotations, residencies and fellowships were implemented (residencies date back to the 1930’s but standards and an accreditation process was implemented in the 1960’s). These post graduate training programs act as a bridge from student to practitioner. In the setting of post graduate training, the learner (resident) also uses self directed learning skills.

Constructivism is another educational theory that has been applied in pharmacy education. The teacher (preceptor) facilitates learning, rather than transmitting knowledge. In accordance with the principles of constructivism, the preceptor explores inconsistencies between students’ current understanding and their experiences.

The profession of pharmacy has seen many changes and will continue to evolve in the future. As stated by Robert H. Ebert, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard University, “the future of the pharmacist lies in the direction of clinical medicine and the education of the pharmacist must reflect this need.” The newest change in pharmacy education is the increasing use of technology in the classroom. The number of pharmacy schools is increasing much quicker than the number of pharmacists pursuing academia as a career; this shortage makes web-based learning and distance education a potential solution.

One conclusion that Biles made in his commentary more than 20 years ago (and I agree with) - the future of the clinical pharmacist will be determined by an ability and desire to participate in patient care and relate effectively to physicians, nurses, and patients. Desire is not something that can be taught, but post graduate training gives the pharmacist the necessary tools. As the profession continues to change, the way we educate future pharmacists will need to change as well. The result is pharmacists who are better prepared to improve patient outcomes. As stated in our oath, “I will apply my knowledge, experience, and skills to the best of my ability to assure optimal outcomes for my patients.”

[Editor's Commentary: Its taken nearly four decades to transform pharmacy from a product-centered to a patient-centered profession. This transformation has required pharmacists and pharmacy educators to acquire new knowledge, skills, and - most importantly - attitudes. However, the clinical pharmacist isn't merely a fountain of knowledge (although, he or she should, of course, be knowledgeable) about drug products but rather a trusted advisor who evaluates data and synthesizes solutions that are most likely to succeed. This requires considerable judgment and wisdom. Wisdom requires more than knowledge, skills, and attitudes but also experience and maturity. Thus, the training of clinical pharmacists, similar to the training of physicians, requires an extensive period of time to acquire the "real life" experiences needed to become a fully developed clinician. Long ago pharmacists trained for many years as apprentices under the guidance of a more experienced practitioner. Perhaps pharmacy education is coming full circle? An excellent review of the history of the clinical pharmacy movement was just published: Clinical Pharmacy in the United States: Transformation of a Profession by Robert Elenbaas and Dennis Worthen. Check it out! - S.H.]

November 1, 2009

Learning portfolios: an opportunity for continuing professional development

By Sujin Lee, Pharm.D., BCPP, Clinical Pharmacist - Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins Hospital

Learning is a life-long process. With the changing role of the pharmacist, individuals must take an increasingly active role to ensure their continuing professional development. Continuing professional development (CPD), based on the principles of Kolb’s learning model, is a structured, self-directed, outcomes-focused cycle of learning involving reflection, planning, action, evaluation and documentation. The reflection stage requires the individual to consider their current practice and assess their knowledge, skills, and competence to identify areas of development and improvement. The planning and action stages allow the individual to create and implement a personal learning plan, addressing the needs that were identified. Goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, and relevant. Plans may include structured programs (i.e. CE programs) and informal learning opportunities and based on the individual's learning style(s). The evaluation stage assesses the effectiveness of the educational interventions and the utility and success of the plan. Although self-evaluations are important, evaluations from supervisors, peers, students and others may also provide valuable insight. Documentation of activities provides evidence that development has occurred. A portfolio allows individuals to organize their learning activities and serves as a comprehensive demonstration of their development and competency. Although there is no universally accepted format for a learning portfolio, the goal is to include documents that represent the individual stages discussed above. The contents can include reflective diary entries, presentations, evaluations, etc. The key is quality, not quantity! Ideally, the learning cycle continues by repeatedly returning to the reflection stage.

By definition, a portfolio is “a selection of work compiled over a period of time and used for assessing performance or progress.” Traditionally, a portfolio is used during annual performance evaluations. However, the portfolio has evolved so that today, with the inclusion of introspection and self-assessment, it can be used for professional development. For example, in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, licensing agencies require practitioners to maintain a learning portfolio as evidence of CPD to demonstrate and enhance competency. Although the portfolio is not a requirement at this time in the United States, there are pilot projects in progress. Using the experiences of our international colleagues as models, the Department of Pharmacy at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health Care (San Antonio, Texas) implemented a portfolio system. Submitted during annual evaluations, the portfolios were reviewed by supervisors, managers, and the director of pharmacy. Initially, individuals did not fully appreciate the value of the portfolio and most had difficulty identifying their personal learning needs, articulating professional goals, and developing a strategy. However, over time, acceptance, comfort and familiarity of the portfolio process increased and the quality and comprehensiveness of the portfolios improved.

Based on the recommendations of Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), colleges of pharmacy now require students to maintain a portfolio during their academic career; residency programs also use portfolios for accreditation purposes. To assist them, many professional associations, including ASHP and APhA, are providing students and residents with tools to develop their portfolio. Unfortunately, some may view the portfolio as a “scrapbook of rotation memorabilia” and many find the initial stages difficult or tedious; however, the activities required in these early stages may provide the most benefit. The reflection and planning stages are critical to maximize the learning portfolio experience: an honest self-appraisal must occur to identify areas that require further development. The “action” phase then allows individuals to take a committed role in developing and implementing their personalized plan. By making learning more tangible, individuals are also able to reinforce the information by relating their academic and clinical assignments to the skills and knowledge that they will use in the future. Without a true investment in the learning cycle, students and residents may view the portfolio as just another assignment that they must complete.

The principles of the learning portfolio can be used by educators to assist students and residents to further their development. Although the creation of a portfolio is highly recommended, students and residents may not have the opportunity to prepare one, depending on their schedule (i.e. one month rotation vs. twelve month program). However, the principles of “continued professional development” can still be addressed. For example, the five stages of the learning cycle may be discussed with the student or resident before and after an assignment and during the midpoint and final evaluation. The entire process may be difficult for students and residents to accomplish on their own. However, with the assistance from preceptors and mentors, the student's or resident's experiences may be enhanced. Moreover, this process will ideally lead to a more reflective learner and result in a lifelong cycle of continuing professional development.

In summary, the learning portfolio may become a requirement for pharmacists in the future. Indeed, it is already part of the licensure process in many other countries. Based on the recommendations of national pharmacy organizations, portfolios have become requisites for successful completion of the Doctor of Pharmacy degree and residency training programs. However, in order for portfolios to be successful, individuals must invest themselves in the learning process; otherwise, the experience will likely be a burden rather than an opportunity for continued self growth and development.

To learn more read: Purcell K. Use of performance portfolios for pharmacy personnel. Am J Health-Syst Pharm 2009;66:801-4.

[Editor's Commentary: Reflection and planning are important ingredients to self-development. Learning portfolios can assist us in the learning process and help us meet personal and professional goals. Portfolios can take many forms. Many people continue to maintain paper-based portfolios ... but in this digital age, web-based portfolios enable us to store a wide variety of interconnected media - not just documents. I can image a day when our personal and professional development, from birth to death, is warehoused on a personal website. These sites make our reflections, plans, actions, evaluations, and outcomes of our learning readily available to our teachers and mentors anywhere in the world. If you'd like to get started building your own digital portfolio, check out Dr. Helen Barrett's eletronic portfolio site at: and series of her presentations at: Her keynote address to the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) is a great introduction to this topic. - S.H.]

I Have No Idea What It Means to be a Teacher

by Michael Wunder, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate, Palm Beach Atlantic University Gregory School of Pharmacy

I have seen every stage of a teacher. I have seen the passion of one who has found the profession. I have seen the fulfillment of one who has retired for the profession. I have seen the joy, worry, suffering, sorrow, anger, elation, and laughter that have come with this profession. I am the son of a teacher, the brother of a teacher, and the husband of a teacher, and I have no idea what it means to be a teacher.

I spent every summer growing up reorganizing classrooms, putting up bulletin boards, and copying papers. I have helped grade papers in the fall, winter, and spring. I have cut out numerous shapes and laminated a million papers. I have broken down boxes and moved classrooms and closed classrooms. I have no idea what it means to be a teacher.

I have seen a child learn to read. I have seen a child learn to count. I have seen a teenager stand in class and declare that they understood Holden Caulfield. I have seen a teenager learn accounting. I have seen a teacher rejoice at each of these moments. I have seen a teacher hold a moment like these for the rest of their life. I have no idea what it means to be a teacher.

I have seen a child refuse to listen, scream, and throw crayons. I have seen a teenager throw a desk, stab another student, and then threaten the life of a teacher. I have no idea what it means to be a teacher.

I have seen the letters from parents praising a teacher for reaching their child’s life and encouraging their soul. I have seen the letters from parents threatening to sue a teacher because their child did not get enough attention. I have seen administrators and school districts turn their backs on their teachers. I have seen hours of lesson plans and curriculum meetings be tossed to the side because of the disruption of one student. I have no idea what it means to be a teacher.

I have seen a teacher cry in a classroom. I have seen a teacher cry at home. I have heard a teacher curse many a student and administrator too. I have heard a teacher whisper “I just don’t know what to do.” I have heard a teacher scream, “That’s it, I’m through.” I have no idea what it means to be a teacher.

I have seen a teacher cry when their student past a reading test they worked so hard for. I have seen a teacher smile when a student says “I’ll miss you.” I have seen a teacher laugh and feel true achievement as two teenage boys acted out … in Don Quixote. I have seen a teacher cry recalling when police took a student right out of his chair for murder. I have no idea what it means to be a teacher.

I have seen a teacher anticipate what their students might be like. I have seen a teacher clean up a party and say their goodbyes. I seen a teacher work a summer job to earn enough to pay for that rug they need for their reading center. I have seen a teacher stand in a field after graduation because a student wants that picture with their favorite teacher. I have heard a kindergartener say “I love you and I don’t want to have another teacher.” I have seen the letter from a death row inmate who was pulled from his chair in class that says, “Miss, I am sorry for interrupting your class. You were the only one that ever cared.”

I have no idea what it means to be a teacher.

[Editor's commentary: I think this essay by Michael Wunder says it all. -S.H.]