October 21, 2010

I Finally Earned My Doctorate!!! Wait…Can I Find a Job?

by Mina Kim, Pharm.D., PGY2 Pain and Palliative Care Resident, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy
By Jeff Parker
Available from floridatoday.com
This cartoon depicts an unfortunate reality over the past 2 years.  Due to the economic recession, many graduates have found themselves without jobs or having to take positions outside of their career choices.  Many people who were employed found themselves jobless with no promising options for re-employment.  The once abundant pharmacist employment market diminished as well due to a number of factors:  1) the recession, 2) increasing number of pharmacy graduates, and 3) delayed retirements.  Just a few years ago, every pharmacy student walked across their graduation stage with a diploma in one hand and a few employment offers in the other.  Now, finding employment after graduation has become a daunting challenge due to the tight market in all fields, including pharmacy practice.
A solution that many adults have turned to during times of economic recession has been more education. With the increased competitiveness for jobs, the need for additional education to boost one’s resume and career has become a necessary measure.  An article about continuing education (post-secondary education) in the New York Times, stated that most college graduates will experience five to seven job changes during their career and thus need more education to remain competitive.   Continuing education institutions also follow the job market to create programs in fields that are growing and will have job opportunities.  Some career counselors no longer encourage adults to simply follow their passion but to take into consideration practical values such as the availability and salary of jobs when making career decisions.
When looking at the profession of pharmacy, the economy has prompted many changes.  Numerous graduating students now choose to take one or two years to complete a residency and boost their Curriculum Vitae (C.V.).  The hope is that with additional training and experience will make them more qualified/marketable and be able to obtain the position they desire.  Of note, in 2006, ACCP stated that by year 2020, a residency should be mandatory for pharmacists involved in direct patient care.  Direct patient care was defined as pharmacist’s observation of the patient and contributions to the selection, modification and monitoring of patient-specific drug therapy.  Whether or not this is feasible or necessary is a separate issue; but there is no doubt of the increasing demand for residency training – both among employers and graduating students.  As the job market remains competitive, having a residency for many clinical positions is becoming a minimum requirement.  Paradoxically, while the poor economic conditions incentivize more students and pharmacists to pursue residency training, institutions have a limited ability to increase the number of residency positions due to financial constraints.
Pharmacists who already have a position in clinical practice feel additional pressure to obtain board certification through the Board of Pharmacy Specialties.  In a recently published article by Connor et. al in the American Journal of Health System Pharmacists, the benefits of board certification include “increased therapeutics knowledge, enhanced professional and clinical opportunities…greater marketability and monetary compensation.”  Although it has not been common for pharmacists to lose their jobs in this recession, as they look towards promotions, new career opportunities, and even tenure, experience is no longer sufficient.  To supplement their C.V.s, board certification is one avenue for pharmacists to demonstrate that they have attained (and are maintaining their) advanced knowledge.
Compensation (monetary and other rewards) has always played a role in influencing career choices and goals.  The economic recession has had a key role in the encouraging continuing education.  A struggling economy serves as a stimulus for people to pursue further education to remain competitive in their profession and pharmacy is no exception.  A Pharm.D.alone is no longer enough for pharmacists to secure a satisfying position or get promoted.
I fear (and this fear is possibly shared by other residents) that all the effort, energy and time exerted into my education and training (8+ years of post-secondary education and training!) will still not be enough for me to secure my “dream job.”  But I can only keep my fingers crossed – and demonstrate that I’m qualified, ready, willing, and able to make substantial contributions.
Greenhouse S.  Learning Curves on the Career Path.  The New York Times [Internet]. 2010 Aug 25  Education.  [cited 2010 Oct 17]
Connor KA, Hamilton LA.  Pursuing Board of Pharmacy Specialties Certification.  Am J Health Syst Pharm 2010;67:1146-1151.
Bright DR, Adams AJ, Black CD, Powers MF.  The Mandatory Residency Dilemma: Parallels to Historical Transitions in Pharmacy Education.  Ann Pharmacother 2010;44.  Epub  2010 Oct 5.
[Editor's Commentary:  Dr. Kim's essay expresses the fears of many graduates today - not only in pharmacy but nursing, medicine, and other health professional fields too.  While a significant shortage of health professionals remains and will continue to grow as our population ages, the short term impact of the worse economic downturn in over 75 years has had ripple effects that has impacted even the most stable areas of employment.  According to some experts the current pharmacy job market has grown tight due to two competing factors:  1) increased number of graduates (which we need to meet future demand!) and 2) a very significant delay in retirements.  In other words, people who normally would have left the workforce aren't (and this is a moral dilemma the profession must address if the over-abundance of highly qualified practitioners continues for very long).  Of course the employment prospects for Dr. Kim and her well-trained brothers and sisters is far brighter than most ... but still, its all a bit unsettling when compared to the prospects just two or three short years ago.  There is little question that medication use is more problematic (and costly) than ever and the need for caring and well-qualified professionals, like Dr. Kim, is greater than ever. However, Dr. Kim's essay points to an important adult learning principle.  Adults are motivated to learn by relevancy and applicability.  The economic downturn has made training and credentials (like residencies and board certification) more relevant and applicable!  The motivations to learn often vary at different stages of life.  In the early stages of one's career, acquiring the "right" credentials for the "dream job" is often most important.  In mid-career, the desire to expand one's skill set beyond the core professional domains is often motivated by changes in responsibility.  In the later stages of one's career, cultivating deeply personal qualities (e.g. mentoring skills, religious faith) or engaging in new pursuits (e.g. playing the fiddle, photography) begin to emerge as motivations to learn and change.  So while a recession and the poor job market may seem like it has little to do with educational theory and practice, the motivation to learn is driven by many factors.  Needless to say, the prospects of unemployment and a mountain of debt is a strong motivator!  -S.H.]

October 20, 2010

Psychological Safety - A Key Component to Students’ Motivation

by Kimberly Still, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Baltimore VA Medical Center
Have you ever had a truly stellar professor? The kind who made you feel like no question was a dumb question?  Who made you energized about the subject and confident that you would succeed? Ever had the complete opposite? A professor so intimidating and negative you’d rather bite your tongue (literally) than ask a question for fear of looking stupid? What’s the main difference between these two extreme cases? The answer: the presence/absence of psychological safety.
So what does this term mean exactly? Psychological safety basically endorses the concept that students learn better when they feel safe. Embracing this idea means creating an environment where students feel comfortable enough to acknowledge their own weaknesses, voice their gaps in knowledge, and ask for help when they need it.  The importance of this concept lies in its link to student motivation. However, in order to understand how the two are related, we must first take a look at what creates motivation.
Though there are many theories surrounding student motivation, it is pretty well summarized by the following equation from Barron and Hulleman:
motivation = expectancy x value
“Expectancy” in this case means the extent to which a student believes that he/she can perform a particular task. “Value” means the level of interest and degree of importance the student places on a task. Psychological safety ties into this equation in a number of ways. Creating a positive and safe learning environment can be empowering for students, giving them the confidence to take on the challenge presented to them, which translates to a high level of expectancy. Furthermore, allowing students to feel safe asking questions prevents the suppression of any innate interest they might already have for a particular topic, which helps preserve perceived value.

While most instructors are unlikely to fall into the extreme category of the negative and demeaning persona presented at the beginning of this discussion, evidence suggests that many teachers have lost sight of the importance of psychological safety, specifically as it relates to student-teacher rapport. One survey of teachers and undergraduates revealed only 7% of professors ranked rapport in the list of top 10 master teaching qualities, compared to 42% of students.
2 Another student survey by Benson, et al, examined the association of rapport with student attitudes and motivation. They found a positive relationship between rapport and many proacademic behaviors such as “attending class, paying attention during class, and studying.” When asked to identify the characteristics needed to establish rapport, among the most common responses included open-mindedness, accessibility, approachability, and concern for students.3

So how does one go about establishing a rapport and promoting psychological safety in the classroom? The possibilities are numerous. Here are just a few suggestions:
  • Address students by name. With a large class size this can be an arduous task, but it can go a long way with letting your students know that you care about them.
  • Set your students up for early success. Start off easy and gradually increase the level of difficulty in content. Such a strategy will help build their confidence and their comfort level with the subject.
  • Provide positive feedback early and often.
  • Avoid demeaning comments.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit “I don’t know.”  This will help increase your students’ comfort level in voicing their own gaps in knowledge.
  • Never underestimate the utility of the compliment sandwich!
  • When providing individualized negative feedback, identify with your student if possible.  At a minimum encourage him/her by expressing a sincere belief that he/she can improve (Ex. “I noticed you had some difficulty putting things into layman’s terms for the patient. I had trouble with that as well when I was first starting out. Here are some tips that I find handy… Don’t stress, I know you’ll get the hang of it, it just takes practice.”)
These suggestions may sound fairly simple, but attempting to utilize such strategies while still maintaining focus on the successful implementation of the course/rotation can be quite challenging. Nonetheless, adhering to these principles is vital in order to maintain a positive learning experience and cultivate each student’s motivation to succeed.
1. Barron KE and Hulleman CS. Is there a formula to help understand and improve student motivation? Essays from e-xcellence in teaching. 2006 ;8:33-8.  [cited 2010 Oct 18]
2. Buskist W, Sikorski J, Buckley T, & Saville BK. The teaching of psychology: Essays in honor of Wilbert J. McKeachie and Charles L. Brewer. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc; 2002. Elements of master teaching; p. 27-39.
3. Benson TA and Cohen AL. Rapport: its relation to student abilities and behaviors toward teachers and classes. Teach Psychol 2005;32:237-9. [cited 2010 Oct 18]
4. Davis BG. Tools for teaching. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; 2009. Chapter 31, Motivating Students; p. 278-87.

Embracing Social Media in Teaching

by Leah Sera, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Suburban Hospital

OK, I admit it – I’ve been suckered into social media. Not at the crest of the wave, mind you. In my case it’s more like being pulled in by the undertow.  But the end result is the same: I have a Twitter account, I spend lots of time on Facebook, I’m an occasional contributor to various discussion boards and listservs.  And I’m really, truly, going to start a blog as soon as I have the time to do so. We’ve been using social media from the beginning in this class as a teaching and learning tool – this blog, for instance, and our discussion board. I think these techniques have been useful in our online class, but are they being used elsewhere? How successful are they?
Media consultant Fred Cavazza breaks the term “social media” into ten categories: publication tools, sharing tools, discussion tools, social networks, micropublication, social aggregation, platforms for livecast hosting, virtual worlds, social gaming platforms, and massively multiplayer online games. 1 Most of what has been written about higher education and social media addresses recruitment efforts, but there is some information available about its use in the classroom – and I found most of the information on discussion boards and in blogs!
Social media is apparently a more widely used instructional technique than I might have guessed from my own experience. A survey of about a thousand professors conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group reported that over half of those surveyed used video, podcasts, blogs, and wikis as part of their classes (online videos and podcasts were most commonly used), and about a third used social networks to communicate with students.2

It’s intriguing to imagine what things might be like if classroom techniques moved beyond BlackBoard and online lecture tools. How about creating a virtual classroom using a tool like Second Life? Using Facebook groups to increase communication between classmates, and between faculty and students? One educator has stopped using physical textbooks completely; instead she uses a social bookmarking tool to share current articles, websites, and other online content. She also requires the students to use the bookmarking tool to collect and share materials relevant to their field, as well as keep a blog. She even created a synchronous chat (e.g. instant messaging board) which allowed students to anonymously pass virtual notes during her class sessions so that they could “add their own voice to the lecture, as well as…have the agency to multitask while listening.”
The use of social media may be a way to mitigate some of the problems with traditional education in today’s tech saavy society. Often traditional lectures fail to capture students’ attention, especially when there are so many distractions. Teachers who inadequately attempt to bridge the gap between traditional classroom teaching and modern technology often seem to end up reading lecture notes verbatim from a set of PowerPoint slides. As a student, that experience is supremely boring, and a bit of an insult to student capabilities. I’ve been known to remark to my classmates that it doesn’t seem likely that I would have been accepted into a doctoral program if I wasn’t capable of reading the slides on my own. I can be snarky like that sometimes.
In the case of Educational Theory and Practice [the course for which this blog essay was written], social media makes the class much more accessible.  Since one of the instructors lives in Florida, I’d say social media makes this course possible. For those of us who also live outside the Baltimore area [this course is offered through the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy Baltimore campus], online discussions cut down on travel time (and gas money).  Indeed, it seems likely there are a few participants taking advantage of this class who otherwise would not have been able to do so. It takes some adjustment, particularly with regard to student participation. It’s much easier to be distracted when you’re not sitting in a classroom, and there isn’t as much pressure to participate because you can easily avoid eye contact with the professor (indeed, there is no eye contact!). However, my mother once told me that when she was in grad school, before Gmail and Facebook, and lectures were primarily accompanied by a set of slides, that the lights would go down and so would student eyelids. So maybe student participation is more about student attitude and engagement than the mode of delivery. As someone interested in a career in academia, I think social media has a lot to offer and represents a new and creative way to engage students in the learning process.
1 Cavazza F. Social Media Landscape [internet]. Accessed 2010 Sept 27. Available from http://www.fredcavazza.net/2008/06/09/social-media-landscape/
2 Pearson Social Media Survey 2010 (online presentation). 2010. Accessed 2010 Sept 27. Available from http://www.slideshare.net/PearsonLearningSolutions/pearson-socialmediasurvey2010
3 Manfield L. Effectively using media in social education: a college educator on the advantage of Web 2.0 Classroom [internet]. Published 2008 Dec 30. Accessed 2010 Oct 5. Available from http://www.suite101.com/content/using-social-media-in-education-a87365

October 15, 2010

You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks. Or Can You?

by Brian Timberlake, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy
We all know the age old adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  You’ve probably heard this phrase so often you might think its true.  However, research today shows that this is an outdated notion.  Until recently, many people, including scientists, believed that the brain deteriorated over time through loss of neurotransmitters, decreased blood flow, and a diminishing oxygen supply.  However, now, it seems these “facts” are not true, and that learning occurs throughout one’s life.
People can learn at any age.  Prior to the 1960's, it was considered nonsensical for people to seek education in midlife.  Not only was the brain slowly starting to “shut down,” but the working years left in one’s life were slowly coming to an end.  With the baby boomer generation and longer life spans, middle aged people seeking education has gained wide spread acceptance. 
Even though acceptance has been gained for adult education, there is still that small problem of the deteriorating brain.  Science has come to show that as we age, the possibility of learning does not deteriorate.  While the middle-aged brain is slower at recalling facts, it gets much better at other tasks.  As people age, their brain actually gets sharper, due to myelination.  Myelination basically protects brain cells and increases conductivity in the brain.  Improved interconnections in the brain leads to improved reasoning skills.  Science has shown us that “life and learning doesn’t end at 50.”
Of course, disease is more prevalent in older people and diseases of the brain can change the brain drastically.  The most notable brain disease is Alzheimer’s, which is a form of dementia.  It is estimated that by 2050, 1 in 85 persons will suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease. The disease causes a significant loss of memory and the ability to learn.  Alzheimer’s disease usually presents around sixty-five, but can have early onset in some people.  It usually presents as difficulty in acquiring new memory or trouble recalling facts.  Since these symptoms are common as we age, it is hard to diagnose, and can lead into intense mood swings, extreme forgetfulness, and episodes of rage.
Even though the physiological aspect plays a huge role in learning, there is still the aspect of outside influences.  The differences in learning between children and adults has been a hot topic for the past few decades, and those differences are discussed in theory in the book, “The Modern Practice of Adult Education: Andragogy vs. Pedagogy,” written by the American educator Malcolm Knowles.  Knowles’ theory claims that there are five key differences in the learning processes between adults and children.  The theory describes key differences in the learner, experience, readiness, orientation to learning, and motivation.
The theory postulates that adults are independent and evaluate themselves and their surroundings while children need instruction from a teacher and must be told what to focus on.  Adults bring the experience factor to the table and can incorporate life lessons into what they learn, while children have very little or no experience.  In terms of readiness, adults usually learn based on their current needs and often with a sense of urgency and necessity, while children are guided by a teacher and only advance when they are told they are ready.  In the last part of the theory, Knowles described differences in motivation.  Adults are driven by emotions and personal goals, whereas children are usually affected by factors such as rewards and peer pressure.
The true mystery behind all of this research is the brain itself.  Nothing can unlock the intricacies and depth of this most fragile organ.  In the end, it all comes down to the individual.  Just like no two people are alike, no two brains are the same.  The best we can do as individuals is to keep using our brains and presenting ourselves with the new challenges.  Because of life’s uncertainties, you can’t teach every old dog a new trick, but age does bring new opportunities and possibilities.

Crawford, David.  The Role of Aging in Adult Learning: Implications for Instructors in Higher Education.  New Horizons for Learning [Internet].  December 2004.  [cited 2010 September 28].  Available at  http://www.newhorizons.org/lifelong/higher_ed/crawford.htm
Flatlow, Ira and Strauch, Barbara.  Brains, like Red Wine, Gets Better with Age.  NPR radio broadcast.  2010.  [cited September 28, 2010].  Available at  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127771662
Trudeau, Michelle.  The Aging Brain Is Less Quick, But More Shrewd.  NPR radio broadcast, morning edition.  2010.  [cited September 28, 2010].  Available at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124118077
Knowles, M. S. The Modern Practice of Adult Education. Andragogy versus pedagogy, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall/Cambridge. 1970, 1980.

Interprofessional Education: An Argument for Starting Early

by Kimberly A. Toussaint, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, University of Maryland Medical Center
When was your first professional encounter with a physician? What about a nurse? For me, it was during my fourth year of pharmacy school, on my first clinical rotation. Prior to that time, my collaborative experience with other health care professionals was merely theoretical – as abstract as the patient cases that we were given to write SOAP notes about during my therapeutics labs.  During pharmacy school, there are numerous opportunities to gain teamwork experiences.  Many schools require group journal club presentations, SOAP note write-ups, and case presentations.  However, this group experience typically involves only other student pharmacists.  Although many health professionals are educated on universities located on a academic health center that include pharmacy, medical, nursing and dental schools (within walking distance of one another), integration of the education of these various disciplines is rare.
Although health professional disciplines work together on a daily basis, at the beginning of their professional experiences they are often unsure of the extent of the other disciplines’ training and knowledge. This is likely due to the fact that health professionals have little exposure to the curriculum, knowledge base, and perspectives of other disciplines during school.  Familiarity with other disciplines typically improves after health professionals are licensed and begin practicing (and even then, misperceptions are common).  When I started my first clinical rotation, I had no frame of reference for how much instruction regarding pharmacology or pharmacokinetics the medical interns on my team had during their classes. For this reason, I was unsure of how to phrase my recommendations. Often, I was concerned that I was regurgitating information they’d heard numerous times. As it turned out, I probably wasn’t explaining things well enough because my knowledge and perspectives were different.
The “Seamless Care” model addresses the need for interprofessional practice experience during training, and has been studied in Canada and Australia.  This model prepares students in health professional schools to become collaborative practitioners by forming teams of students from different health disciplines (medicine, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, and dental hygiene) and having them work together for eight weeks to plan one patient’s transition from acute care to home.  The primary purpose of this model is to create a unifying task and facilitate a real-life collaboration between health professionals.  The model also serves to address a disparity in the continuity of care between hospital discharge and home. The students work under the guidance of experienced preceptors that helped to facilitate the care of the patient as well as helping the student develop team work skills by serving as a role model and mentor.1,2
This model is built on several educational theories.  It is an example of social learning theory because the students are able to observe the ways that their preceptors work collaboratively with other disciplines, and model that behavior.  Constructivist learning theory is exhibited by the students working collaboratively to share past experiences and to increase their understanding of the patients’ care and their respective roles on the team.
A study done by Coster et. al published in the International Journal of Nursing Medicine in 2008 measured the readiness of health professional students to learn together, using a survey.  This study showed that students’ readiness for interprofessional education was high at the beginning of their professional education, but declined over time. These results support the notion that interprofessional education should start from very early in health professional students’ education.3
By integrating this interdisciplinary practice model early in the advanced pharmacy school curriculum, collaborative work habits, trust, and rapport would be facilitated between various health disciplines. Additionally, each discipline would enhance the knowledgebase of the others by contributing a new perspective. This would enhance experiential learning across all disciplines, and would benefit everyone on the team, especially our patients.  Interprofessional education involving pharmacists, physicians, and nurses providing continuity of care for patients will have long term benefits - increasing the quality for years to come.
Carlisle, Cooper, and Watkins summed it up best:
Teams have a collective responsibility that necessitates even closer interprofessional working relationships.  Complementary action is not enough.  It is essential to cultivate this working relationship, beginning in school.4
The future of healthcare relies on increased collaboration between health care professionals.  Collaboration is frequently limited by preconceived beliefs about other disciplines, and this is exacerbated by our limited exposure during our education.  This leads to a lack of understanding and trust among health care professionals.  Incorporating interprofessional learning into the curriculum of health professional students would increase trust and enhance collaboration between disciplines, and ultimately optimize patient care.

Mann K, McFetridge-Durdle J, Martin-Misener R. Interprofessional education for students of the health professions: The “Seamless Care” model. Journal of Interprofessional Care. 2009 May;23(3):224-233.
Nisbet G, Hendry G, Rolls G. Interprofessional learning for pre-qualified health care students: An outcomes-based evaluation. Journal of Interprofessional Care. 2008 January;22(1):57-68.
Coster S, Normal I, Murrells T. Interprofessional attitudes amongst undergraduate students in the health professions: A longitudinal questionnaire survey. International Journal of Nursing Studies. 2008;45:1667-1681.
Carlisle C, Cooper H, Watkins C. “Do none of you talk to each other?”: the challenges facing the implementation of interprofessional education. Medical Teacher. 2004;26(6);545-552.

[Editor's Commentary:  There has been increased interest in interprofessional education at most health professional schools over the past decade - but, unfortunately, there has been limited progress despite calls by many professional organizations and the Institute of Medicine to introduce interprofessional education early (and more often) within our curricula.  Deep in our hearts, we believe patients would gain from increased interprofessional collaboration.  The data to support this belief is accumulating.  Intuitively it makes sense to harness the power of people of various knowledge and skills into a cohesive unit.   But getting people to play in the same sand box isn't always easy - particularly when everyone has had their own sandbox in the past.  The patient-centered medical home or accountable care team model is emerging under health care reform as THE health care delivery model.  Under such models of care, payment structures reward interprofessional team work and meeting quality standards.  But how to get from here (silo care) to there (interprofessional care).  Its not going to be easy and its not going to happen over night.  Certain teaching our students in an interprofessional, collaborative manner will go along way toward breakdown barriers.  Dobson and colleagues at the University of Saskatchewan describe the work of interprofessional student teams including pharmacists, nurses, dietitians, and physical therapists in a paper entitled "A Quality Improvement Activity to Promote Interprofessional Collaboration Among Health Professions Students."  During this activity, small groups of students participated in a quality improvement project following the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) model.  Through this work, the students increased their understanding of their respective roles as well as the value that each member of the team brought to the project.  It is not difficult to imagine that these kinds of "hands on" projects could be implemented at various times throughout the curricula of health professional schools.  Moreover, guided by experienced practitioners from each discipline, the groups would design and implement projects that meaningfully contribute to the care of patients in a variety of settings.  The American College of Clinical Pharmacy has a strong policy statement regarding interprofessional education and recently published a white paper on this topic that I encourage everyone to read. - S.H.]

October 13, 2010

Simulation in Health Professional Education

By Chris Shaw, Pharm.D., PGY2 Emergency Medicine Pharmacy Resident, Johns Hopkins Hospital
Passive versus active. “Chalk and talk” versus hands-on.  Educators and theorists have suggested that active learning and learner participation produce better educational outcomes than traditional, lecture-based teaching methods. Lecture, and other forms of simple information dispersion, may still be required depending on the content area and students’ prior knowledge. However, it is not until the learner is able to apply that information to a given situation, thereby linking the theory with practice that true understanding materializes. One method that can be used to achieve this linking is through the use of simulation.
Simulation training has been used for decades in military and aeronautics training with positive results. In the realm of healthcare, surgery simulation has been well described and simulation has been used extensively to train cardiopulmonary resuscitative techniques and emergency preparedness. A simple PubMed search will retrieve thousands of results for ‘simulation training.’ Formal simulation labs as well as medical and surgical simulation fellowships have been created at some of the top medical centers around the country, including The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Duke University Medical Center, Harvard, and The Mayo Clinic. The recently formed Society for Simulation in Healthcare, which publishes a peer-reviewed journal, is a forum for scholars interested in simulation technology and techniques. Simulation in the training of health professionals seems to have cemented itself in the culture of health professional education. Why is that? I believe the answer is that as health care professionals, we are always looking for ways to continually improve our knowledge and skills, with the ultimate goal of improving patient care and outcomes.
The initial and continual training of health professionals is an important factor that contributes to this goal. Human patient simulation (HPS), or “a technique to replace or amplify real patient experiences … which evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive manner,” is one method of active learning to help build and maintain skills. HPS is able to offer a method for putting theory into practice, while maintaining a non-threatening, safe environment for students to achieve competence through repetition.  HPS can be use to reproduce a variety of clinical scenarios. This is done with a wide margin for error as real patients are not put in harm’s way, illustrating the principle of risk minimization. For a list of additional pros and cons related to the use of medical simulation training, I refer you to a previous post on this blog.
HPS has been adopted by a number of pharmacy educators at schools and colleges of pharmacy in United States. There have been publications regarding the use of patient-simulation technology such as mannequins or computer programs to teach pharmacotherapeutics, pharmacokinetics, interdisciplinary team skills, advanced cardiac life support, and other topics in the pharmacy curriculum. The benefits of these simulations vary based upon the topic and simulation.
Does effective simulation require the use of expensive technologies? Why not use real people to simulate clinical situations? HPS can and often does utilize real humans. This may be one way for pharmacy programs to incorporate simulation into their curriculum if access to the simulation technologies is not an option.
In 1997, the World Health Organization published a report entitled “Preparing the Pharmacist of the Future: curricular development.” In this report, it was stated that as a communicator, the pharmacist “must be knowledgeable and confident while interacting with other health professionals and the public… communication skills involve verbal, non-verbal, listening, and writing skills.” How does this relate to simulation? The enhancement of communication skills through simulation is commonplace in pharmacy education.
HPS using humans in lieu of available technologies is a technique that has been adopted by many schools of pharmacy, including where I graduated, Northeastern University (NU), where we frequently use simulation for patient counseling. Actors would be brought in to serve as standardized patients, and different scenarios were put forth during class sessions. Students would be required to develop and deliver educational material, counsel the patients about their diagnoses and medication regimens, and answer questions. The questions posed were a combination of what had been prepared by the facilitators of the course and provided to the actors, as well as questions the actors improvised.  This added another level of complexity to the interaction. Simulation exposed us to different scenarios, enhanced our critical thinking, and provided an opportunity to practice the management of a patient encounter.  An advanced understanding of and ability to apply all the material involved in real-time was required. But most importantly, it was a way for us to link our didactic education with practice, prior to actually stepping foot in a real practice environment during clinical rotations.
Further exploration of a variety of simulation techniques should be promoted in pharmacy education. The study of both technology and human-based simulations should evolve, with the ultimate goal of producing and identifying methods to most effectively prepare tomorrow’s pharmacy professionals. Although I’ve had only  limited personal experience with simulation training, I felt much more comfortable and confident going into the “real” clinical setting. It was still a scary prospect going in out on rotations, but it was made exponentially easier as I had my prior experiences built through simulation to fall back on.

McGahie WC, Issenberg SB, Petrusa ER, Scalese RJ. A critical review of simulation-based medical education research.
Med Educ. 2010; 44: 50-63.
Mesquita AR, Lyra Jr DP, Brito GC, Balisa-Rocha BJ, Aguiar PM, Neto ACA. Developing communication skills in pharmacy: a systematic review of the use of simulated patient methods. Patient Educ Couns. 2010; 78: 143-148.
Haidar E. Clinical simulation: a better way of learning? Nurs Manag. 2009; 16(5): 22-23.

October 12, 2010

Learning Through Teaching

By Rachel M. Kruer, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Johns Hopkins Hospital
As pharmacy students and residents we often wonder why we are required to give frequent presentations and lead numerous topic discussions.  I have found myself wondering why it is that I am presenting a topic to my preceptor on subject matter for which she is viewed as the house-wide expert.  She obviously already knows the material.  For example, why lead a topic discussion on rapid sequence intubation to an audience of emergency department pharmacists?  Then it hit me!  After reading the material, I had a basic understanding of the mechanisms of pre-induction and induction agents.  I understood the kinetics of neuromuscular blockers.  However, it was not until I was asked to explain the sequence of drug administration and answer questions regarding the most appropriate agents for a patient with a specific injury, that I truly understood rapid sequence intubation. 
Heidi G. Elmendorf explained this phenomena quite nicely in her essay entitled “Learning through Teaching:  A New Perspective on Entering a Discipline.”   In her essay, Elmendorf describes an introductory level biology course she taught at Georgetown University targeted to non-science majors.   During a volunteer project, one of Elmendorf’s students found herself in charge of an elementary class.  The student did a quick mental scan for topics she could present to these children that would peak their interest.  In Elmendorf’s course, the student had been learning about childhood vaccinations, so she decided to lead a discussion with the elementary class on the basic scientific principles of vaccines and their use.  While teaching the subject matter she had recently learned, the student became more engaged in the material of her biology course.  When returning to Elmendorf’s course, she asked thoughtful questions so that she would be better prepared to answer the questions of others, including her elementary class students.  Elmendorf writes of her student, “Her experience spoke to the educational power of the intersection between the metacognitive engagement stimulated by the creative construction of knowledge and the affective impact of communicating that knowledge to a group eager to learn.”1    
The essay reminds us of a supposition previously proposed by David Perkins, that learning facts is not equivalent to learning for understanding.2  Elmendorf describes a three-fold theory of understanding.  The first step is basal understanding of fundamentals. Next is structured understanding of the organization of ideas into a larger conceptual framework and how ideas from other disciplines are connected.  The final step is translational understanding in which the learner is able to move fluidly between organizational levels of information.  It is not until the third step is reached that one becomes fluent in a content area.  These steps in understanding correlate with the educational theories discussed in our course.  Behaviorists help us to understand the formation of a solid foundation of knowledge, while constructivists describe the mechanisms by which knowledge is internalized and organized.
Elmendorf believes that by teaching, students re-learn basic concepts in a way that deepens previous superficial understanding.  Learning through teaching has certainly been helpful in my practice thus far.  I often feel that my knowledge of a topic is superficial at best, until I really dig in and prepare a presentation or topic discussion in such a manner that I feel comfortable (well, as comfortable as possible) answering questions from the content experts.  It seems as though this concept of teaching through learning is used widely in the development of pharmacy residents.  It is also employed when we counsel patients.  We often ask patients to repeat back how they are going to take a given medication.  This model may be further utilized by asking patients to teach us how to take a medication, or use an inhaler, for example. 
Additionally, this model could be explored to a greater extent in formal pharmacy education.  Students are often asked to prepare presentations and topic discussions during their experiential rotations, however, this model could prove to be beneficial as a part of didactic teaching and learning.  Perhaps students would have a deeper knowledge of disease states after being required to teach the topic to others, whether that be students or content experts, prior to going on advanced experiential rotations.   The take home message from the Elmendorf essay reveals “that casting students in the role of teacher is a remarkably powerful way of making visible, to both the students and their instructors, some invisible shortcomings of traditional educational approaches.”

1. Elmendorf, Heidi G. “Learning Through Teaching: A New Perspective on Entering a Discipline”, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 2006; 38: 6, 36 — 41.

2. Perkins, David, “What is Understanding,” in Teaching for Understanding: Linking Research with Practice, M. Wiske, ed., San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997.

[Editor's Commentary:  Research has shown that deep learning is facilitated when the learner articulates and expresses his / her understanding of the material.  This can be accomplished through writing about the subject, answering questions about the subject, or giving an oral presentation about the subject.  Teaching others typically requires the learner to do all three.  It is through these forms of expression - by explaining one's thoughts -  that a learner begins to solidify mental schema, organizational structures, and inter-relationships with prior knowledge.  Teaching requires thoughtful preparation.  The learner has to decide what information is most critical to convey, how to organize and sequence the material, as well as create visuals (or stories or analogies) that convey important concepts.  Moreover, teaching is a public activity - one that has potential consequences for those being taught.  So the incentives are strong and the stakes are high.  A learner who is teaching others is highly motivated to do a "good job" explaining the material.  The old adage "see one, do one, teach one" rings true.  So rather than giving your students a dull lecture on some topic ... ask them to teach you instead! - S.H.]

October 7, 2010

Engaging the Whole Mind

by Samantha Lee, Pharm.D., Clinical Toxicology Fellow, Maryland Poison Center/University of Maryland School of Pharmacy

Let’s begin with a simple exercise.  It doesn’t require a calculator to solve a kinetics problem or a reference book to look up a drug fact.  This only requires one thing: your brain.  Actually, the right side of your brain.  See that cartoon on the left side of the page?  Your task is to come up with a humorous caption to go with it.  Easy, right?

by Leo Cullum
Published in The New Yorker 8/21/2006
Available from the Cartoon Bank

This may seem like a fun activity that a middle school student might do, but it’s really a sample test question created for the Rainbow Project at Yale University.  As part of the project, they are developing an alternative scholastic aptitude test (SAT) designed to measure whole-minded abilities.  Concepts such as the Rainbow Project stemmed from the question: is our education system designed to help students to think creatively and express their true aptitudes, or are we just preparing them to survive rounds of multiple-choice exams that may not truly capture what they know and have learned?  Do we only place emphasis on standardization, routine performance and compliance?
In his book entitled A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, author Daniel Pink makes a case for the end of the “left-brain” era with a transition to the “Conceptual Age,” where the right brainers will flourish with their highly valued traits such as creativity, imagination and innovation.  While left brain thinkers have thrived over the past several decades in the Information Age, the once dominating traits of logics, functions, and linearity are no longer sufficient to meet the demands of a new world that values a more holistic and empathic big-picture view. 
Pink recognizes three factors that are causing this shift in change and which will impact the nature of our future employment: Asia (can jobs be done cheaper overseas?  We are seeing this in medical practice, such as radiology), Automation (can a computer do it faster?  We are definitely seeing automation in pharmacy with the use of robotics.  We don't have robot teachers . . . yet.) and Abundance (The world is awash in plentiful and cheap material goods.  Are we overloading the workforce with an abundance of pharmacy graduates as more schools are opening?)
Now the author isn’t saying we should only care about right brain thinking and let’s ditch the left, but rather it should be using both hemispheres of the brain to successfully navigate through this new era.  How can we capitalize on “r-directed thinking” in our classrooms?  Daniel Pink introduces his “six senses” to help develop the whole mind needed to meet the demands of the future.
1.     Not just function but also DESIGN – Function and significance should balance.  Basically, we want things that work, but it’s even better to have functional things that are pretty and engaging to the eyes.  For educators, this can be seen in the way we present our content - are we focusing solely on the content or can we balance it with an attractive presentation that would capture the students’ attention? 
2.     Not just argument but also STORY – Communication is as important as the story that it is told through.  Our minds gravitate better toward stories since many of our experiences and knowledge can be told through a narrative.  When I was in my third year of pharmacy school, I had to create a digital story to tell my leadership story by using video, pictures, music and audio. 
3.     Not just focus but also SYMPHONY – This is the ability to put the pieces together, connect the relationships and see the big picture.  In healthcare, it’s all about the symphonic interaction of the different professionals-the pharmacists working with the physicians, nurses and other staff ... and let's not forget THE PATIENT.   Many programs are now integrating interprofessional coursework into their curricula to ensure graduates are capable of working together ... and seeing the big picture.
4.     Not just logic but also EMPATHY – We all know this one. It’s the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  It’s essential for healthcare professionals to not just look at patient’s vitals, drug regimen, and physical exam, but get to understand the whole person.  How can we do this in pharmacy school?  As educators, are we exposing the students to activities and interactions that will bring out the humanistic side?
5.     Not just seriousness but also PLAY – “When you are playing, you are activating the right side of your brain.  The logical brain is a limited brain.  The right side is unlimited.  You can be anything you want.”  Using games as learning activities is one way for an educator to add the fun to learning.  Learning is about the content, but playing while learning is soul food for the brain. 
6.     Not just accumulation but also MEANING – “Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life.”  Educating students is an opportunity to make a difference in the world.  We can impact those students ... and our students impact patients.  We need to help students connect with the meaning of our work as pharmacists - not just the content.
As Dr. Seuss once said, “Think left and think right and think low and think high.  Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”  As we embark on our path to academia, let’s rethink what we’re doing in the classroom to develop this whole new mind. 
P.S.  What was your cartoon caption?

[Editor's Commentary:  Left-brain thinking is logical, sequential, analytical. And there is little question that you need to be pretty good at that stuff to be a pharmacist.  But I think most of us would agree that being logical, sequential, and analytical isn't sufficient.  Our right-brain thinking abilities - creativity, sensitivity to design and aesthetics, empathy, and contextual awareness - are equally important.  Perhaps MORE important today because computers and other forms of automation are able to do the logical, sequential, analytical stuff far better than we humans could ever hope to do.  But computers have not yet mastered right brain thinking.  So, its time to flex some right brain muscle.  We need to spend more time teaching our students how to be creative, think holistically, and relate to people in an authentic manner. - S.H.]

October 6, 2010

Empowering Patients - Social Learning and Health Outcomes

By Whitney Redding, Pharm.D., PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, Johns Hopkins University Hospital
Social learning is defined, in the simplest terms, as the process by which a person learns from observing others. The belief is that we are most likely to model our behavior based on what we have learned from watching those around us.  The best models are those to whom we relate the most – often our peers.1 Learning in a social setting plays a critical role in how we gather information and adapt successfully to our environment, but it can also be how we pick up less effective, less healthy habits.
As a freshman, I lived in a dormitory on a special floor designed for pre-pharmacy students, called a “Pharmacy Learning Community.” Our neighbors became our colleagues and we learned from each other not only the material taught in our classes, but also how to study and adapt to college life. I would say that I learned many good behaviors from those with good study habits on my floor, and I learned what not to do from those with poor study habits. I also picked up some very poor eating habits from my college peers, which differed from the environment in which I was raised.
For my sophomore year, I enrolled in Organic Chemistry. Our professor divided us into study groups the first week based on our previous GPAs. Together we discussed problems during class, completed extra credit assignments, studied and took exams. In addition to the active learning strategies used in the classroom this course created an atmosphere that embraced social learning among peers.  Groups that collaborated outside the classroom learned more and performed better than the groups that spent less quality time together.2
When it comes to our health, social learning is also a key element to success. Patients, as the learners, adopt habits from their friends and family that impact their risk of disease.  In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Christakis and Fowler, it was found that among groups of friends, if one friend developed obesity, the other friend(s) was 171% more likely to become obese.3  And this increased risk of obesity was correlated to social closeness (rather than geographic closeness). In another study, smoking cessation was increased when a spouse or family member quit smoking. Moreover, smoking cessation tended to occur in clusters of people (not single individuals, one at a time) and in those with larger social networks.4 This research provides evidence that the impact of social networks on health cannot be ignored.
I wonder how effective it would be to create health learning communities for our patients, or health study groups. This has already been done in the setting of Alcoholics Anonymous, diabetes education and cancer support networks, but could also be expanded to smoking cessation, obesity and any number of other health-related behaviors. Research has been expanding in the areas of online health networks, and their impact on social learning.  Even television has tried to take advantage of observational learning in such shows as The Biggest Loser. The trend towards not only patient-centered care, but also family-centered care, is another example of ways the healthcare system should embrace social learning to improve health outcomes.
It is important to look at the big picture of health. How successful will a patient be at losing weight … when his or her closest friend is gaining weight? How easy will it be to quit smoking, when one’s social network continues to smoke?  How reliably will one take his or her medication, when his or her spouse has difficulty (or doesn’t believe in) taking medications? It seems to me a patient’s social environment and the role of social learning must be considered when implementing patient interventions.  How do we learn to use the power of social learning? Our patients may help us gain a better understanding of how to encourage healthy behavior.  Perhaps pharmacy education could provide opportunities for us to utilize this theory of learning to advance patient care. Both patients and healthcare workers alike would benefit from discussing the impact of how society and our own social networks impact our health.
1Schunk DH, Hanson AR. Peer models: Influence on children’s self-efficacy and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology 1985;77:313-322.
3Christakis NA, Fowler JH. The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. N Engl J Med 2007;357:370-9.
4Christakis NA, Fowler JH. The collective dynamics of smoking in a large social network. N Engl J Med 2008;358:249-58.

[Editor's Commentary:  Clearly the social context in which we learn has a powerful impact on our behaviors.  Cultural norms of behavior are generally acquired through modeling ... not through explicit instruction.  While teachers and health care practitioners do have some influence on behaviors, we need to face the (sad) truth that our influence is rather small.  Very small.  Direct instruction - lecturing and/or counselling people on what they should (or should not) do - is ineffectual.  Active engagement improves the odds that someone will adopt a behavior ... and social engagement with influential peers improves the odds further still.  The risk of disease and the management of chronic illness is far more dependent on the social context than any "traditional" intervention that health professional "prescribe" or "counsel" patients to do.  And yet, our expectations as a society (and our payment systems) are built around one-on-one interactions between a patient and a health care provider ... rather than working with families and communities.  Public health practitioners have known for a long time the power of family and community on health outcomes.  Perhaps under a reformed healthcare system in the United States we'll learn how to PAY FOR best practices that harness the power of social learning.  To see what the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy is doing to improve the health of our community and to be a role model for social learning, check out our Rx for Health Habits website. - S.H.]