November 8, 2011

Teach Me How to Teach

By Mallory Onisk, PGY1 Pharmacy Practice Resident, VA Maryalnd Health Care System 

How many of you took a course in pharmacy school that taught you how to be a good teacher?  I’m going to guess not many.  I know at my college of pharmacy we weren’t given any teaching tools or tips aside from what we learned by modeling our professors.  Nor were we trained on how to be a preceptor, give a lecture, engage a classroom, or evaluate students’ learning. I recently attended the ASHP Resident Visit Day where a poll was taken as to who was taught how to be a preceptor in pharmacy school.  Not a single hand in the room (fifty residents) went up.  At least I wasn’t alone.  But how are recent graduates supposed to become the future leaders of the profession when we haven’t been given the tools to educate those following us?  Unless you were fortunate enough to match to a residency program in a city that offers a teaching certificate program or a residency at a college of pharmacy, you might be on your own.  But surely there has to be a better way…

The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) School of Pharmacy has developed “concentrations” or tracks for their students to focus learning on career interests.  One track is an education concentration where students take 3 elective courses during the P3 year and an elective APPE in the P4 year with a teaching emphasis.1  Drs. Poirier & Santanello describe this unique curricular concentration and evaluate its impact on students’ knowledge and attitudes in an article that recently appeared in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education.1  The first course, Orientation to Teaching, explores learning theories and teaching philosophies.  Students compose their own teaching philosophy and discuss with professors what they believe constitutes teaching excellence.  The second course, Instructional Design and Strategies, highlights active learning strategies and different instructional methods.  Students take turns facilitating class discussion using these different instructional methods.  The third course, Assessment Strategies, familiarize students with various assessment strategies including learning portfolios, multiple-choice exams, and grading rubrics.  During the APPE experience, students lead 2 small group discussions, give 2 lectures, maintain a teaching portfolio, and present an manuscript during an educational journal club.1  An evaluation of this education concentration was done with knowledge tests and an attitudinal survey.  The authors found that both attitudes and knowledge increased after completing the three elective courses.1  Positive attitudes correlated with positive feelings about the subject matter and an increased likelihood of pursuing a career in academia.

This is not the first time I have heard about curricular tracks or pathways for students to follow their professional interests in pharmacy school.   Giving students the opportunity to take multiple classes that focus on a particular career interest can be a great way to accelerate learning prior to graduation.  The education concentration implemented at SIUE is a unique way to give interested students insight into the career of academia.  Many students in school might think they want to teach but don’t actually know what being a faculty member entails.  Giving a lecture may look easy enough, but what kind of time and preparation actually goes into creating the lecture? Prior to my experience with Educational Theory and Practice course I had very little understanding of educational theories.  I’ve come to learn that active learning strategies and instructional designs are core concepts that aid in creating effective educational sessions.  To students who may choose to pursue a career in academia, learning some of these fundamental models is beneficial and will help them become successful scholars. 

But a career path towards academia still doesn’t meet the needs of students who will become future preceptors.  What about the students who become clinical pharmacists working at hospitals or managers in community pharmacies?  Surely many (if not most) at one point or another will become preceptors.  A preceptor’s role is to create a positive environment where learning can be effective and efficient.2  A pharmacy preceptor should convey “enthusiasm, professionalism, and knowledge.”3 There are many factors that have increased the demand for quality pharmacy preceptors including the increased number of pharmacy schools and the increasing experiential requirements for ACPE accreditation.Whether by interest or demand alone, chances are we will need most pharmacy students to become preceptors.  Knowing these odds, shouldn’t we prepare students to be become dynamic preceptors? 

There are more reasons to teach students how to teach.  One of the most important roles of pharmacists is to serve as a patient educator. Being able to give effective, concise, and useful advice to patients is vital to aiding in their understanding of their disease process and the importance of their medications.  Communicating information to patients requires that we assess audience characteristics through needs analysis, identify learning objectives, and employ effective teaching strategies.  While we all might have been taught the basics of patient counseling in pharmacy school, my guess would be that most classes focused on what to say to patients (knowledge dumping) and less on how to do educate (assessing learning needs, selecting appropriate teaching strategies, and promoting self-directed learning).

I propose that students should have the opportunity in school to learn how to be successful preceptors and patient educators.  This could be done through a classroom-based course, seminars, or other learning methods.  Metacognitively students would benefit from understanding the role of a preceptor prior to advanced practice experiences.  If students are taught how to teach, they could develop awareness and reflect during courses and APPEs on ways to improve as a learner and as a future teacher.  Learning about who people learn and how to address learning barriers would make us better health professionals.  With knowledge and experiences, students would be more prepared to precept students and educate patients.  Incorporating such instruction into pharmacy school is important to strengthen the leaders and teachers of tomorrow.


1.  Poirier TI, Santanello C. Impact of a Pharmacy Education Concentration on Students’ Teaching and Attitudes.  Am J Pharm Educ 2010; 74(2) Article 23: 1-8.
2.  Kleffner JH. Becoming an effective preceptor [Internet]. Austin (TX): The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy; 1998 [revised 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010; cited 2011 Oct 22]. Available from: Becoming an Effective Preceptor.
3.  Skrabal MZ, Kahaleh AA, Nemire RE, et al. Preceptors’ perceptions on benefits of precepting student pharmacists to students, preceptors, and the profession. J Am Pharm Association 2006; 46(5): 605-612.

4.  AACP: American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy [Internet]. Alexandria: American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy; c2011. Academic Pharmacy’s Vital Statistics 2011 July [cited 2011 Oct 20]. Available from: Academic Pharmacy's Vital Statistics.

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