September 30, 2020

Practice Reinforces Knowledge and Builds Confidence

by Shannon Buehler, Doctor of Pharmacy student, University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy

Summary and Analysis of: Manigault KR, Augustine JM, and Thurston MM. Impact of Student Pharmacists Teaching a Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support Class. Am J Pharm Educ 2020; 84 (3): Article 7621.

This article caught my attention because it involved student pharmacists implementing a diabetes self-management class for patients.1 As a student pharmacist, diabetes is an interest of mine – something I think that will be important in my future career. This study attempted to demonstrate that students learn best by practicing in a real-life, authentic setting. The authors of this study compared two groups, one group received traditional instruction and experiences working with people with diabetes, the control group, and the other group, the intervention group, had an opportunity to apply what they learned by teaching a diabetes management class to patients. A study like this is needed to help determine what ways are most effective in teaching health professional students.

This study took place at Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center outpatient clinic. The investigators precept Doctor of Pharmacy students from the Mercer University College of Pharmacy during their fourth-year ambulatory care advanced pharmacy practice experience (APPE). This investigation took place from June 2016 to April 2018 and there were one to two student pharmacists participating in the experience each month. The control and intervention alternated each month so that there was an equal distribution of participants in the two groups. During the first week of the APPE, both groups completed two assessments: one on knowledge of diabetes and the other about their perceived aptitude and confidence. Both groups engaged in traditional patient care activities throughout the five-week APPE. The intervention group conducted a single diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES) class during their fourth or fifth week. Students in the control group did not.  During this investigation period, a total of 15 DSMES classes were taught. The DSMES classes typically had three to five patients participate.  The patients had been previously seen in the clinic by the student. These classes were in-person and lasted approximately two hours.  The students used the US Diabetes Conversations Map Kit provided by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) to help guide the class.2 Immediately after conducting the class, the intervention group completed two post-intervention assessments – the same assessments that were administered during the first week of the APPE. Similarly, the control group received the post-intervention assessments in the 4th or 5th week.

The results showed that the intervention group substantially increased their level of knowledge and confidence. The intervention group students had a significant improvement in their knowledge (increased from 68.4% at baseline to 81.8%) while the control group did not (increased from 70.0% to 74.1%). Both groups showed significant improvement in aptitude and confidence from baseline. However, the change in mean aptitude/confidence scores was greater in the intervention group (11.9 point increase) when compared to the control group (6.7 point increase, p=.0026).

Measuring knowledge and confidence are two important constructs to assess. Both contribute to what makes a good healthcare provider, thus making this study relevant to APPE preceptors for student pharmacists. It is important to note that students in the intervention group put forth more time and effort and this likely explains why their knowledge gains were greater. Although the post-assessment confidence levels improved in both groups, a confidence boost might come from simply getting real-world experience when completing an APPE rotation. Both groups provided one-on-one counseling about diabetes to patients. This might explain the increased confidence in both groups. The intervention group had greater improvement in confidence which can be explained by their additional experience leading the DSMES class. 

The strengths of this study include using alternating months to enroll participants in the control vs. intervention groups and using consistent pre- and post-assessments. Although they were not randomly assigned by the investigators, students were not “selected” to participate in the intervention or control groups. However, there are some weaknesses including the fact that all participants (students, patients, and preceptors) were from the same clinic and the same school of pharmacy. Moreover, we don’t know if all students had similar experiences and patients may have had different issues or complications. Lastly, some students (20%) had previously participated in a diabetes management elective course offered during their curriculum.  Slightly more students in the control group had taken the elective course but it is unclear if this difference impacted the study results.

A similar study was previously conducted by Shrader and colleagues. Similarly, student pharmacists were engaged in teaching DSMES, but the study did not include a control group. Moreover, the investigators did not perform a comprehensive assessment – they only measured changes in student confidence.3 Another small study evaluated student pharmacists who participated in an interprofessional elective.  Again, the investigators only measured improvements in student confidence when providing DSMES to patients.4 In both of these studies, there were positive effects on student confidence levels.  It is perhaps not surprising that student confidence consistently improved in all of these studies as one would hope an educational intervention would improve how students perceive their ability to perform these tasks.

I believe this study provides solid evidence that practice, applying one’s knowledge, improves both knowledge and confidence. From my own experience, I know that putting my knowledge into action in “real” life truly solidifies my knowledge. Every preceptor should provide opportunities for hands-on, authentic practice. This article is a good example that could be applied during any ambulatory care APPE but it can be modified for experiences in other settings too. The key is to provide students with opportunities for more practice.  And this will increase their knowledge and confidence as they transition to independent practitioners. 


  1. Manigault K, Augustine J, Thurston M. Impact of Student Pharmacists Teaching a Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support Class. Am J Pharm Educ. 2020;84(3): Article 7621.
  2. Diabetes Care. American Diabetes Association Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes – 2020 [Internet]. Diabetes Care 2020;43(1): S1-S212
  3. Shrader S, Kavanagh K, Thompson A. A Diabetes Self-Management Education Class Taught by Pharmacy Students. Am J Pharm Educ 2012 Feb 10;76(1): Article 13.
  4. Fazel M, Cooley J, Kurdi S, Fazel M. A co-curricular diabetes-specific elective with interprofessional students and faculty. Curr Pharm Teach Learn 2019 Feb;11(2):172-177.

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