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Jordan Cooler, PharmD, BCPP

The year of 2020 has brought unprecedented times, not only for the world, but for healthcare and more specifically the profession of pharmacy and its education. The need to limit spread of the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus has brought on challenges in the delivery of patient care and education. The last several months have required schools and colleges of pharmacy to pivot from traditional models of educational delivery to more creative and socially-distanced alternatives. Introductory and advanced pharmacy practice experiences (IPPEs and APPEs) have not been excluded. Key components for consideration when crafting an effective learning experience in these unique times will be reviewed here.

Secondary to the pandemic, students have become uncertain as to what the future may hold. Thus, ongoing and effective communication is key for success. Providing in-depth rotation guidance in initial email communication with students, in addition to a proper orientation with time for questions and answers, may alleviate stress. Outlining expectations for the rotation is also essential for student success. Furthermore, a rotation syllabus and calendar play a pivotal role in providing structure to students in virtual or socially-distanced settings. Any changes to these items should be communicated throughout the rotation period.

Now more than ever, technological capabilities are at the forefront of creating an effective learning environment for experiential learners. Many institutions require students to have a functional laptop or similar device. Additionally, webcams, headsets, and earphones can be useful for communication. Various platforms are available for communicating in a socially-distanced or remote fashion. When establishing guidelines for a rotation during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to determine what platforms are available for use from academic and clinical institutions (e.g., Blackboard Collaborate™, ZOOM™ Pro, Microsoft Teams), as well as those available at no cost (e.g., ZOOM™, Doxy.me, Doximity).

The use of technology can extend into clinical practice. When possible, having remote access to the electronic medical record can provide similar learning experiences to pre-COVID conditions. Additional care must be taken to ensure that students understand necessary cautions and protections to avoid breaches in patient privacy. Speaking of HIPAA, understanding which communication platforms are HIPAA-compliant is integral as well. We are all well aware of intrusions into virtual meeting spaces and the fact that there is no room for error when dealing with patient information. HIPAA-compliant platforms (e.g., Zoom for Healthcare, Therapy-Assisted Online, Doxy.me, Doximity) can not only be used for telemedicine visits with patients in the outpatient setting, but also for secure patient case discussions and virtual rounding experiences.

Depending on opportunities for virtual or socially-distanced patient care at each rotation site, there may also be a need for determining other experiences to enhance students’ clinical knowledge. In addition to topic discussions assigned during the pre-COVID era, the pandemic provides unique occasions to work through clinical cases, both with psychiatric and non-psychiatric diagnoses, particularly those that may not be as commonplace at the rotation site. The CPNP list serv provides several real-life clinical scenarios that can be shared with students. Students may be encouraged to work through such cases to facilitate discussion with the preceptor and other rotational students. Additionally, various textbooks that students may have personal copies of or access to through their academic institution, can provide additional opportunities for case-based discussion. Lastly, providing experiences in some of the more unique aspects of the pharmacy profession can be helpful as well, including assisting in the peer review process, completing medication utilization reviews, and updating policies and procedures.

In conclusion, proper planning for clinical practice and focused learning in addition to communication and accessibility to technology can allow for successful completion of IPPEs and APPEs in the COVID-19 era. One final piece of advice is to remember to remain flexible and empathetic as our students fulfill the difficult task of completing a PharmD curriculum during such dynamic circumstances. This will make them all the more effective as pharmacists in the future.

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