Experiential Education

      In today’s education system, teaching through experience is greatly valued. Whether this is on-the-job training, job shadowing, or school based learning such as internships or co-ops, this experience is valued. Even applying to higher level education programs, it is valued that one have experience in the field. With all of that, at what point is one actually ready to start learning through experience?

     I have been embarking on a required experiential education programming through my pharmacy school. As part of the curriculum, after the first year of the professional program, a student embarks on a 3 week Introductory Pharmacy Practicum Experience (IPPE) in the institutional (hospital) setting. After the second year of the curriculum, there will be another 3 week IPPE but in a community pharmacy setting such as Walgreens, CVS, or an independent pharmacy.

     I place enormous value on these experiences, I think they are very helpful, but there is the question of when they would be best placed. As a pharmacy student, on these rotations many other professionals will ask drug related questions, such as suggested therapies or rational for selected therapies. I’ve noticed that I struggle greatly to answer such questions after just one year of the curriculum, and it begs the question, is the first IPPE best placed where it is?

     When examining how summer classes work, often times there are 4, 8, or 12 week courses that requires about 36 – 48 hours, aggregate, per credit. As such, 120 hours (the amount of time working in an IPPE) for 3 credits is quite reasonable. However, as it only lasts for 3 of the 12 weeks found in the summer semester, I wonder if it would be better to double up the IPPEs so that both rotation 1 and 2 in the summer following the second year of the curriculum. This would still only be a 6 week commitment, and allow students more knowledge for both rotations, giving them a chance to exercise a greater knowledge base, and get more out of their institutional rotations.

     I, for one, would be amenable to such a change, especially since this is how the IPPEs are administered should one be unable to participate after the first curriculum year. I would feel better prepared and more of a beneficial member of the team, if I was able to exercise a greater knowledge base on rotation. I know I am just one opinion on this, and that there are many other considerations to the way a curriculum is designed, but I would feel better empowered to gain from these experiences with a better understanding of the subject matter of which I will practice.1

As for how much experiential education I have yet to experience, I have my IPPE 2 next summer, and the final year of my professional program will be 8 5 week Advanced Pharmacy Practicum Experiences (APPEs). So aside from a job I possess in the field, I will have a total of 46 weeks of experience provided through schooling. I think this will greatly boost my ability to practice come graduation. Note, however, that the APPE rotations are similar to the pre-registration year in the UK, where a student practices for a year under a licensed professional, in the field they plan to enter, before being licensed themselves. There are merits to both systems but I will never experience one.

In summary I believe there is great benefit to experiential education, but there are different levels, and without the proper knowledge base, they will have diminishing returns. I’ve learned a lot on my current experience, but at times, I feel very unprepared for the role I am playing. I wonder what next summer will bring.

Martin “Mixy” McNichols
Until we meet again

1: The NDSU curriculum can be found here. The first year delves into pathophysiology, causes and effect that can be expected in the human body, with very little on specific drugs and therapy. These topics are much more heavily covered in the following years of the curriculum.

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