Pharmacy Education in Crisis Mode

By: Jaclyn Boyle, PharmD, MS, MBA, BCACP, BCPS;  Sara Bonenfant, PharmD; Jordan Holder, PharmD; Tiffanny Martin, PharmD Candidate; Virginia San Juan, PharmD Candidate

COVID-19 has created a hectic time within pharmacy education. Discussions on AACP Connect reference challenges with online education, assessment, admissions interviews, experiential training, well-being, and supporting students during the pandemic.

Challenges to Students

This dynamic environment can impact students in several ways, including: 

  • Changes to study strategies and learning. Students have had to change their study habits, modify daily routines, and exercise a higher level of self-discipline. Faculty should be aware of student needs, provide flexibility, and focus on proactive communication. 
  • Loss of the community feeling of campus. During pre-crisis times, students could host activities, socialize, and access faculty with ease. Social distancing rules and space limitations will require creative planning of events. 
  • Navigating technology is more important than ever. Students may have limited access to campus resources, reliable internet connectivity, and may struggle with new educational technologies. Colleges should support heightened technology needs.
  • Feelings of professional obligation to patient care. Students may feel torn between academic and work responsibilities. Staffing shortages may lead to requests for students to fill workforce gaps. Faculty should help students prepare for difficult conversations so that academic success is not jeopardized.
  • Challenges to mental health. One study evaluated the psychological impact of COVID-19 on medical students in China. The 7-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale indicated that of 7,143 respondents,  21.3%  (n=1,518) had mild anxiety. Authors determined that economic effects (r2=0.327), daily stressors (r2=0.316), and delays in academic activities (r2=0.315) were associated with anxiety symptoms (P<0.001). 1 Faculty should help students navigate personal and mental health needs during this challenging time.
  • Juggling academic/life responsibilities. As home and school have become the same physical space, students may be challenged with childcare needs, caregiving, managing personal needs, and disconnecting from technology. 
  • Financial challenges. Financial stressors may be faced due to employment changes resulting from the pandemic. Colleges should connect students with support to manage their financial wellness. 

Challenges to Pharmacy Programs  

As noted in Academic Pharmacy Now, colleges are struggling with educational adaptations, including: 2 

  • Maintaining social connectivity. Student organization work is disrupted, campus spaces are not accessible for social gatherings, and virtual sessions feel more socially distant since students may not always be physically visible. Colleges could create interactive virtual events or socially-distant in person events where possible.
  • Evolving experiential education to meet the needs of students. The Accreditation Council on Pharmacy Education provided guidance for transforming experiential education during the pandemic3. Colleges should ensure that students can access Personal Protective Equipment, minimize contact with COVID-19 positive patients, and encourage preceptors to utilize project days. Colleges could create several contingency scenarios for IPPE and APPE experiences. 
  • Monitoring and supporting faculty members’ well-being. Transforming curricula, back-to-back virtual meetings, and increased need for communication presents a higher workload for faculty. Colleges can ensure that faculty are aware of physical/mental health resources, create new wellness programming, and create virtual social gatherings.
  • Transforming courses to an online or blended virtual/in-person format. Colleges may consider faculty development focused on effective virtual teaching formats, instructional design resources, and ensure needed educational technology is accessible. If in-person education is planned, social distancing rules present physical space challenges to be mindful of. 
  • Unprecedented challenges to conducting research. With social distancing requirements, many benchtop experiments may be delayed or conducted in a suboptimal environment.2 Colleges could help students identify projects that could be conducted safely. 

Silver Linings 

While facing difficulties, students and faculty are developing new skills, including: delivering telehealth encounters, adapting to remote work, and having increased autonomy in prioritizing tasks. Virtual education and event cancellations have minimized travel, therefore saving money and time while increasing flexibility. Minimizing in-person interactions lessens exposure to the virus. The shift to virtual platforms creates learning opportunities related to technology.  Faculty conversations within AACP Connect highlight opportunities in incorporating COVID-19 information into course materials and demonstrating the role of the pharmacist in a public health crisis.

We believe there are things to consider to emerge from the pandemic in a positive way: 

  • Students: 
    • Ensure adequate access to technology and connectivity
    • Seek creative ways to create social connectivity with your peers and faculty
    • Pursue professional development in time management and organization skills  
  • Educators: 
    • Structure syllabi to deploy a blended or virtual learning environment 
    • Create venues for social connectivity with students and colleagues 
    • Explore new educational modalities and share ideas within the Academy 
  • Deans:
    • Determine if faculty have bandwidth and resources needed to deliver modified curricula 
    • Promote best practices and encourage scholarship related to virtual education
    • Monitor faculty well-being and ensure adequate support
    • Develop resources regarding meeting accreditation standards during crisis times
    • Create open forums via ad hoc conferences 
    • Create instructional design resources related to virtual education

How are you planning for future virtual pharmacy education?


  1. Cao W, Fang Z, Hou G, et al. The psychological impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on college students in China. Psychiatry Res. 2020;287:112934.
  2. 2. Rooney JE. Adapting to Unprecedented Circumstances. Academic Pharmacy Now. 2020;13(3). 
  3. Engle JP. Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education Issues Guidance. NEOMED. March 2020.


Jaclyn Boyle is an Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Pharmacy. Educational scholarship interests include professional development, preparing learners for careers in academia, and evaluating novel teaching and assessment methods. Jaclyn is very active in professional pharmacy organizations. In her free time, Jaclyn enjoys spending time with her family & friends, spinning, and yoga.

Jordan L. Holder is a PGY-1 Pharmacy Resident at Aultman Alliance Community Hospital. Educational interests include student personal and professional development, leadership training, and experiential education services. Jordan enjoys spending free time with family (including cats) and friends, doing crossfit workouts, and taking lots of time to get outdoors. 

Sara Bonenfant is a fourth-year student pharmacist at Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Pharmacy. Sara’s educational scholarship interests include mentoring, student leadership, and professional organization involvement. She is also an active member in local, state, and national pharmacy organizations to help advance the practice of pharmacy. In her free time, Sara enjoys spending time with loved ones and loves being a dog mom to her two huskies.

Virginia San Juan is a second-year student pharmacist at Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Pharmacy. Educational scholarship interests include student leadership, personal and professional development, and mentoring. In her free time, Virginia enjoys spending time with her loved ones, traveling, trying new food, and singing.

Tiffanny Martin is a second-year pharmacy student at Northeast Ohio Medical University. She is an active member of National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) and American Pharmacists Association (APhA). Her current areas of interest include community pharmacy and academia. In her spare time, Tiffanny enjoys spending time with her family and friends, playing softball and watching sports.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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