Boost!ng Our Students to Success

By: Angela Wilson, BS; Nathanael Smith, PharmD, BCPS; and Aleda M. H. Chen, PharmD, PhD, FAPhA

Academic Literacy and the Student Pharmacist

Providing effective healthcare today requires pharmacists that are diversified in language and ethnicity to meet the needs of patients. Patients prefer language and ethnic-concordant care from their pharmacists as this improves patient-provider interactions and relationships.1 The diversification of pharmacists begins in pharmacy schools, which still has considerable room for growth. In 2020, 15.7% of PharmD graduates and 18.2% of first professional year enrollees were underrepresented minorities. These can include English as an Alternative Language (EAL) students who possess differing levels of ability for academic literacy (e.g. reading comprehension) in the English language, which can impact note-taking ability and time management.2 However, any student can struggle with academic literacy.3

Need for Academic Literacy Support

As many pharmacy programs, such as ours, have implemented flipped classrooms to promote active, self-directed learning, students need considerable academic literacy to learn from pre-class materials.2,4 We noticed that some students at Cedarville have had challenges related to academic literacy. Given the increasing diversity of our students in recent years, we sought to determine how to proactively ensure student success and boost academic literacy.  We created a tool to determine which students struggled with academic literacy and provided individual tutoring, yet determined more was needed.3 This led to the creation of Boost!.

Development of Boost!

Boost! was developed over a year through a partnership of the faculty, current students, alumni, staff with a background in EAL, and the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). Faculty aided in the development of the assessments and the data to drive the course. Current students reviewed and participated in the course creation process to identify content strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, students, faculty, and alumni were utilized in course videos and to share helpful assignment tips. The CTL used the content provided for the course and translated Boost! into an interactive Canvas (our learning management system) course. The instruction delivery was created in the form of an Avatar and focused on specific content each week. A staff member oversaw the development of the course.

What Happens During Boost!?

Qualification for the course is dependent on results of the academic literacy test which was developed and refined over three years by a team of faculty from pharmacy and language arts.3 The test is designed to assess reading comprehension using P1* materials and underwent pilot testing before implementation.3 Students who achieve a 3 or less (maximum: 5) are enrolled, but the course is also available for any P1-P4 student.  

While a variety of approaches could be utilized, a flexible, online, self-directed format has been utilized successfully elsewhere to prepare students for professional program learning.5 Boost! is delivered through Canvas as flexible, online modules completed over 6 weeks prior to the first professional year. The program aims to prepare students for the rigor of pharmacy school. Content was created to enhance students’ study skills. This included reviewing the process for learning, preparing students for active and self-directed learning, and enhancing their reading comprehension (Table 1). Students also engage in discussion boards, practice skills, and complete activities. In addition to the content, introducing perspectives and facilitating connections even before stepping foot on campus is also an added student success benefit. 

Table 1. Overview of the Boost! Program

Block 1.
Preparation for the Professional Program and Active, Self-Directed Learning
Overview and IntroductionHow to use the learning management system

Goals of pharmacy school

Common acronyms and terms

Learning strengths and personality overviews and assessments
Conflict Resolution and Study SkillsConflict resolution 

Learning styles (auditory, visual, tactile/kinesthetic)

Peer mentoring
Block 2.
Reading Comprehension Skills as Part of Self-Directed Learning
Building Subject Matter OutlinesIdentifying main ideas and placing in an outline format

Implementing strategies to understand a medical text
Creating SummariesSummarizing medical texts

Making concept maps

Defining unknown vocabulary words
Utilizing Comparing -ContrastingUtilizing comparing and contrasting

How to read primary literature
Block 3.
Bringing it All Together
Scientific Literature ComprehensionIdentify strengths and weaknesses

Analyzing research

Reassessing reading comprehension

Where Next?

The Boost! program was piloted in Summer 2021 with three students who met the criteria and took an average of 8.1 hours to complete. While limited, initial feedback has indicated that the students felt engaged and more prepared to enter pharmacy school. We are collecting data to continue to revise the program and determine if it has an impact on student academic literacy and performance. However, we believe that other programs are also trying to figure out how to boost their own students’ success. How can we collaborate as an academy to find evidence-based approaches to ensure students will be great pharmacists, care well for diverse populations, and have the skills needed for learning?


*P1 refers to the first professional year in the program. Subsequent numbering refers to later years, such as P2 = second professional year, etc.


We would like to thank those who have contributed to Boost: Dr. Jeffrey Bates, Dr. Brenda Pahl, Dr. Haisong Ye, Jacob Lashuay, Dr. Meghan Strickling, and Julie Sheridan.


  1. Ali PA, Johnson S. Speaking my patient’s language: bilingual nurses’ perspective about provision of language concordant care to patients with limited English proficiency. J Adv Nurs. 2017;73(2):421-432. doi: 10.1111/jan.13143
  2. Desselle SP, Shane PA. Native English speakers and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students’ performance and notetaking in a Doctor of Pharmacy health systems course. Res Social Adm Pharm. 2019;15(9):1154-1159. doi:10.1016/j.sapharm.2018.09.023
  3. Pitts MH, Smith NJ, Bates JA, et al. Development and perceptions of an academic success tool for pharmacy students. Res Social Adm Pharm. 2021;S1551-7411(21)00316-8. doi:10.1016/j.sapharm.2021.08.012
  4. Adrian JAL, Zeszotarski P, Ma C. Developing pharmacy student communication skills through role-playing and active learning. Am J Pharm Educ. 2015;79(3):44. doi:10.5688/ajpe79344
  5. Verdone M, Joshi MD, Bodenstine ™, et al. Impact of an online, self-directed pharmacy bridging course on first-year students’ learning. Am J Pharm Educ. 2020;84(7):ajpe7684. doi: 10.5688/ajpe7684

Author Bio(s):

Nathanael Smith is an Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Cedarville University School of Pharmacy in Cedarville, Ohio. His areas of scholarly interests include clinical cardiology practice of pharmacy and academic support for pharmacy students. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his wife and children and participating in the local church.

Angela Wilson is the Director of Community Engagement at Cedarville University School of Pharmacy. Her academic interests include educational support to EAL learners and setting up lasting partnerships in Experiential Education. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and three boys. She also enjoys running and serving at her local church.

Aleda M. H. Chen is the Associate Dean and an Associate Professor at Cedarville University School of Pharmacy. Educational scholarship interests include assessment and teaching students about the social and administrative sciences. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter and finding great coffee shops.

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s