By: Victoria L. Williams, PharmD
Under the Social/Administrative/Behavioral Sciences category of the Foundational Sciences in Standards 2016 is “Research Design” – a broad outcome that tasks colleges of pharmacy with teaching the evaluation of research methods, protocol design, validity, and reliability of published research studies. However, in today’s practice environments, simply evaluating research is insufficient. Across clinical settings, pharmacists are conducting research to advance practice.1 Thus, we should consider if we are responsible for teaching students how to conduct research. Some proposed strategies, alongside firsthand research experience, are described in Table 1.
Table 1. Teaching Research Alongside Firsthand Experience
|Research Process Step||Teaching Strategy|
|Project Identification||Introduce PICO and literature search/evaluation strategies early in the curriculum|
Support early exposure to pharmaceutical sciences & pharmacy practice innovations
|Protocol Development & IRB Approval||Leverage university resources for CITI training & IRB process|
|Data Collection||Streamline data collection methods training|
Optimize available technologies (RedCap, Microsoft Excel, survey tools) and techniques (developing a “data dictionary,” random quality checks, etc.)
|Analysis/Results||Utilize local resources (statistical programs, biostatisticians, experienced researchers) to teach analytical skills|
|Result Dissemination||Consider local/state/national opportunities |
Apply for poster or podium presentations
Submit manuscript for review
Currently, research is largely taught and practiced throughout pharmacy residency training, rather than in PharmD curricula, due to a variety of limiting factors (Table 2).2 Despite this, PharmD students are told research experience is an important part of a strong residency application. As a result, the majority of pharmacy residency applicants endorse prior experience, though the extent of such is not well-defined.3 Given the current research-related Standard and the fact that successful completion of a project is not a steadfast requirement for graduation, residency, or employment, some students gain research experience and others do not. Our reactionary approach to connecting students with research opportunities results in “incomplete” experiences where students are not afforded the chance to see a project through from beginning to end.
Table 2. Limitations and Proposed Solutions for Facilitating PharmD Student Research2
|Prioritize IRB-exempt projects as student-centered opportunities or engage students after projects are IRB-approved|
Work outside of the academic year, allow for multi-year, longitudinal experiences
Ensure necessary data is accessible prior to engaging students
|Lack of interest|
Lack of background knowledge
Allow students to self-select projects
Identify the student’s area(s) of interest and promote joint project development with an expert mentor
Introduce principles of conducting research early in the curriculum
Streamline the “introduction/onboarding” process among cohorts of students
|Prioritize projects that are unique contributions to the literature, designed with sufficient scientific rigor, and reasonable in scope |
Adopt a culture of commitment to student research, praise student mentorship
Utilize free resources, budget for projects, prioritize publication in journals that do not charge publication fees
While tips are available for best practices for individual projects, less is known about effectively linking interested students with appropriate opportunities. Furthermore, who is responsible for creating and facilitating these opportunities? Some PharmD programs do so via a capstone experience, others utilize longitudinal advanced pharmacy practice experiences (or pathways), while others lack structure. How can we best offer interested students complete research experiences (design to dissemination) when desired?
One can argue that our curricula are already full and the academy’s focus should be on reconciling curricular hoarding, rather than adding additional content or requirements. Does this leave the academy’s practice partners and preceptors to take on the challenge of teaching our students how to conduct research?
The likely answer is a shared responsibility. However, before committing to such, we should investigate if this is a worthwhile use of effort and resources or if our current (inconsistent) approach is sufficient. Consider the following:
- What is our current approach to PharmD student research across the academy? Is it working? If so, dramatic change may not be needed.
- A comprehensive analysis of how colleges engage PharmD students in research via a survey of current practices across the academy is required.
- If change is indicated, given the multiple competing priorities of the academy, is student research at the top of the list?
- Now may not be the time to require more of our programs as we are in the midst of a revision to the Standards where there are calls to action to reduce curricular hoarding.
- Consider a formal needs assessment or SWOT analysis
Because pharmacists will continue advancing practice through scholarly work, we must understand the optimal approach to educating and training pharmacists in conducting research. Then, carefully adjusting our approach in a way that is mindful of the other demands of our learners and institutions is possible. Is additional inquiry into student research a worthwhile investigation or are we satisfied with our current results?
- Touchette DR, Bearden DT, Ottum SA. Research publication by pharmacist authors in major medical journals: changes over a 10-year interval. Pharmacotherapy. 2008;28(5):584-590. doi:10.1592/phco.28.5.584
- Deal EN, Stranges PM, Maxwell WD, et al. The Importance of Research and Scholarly Activity in Pharmacy Training. Pharmacotherapy. 2016;36(12):e200-e205. doi:10.1002/phar.1864
- Phillips JA, McLaughlin MM, Rose C, Gallagher JC, Gettig JP, Rhodes NJ. Student Characteristics Associated with Successful Matching to a PGY1 Residency Program. Am J Pharm Educ. 2016;80(5):84. doi:10.5688/ajpe80584
Victoria L. Williams is a Pharmacy Education & Innovation Fellow at The Ohio State University, College of Pharmacy and Critical Care Pharmacist at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Her educational interests include curriculum design/assessment, innovative teaching techniques, and student affairs. In her free time, Victoria enjoys taking her pug puppy to the dog park, attending Orange Theory Fitness classes, and exploring new restaurants in Columbus.
Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning