First-year students as instructors: who’s teaching whom? 

By:  Ryan Masak, Pharm D candidate, Lauren Pamulapati, PharmD, BCACP and Lauren Caldas, PharmD, BCACP

Why assume near-peer teaching is unidirectional? In the Layered Learning Practice Model, an “attending” or more senior individual instructs multiple levels of students who then each teach students who are often near-peers.1 Pharmacy education embraces this model using a modified “near-peer” teaching strategy, in which more senior students participate in teaching junior students. When I discovered an interest in non-sterile compounding during my first year of pharmacy school, I worked with a professor to create and deliver content. I also had the opportunity to educate younger students by creating an activity for a third-year compounding elective.

Is peer- and near-peer teaching effective?

Peer teaching has been shown to improve learners’ communication skills,2 confidence and interest in teaching,3 and academic performance.3 One study examined peer teaching in a skills-based pharmacy laboratory course and found no difference in the effectiveness of peer versus near-peer teaching assistants.4 These results demonstrate that peer educators have similar effectiveness to near-peer students further along in the curriculum. However, pharmacy education literature is silent on classmates creating materials for their more senior peers. 

This elective paired non-sterile and sterile products through pharmacotherapy modules. Despite not having teaching experience, I collaborated with my faculty mentor to create learning objectives, pre-class readings, compounded product assessments, and summative final exam questions. Additionally, I developed a nonsterile compounding formulation for lidocaine popsicles to pair with the hazardous sterile chemotherapy for the oncology week. A focus on the oncology supportive care portion of the week was purposefully chosen for my level of learning, as the oral hydration popsicle activity was similar to electrolyte calculations covered in my first-year calculation content. This activity provides the third-year elective students with a calculations refresher now combined with their pharmacotherapy and compounding knowledge. 

While creating the activity, I experienced the benefits outlined in the literature of improved communication skills,2 confidence and interest in teaching,3 and academic performance.3 The most important skills I developed were self-driven learning and problem-solving when tackling new information. These essential pharmacist skills are emphasized in the pharmacy curriculum to encourage students to stay up-to-date with evolving practices. 

Overall, this entire experience was very valuable to me as a student. I call upon faculty to consider the mentorship of a motivated first-year student in creating activities for upper-level courses. Why wait until students are in their second or third years with more responsibilities and less time to explore the pharmacy field? 

Additional Considerations

While involving students in peer teaching contains clear benefits to students and peer instructors. It is also important to note the requirement for faculty to reallocate teaching resources. The table below features key concepts of academia and the potential effects of a peer-teaching strategy.

ConceptsStudent BenefitsFaculty Considerations
Empowering educational changePeer teachers have unique credibility with other students, faculty, staff, and administrators.3

The literature has yet to describe the credibility of junior students teaching more senior students. 
Faculty selection of peer leaders; training and creation of training materials; feedback and reflection.3


Negotiation of funds to pay leaders; suitable time and space for training.3

Change discomfort:

Faculty resistance to implementing curriculum change.2
Developing effective practitioners and improving academic performancePeer teachers will better comprehend the areas they teach.2

Peer-teaching asks our students to create, which  is the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Academic integrity:
Must provide opportunities for peer leaders to earn trust and then provide higher stake tasks.5
Filling gaps in faculty lines Student teaching assistants can be cost-effective tools in educational cutback and fiscal limitations.4Overcoming bias: Preconceptions that student teachers result in lower educational quality and assignment integrity with the use of peer and near-peer teachers.2

Faculty lead must collect evidence of equal quality of instruction overcoming bias.2

The challenge of mentoring a student to create this activity is similar to any mentoring process: the effort by the mentor and mentee will match the outcome. The concerns of integrity and grading should be limited with consistent and focused involvement by the faculty. Additionally, as with any learning activity, evaluation, and thoughtful reflection will assist with assessing the quality of the educational experience. 

This activity is currently under review as a scholarship of teaching and learning project to assess its impact on the learner. This is yet another avenue to improve the teaching and learning process for both me as a mentee and future junior near-peer teachers. First-year students can bring “new opportunities for creative scholarship and teaching,”3 providing an incredible opportunity to expand the confidence in your future pharmacists.

Do you want to add some innovations in teaching to your content? Have you considered involving a student in your teaching?


1.    Brown MC, Kostrzewa AB. Implementation and Evaluation of Near-Peer Facilitated Journal Club Activities in a Required MLE Course Series. Am J Pharm Educ. 2018;82(8):937-943. doi:10.5688/AJPE6718

2.    Aburahma MH, Mohamed HM. Peer teaching as an educational tool in Pharmacy schools; fruitful or futile. Curr Pharm Teach Learn. 2017;9(6):1170-1179. doi:10.1016/j.cptl.2017.07.026

3.    Gosser DK, Kampmeier JA, Varma-Nelson P. Peer-Led Team Learning: 2008 James Flack Norris Award Address. J Chem Educ. 2010;87(4):374-380. doi:10.1021/ed800132w

4.    Galal SM, Mayberry JK, Wang A, Tran T. Examining differences between P1 versus P2 students as teaching assistants in a P1 skills-based course. Curr Pharm Teach Learn. 2017;9(4):537-542. doi:10.1016/j.cptl.2017.03.025

5.    Gaberson KB. Academic dishonesty among nursing students. Nurs Forum. 1997;32(3):14-20. doi:10.1111/J.1744-6198.1997.TB00205.X

Author Bio(s)

Ryan Masak is a third-year pharmacy student at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy. Educational scholarship interests include strategic course design and mentorship. In his free time, Ryan enjoys bouldering and baking.

Lauren G. Pamulapati, PharmD, BCACP, is an Assistant Professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science. Aside from her teaching and clinical roles, she is the Faculty Director for Continuing Education and the Teaching and Learning Certificate Coordinator. Dr. Pamulapati co-coordinates the Endocrinology Therapeutics Module and two electives, pharmacy academia and residency/fellowship preparation within the curriculum. She practices under a collaborative practice agreement managing chronic disease states within a family medicine clinic. Her research interests include diabetes, practice advancement, post-graduate training, and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). Outside of work, she is kept busy with her toddler, exploring all the parks and museums!

Lauren M. Caldas, PharmD, BCACP, is an Associate Professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science. She serves as the Foundations Skills Laboratory coordinator for the community-focused first-year students and all compounding activities in the following six sequential courses in the didactic curriculum. She teaches electives in pharmacy academia and advanced compounding.  Her research interests are in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), which focuses on andragogy teaching methods, compounding, and the use of technology in teaching. Her perspective is “just as we use evidence-based medicine, we must utilize evidence-based teaching.”  Her interests include reading fiction and any activity her two boys are interested in, including Minecraft. 

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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s